At a glance, Hypnospace Outlaw might look like a simple parody of The Internet circa the late 1990s. But underneath the garish clip art heavy surface lies a rather clever detective game, one that has you play internet sleuth looking for ‘bad internet behaviour’ as part of a large corporation in charge of the fictional Hypnospace. An almost virtual reality, or second life, presented in the form of Netscape Navigator meets GeoCities.
Where Hypnospace Outlaw excels is how how it manages to capture the innocence, freedom, and almost complete community-driven feel of how it all once was. That and how there was a time when large corporations were trying to figure out what the internet really was, so they could then move in to take control over what people were seeing and doing.
Hypnospace Outlaw has an authentic feel that is full of exceptional detail - from local middle-aged parents creating homepages that simply list their hobbies and likes, to hidden underground communities full of file-sharing and the spread of illegal content. It also presents a full World Wide Web or Information Super Highway to explore, where you can take your time to visit websites, read about fake popular culture, buy apps, download music, or switch up your desktop’s wallpaper.
It’s is also quite funny, aesthetically creative, inventive, and a pure joy to play as a linear detective story. One with surprising twists and turns, that further deepen it’s weirdly accurate and yet still bizarre alternate history. Taking on the role of a Hypnospace Enforcer, it’s your job to scour the internet and flag stuff like harassment, copyright infringement, illegal commerce, and other stuff – for review or straight-up removal.
With the story presented in a linear timeline, that progresses and showcased various snapshots of Hypnospace and its growth and change, you’re given specific cases to solve with each one growing in complexity. Things start off innocent enough of course. Removing copyrighted images of cartoon characters from a small-town teacher’s website to flagging a teenager’s juvenile jokes about other kids he knows – it’s all fun, whilst making you feel like a bit of a corporate stiff.
But, it’s not long before it all becomes a rather clever tale of chasing down an emergent dark web full of secrets and revelation. Where you need to scour for passwords, hidden pages, infiltrate communities, decipher codes, and more all from a virtual desktop, applications, and access to a web browser.
You don’t have to have vivid memories of late ‘90s internet to get the most out of Hypnospace Outlaw, but a head full of GeoCities nightmares will certainly help to make sense of it all. From buttons that people put on their pages to showcase their community membership, the concept of a personal site to showcase one’s limited creativity, fan pages, flashy clip art anywhere and everywhere - to obtrusive MIDI-music, low quality audio, viruses, and digital assistants aplenty. Hypnospace Outlaw extends its period-specific fascination to include computing and old school operating systems.
The Windows ’95 meets MS-DOS interface and UI is very much Vaporware: The Game. And like the best examples of that musical genre (plus, Hypnospace’s own original and excellent music), it transcends parody or simple nostalgia to present something new and genuinely fascinating. There’s a dreamlike quality to it all that’s also hard to pin down, in addition to being funny and intelligent and absurd. Solving cases is in many ways like solving puzzles in an old detective point-and-click adventure – but via surfing the web. Getting to learn about fictional people and brands and musical acts and trends and feuds and personal concerns though, is the key to it all. Hypnospace Outlaw successfully captures the spirit of late ‘90s internet by creating its own robust and varied and equally strange version of it.
One part late ‘90s internet simulator, one part engaging detective story, Hypnospace Outlaw’s hit counter is strong. Zane rocks.
What we liked
A fascinating recreation of late 1990s internet
Detective work via visiting web sites and using a browser
Great era-specific music and art
Funny and richly detailed world full of weird alternate reality pop culture and technology
What we didn't like
Puzzle solutions often limited to one or two variances