You're not really getting the full story from the title of this latest adventure, because they've pretty much masked the gruesome fate that faces your hero. For further accuracy, the game really should be called 'Innocent Until Caught, tortured (a bit) and then sold piece by piece to various organ banks and hospital research facilities', but I guess for the practical reason of it not fitting on the box, Psygnosis decided to go for the snappier-but-slightlymisleading title.
The game's a pretty standard point-and-click graphic adventure, so there's no getting away from that tried and tested game review cliché (Number 221, review trivia fans. Ed) about it being a Monkey Island clone.
For anyone who spent the last decade as the prisoner of a crazy bonkers obsessive, trapped inside a wheely bin until you agreed to marry him, I suppose I'd better go over the basics of a point-and-click adventure. Advanced readers may skip the next paragraph.
You view the action from a sort of distant fly-on-the-wall view, watching the characters wandering about and talking. To move the character around, you click on an area of the screen, and to pick up, use or drop thing, you select the relevant icon before clicking on the object, and conversations are chosen from a list of predetermined sentences.
To be a true Monkey Island clone, the game has to try its hardest to be side-splittingly funny in an obscure sort of way at every possible moment. It's becoming a tried and tested formula, and if LucasArts had patented the graphic adventure, they'd probably be multi, multi-billionaires now, instead of just plain, drab, ho-hum billionaires.
One of the most annoying aspects of point-and-click adventures is that to work out what's important and what isn't, all you usually do is wave the pointer across the screen and see what gets highlighted. If you point at a bookcase and nothing happens for instance, then you know it's just background detail, but if you point at a book and it says 'book' then you know it's got something to do with the story.
Innocent manages to make it just a weeny bit harder by making this 'look at' function an icon that you have to select. It's just a small point, but it means that you tend to look at the picture of just mechanically sweeping the screen for clues. Another strange function is that the inventory window isn't split into boxes, so every time you move an object over to it, the icon stays in whatever haphazard way you drop it.
This offends my orderly nature, but I tend to think it fits the personality of your game alter-ego, a certain Jack T Ladd. It doesn't take an Einstein to take a wild guess at what sort of person Jack is and be absolutely right, seeing as he really is a Jack-the-lad.
There's three ways of explaining how this curious name/profession coincidence came about, although only one of them seems in any way likely. First, there's the possibility that his parents were prescient, and could predict future events. Secondly, the name may have chosen the profession, with the young Jack buying a cheap leather jacket and a Ford Capri, and getting down to some serious wheeling and dealing.
This may seem as unlikely as the first theory, but there's a historical precedent for this. It's been known for a long time that a teenage Vlad T Impaler was forced into his line of work by his parents, and that William T Conqueror invaded England only after a disastrous career as a pastry chef. Finally, and more likely, there's the distinct possibility that he was given a fairly obvious name by the programmers so you'd be left in no doubt as to the nature of his character.
A cheap leather jacket and a Ford Capri
The game starts off with Jack being told that unless he pays his back taxes within a month, then the IRS are going to hack him up (in a literal sense). This is a bit of a downer for Jack, for although he's a wheeler-dealer, he's an astonishingly good one, and his back taxes add up to the combined national debts of most South American countries.
Faced with a mere 28 days to cough up (quite literally) a mountain of cash, what would be the first thing you'd do?
Right, you'd head straight down the pub, wouldn't you? (Only if you were over 18, and then only for purely social reasons and in moderation - Politically Correct Ed).
Being set in the future, Jack heads for the nearest seedy bar planet, and it's here that his adventures begin. Since he's been frisked by the IRS people, the only thing he's got with him is the tax demand, but thankfully there are plenty of things lying around, and loads of people who may, or may not be helpful.
Now, if you're thinking of buying this game, the last thing you want is to be told the entire plot, so I'll stick to generalisations rather than story-line specifics. For a start, the game's broken up into lots of little sub-adventures. Much of the first bit on the planet Tayte revolves around Jack's frantic efforts to get a drink, which isn't as easy as you might think.
Separating him from a cool lager are all manner of obstacles, not least his complete lack of money. In his quest for beer, he must talk to several, er, ladies of the night and frequent an, um, house of ill repute. In fact, the entire Tayte chapter is a tad bawdy and boysy, and at many points along the way (most notably the 'You don't get many of those to the pound comment) you'll be frantically dialing for the euphemism police.
Get the girl and save the galaxy
The episodic nature of the game works because it breaks up the flow, and also allows massive shifts in location. This might seem a bit odd, but if you think about it, films, books and other great forms of mass entertainment do this all the time. You don't have to see Luke fly all the way to Dagobath to get the message, do you? Of course you don't, all you need to see is him getting in his X-Wing and then catting to Yoda, and you get the message.
In the same way, when we see Jack involved in a bar fight, and then see him in prison,you can get the message that bad things have happened to him in the intervening period. This slightly more filmy method of story telling allows Jack to leap from planet to starship to planet to floating city without going to the tedium of him finding the correct change to buy a ticket every time.
The game comes on ten disks, and is absolutely massive. In two days of non-stop playing, I completed only ten percent of it, and then used the handy cheat code (only available to us reviewer types) to look at the rest, and from the various disjointed bits that I saw, I can exclusively reveal that if you do everything right, you not only pay off your back-taxes, but also get the girl and save the galaxy. Not a bad tally for an interplanetary Essex boy.
As you'd imagine, with ten disks, there's an awful lot of disk swapping, and unfortunately, this is where it falls down. Beneath a Steel Sky managed to keep the swapping down to changing a single disk over whenever you entered a new section of the game, and although you can go for quite a while without being interrupted, when you do get some change disk prompts, everything dissolves into a horrible flurry of inserting five or so disks in rapid succession.
Innocent Until Caught is hard-disk installable however, and so those of you with fixed mass storage media will be completely unaware of this problem.
Main gripe number two is that the mouse pointer's a bit fiddly. Part of this is to do with the pointer moving slowly, so there's a slight lag between you moving the mouse and the pointer reacting, and part of it's because of the pixel-perfect positioning needed to pick up certain objects.
So to sum up, Innocent Until Caught is a big, funny adventure and quite obviously written by and for males who have some difficulty working out the difference between sexy and sexist. Then again, when you're following the antics of a leather jacketed, 100 percent Ladd, I suppose a bit of excessive, red-blooded stare-down-the-cleavage leering is perfectly in order. Possibly.