Hypnospace Outlaw is a stylized 90s internet experience that emulates the look & feel of desktop and web interfaces from 1999. There’s hours of fake internet to surf, patrol, and otherwise maintain standards for. And funny enough, Hynospace Outlaw has a better internet than ours is now. If you were around to take part in late 90s internet, you’ll reminisce on the slow page loads, the bevy of fire images, and auto-loading music with each page visit. Hynospace Outlaw is unlike anything you’ll play this year, or any year (oh, and don’t forget to sign my guestbook!)
The game starts with a clever boot-up sequence of HypnOS, the operating system you’ll be using. Oh, and accessing all of this is through a specialized computer headband, which is the most 90s thing. You’ve signed up as Enforcer for the Hypnospace Patrol Department, basically becoming an internet cop. After following some tutorial videos and receiving information, you’re assigned your first two zones to start working. HypnOS Enforcer Edition gives you access to new tools, while limiting you from others. For instance, you can’t use the hottest chatting tool, as communication with citizens is forbidden. You’ll only receive communications via email, and you will be given cases for finding copyright infringement, harassment, malicious software, and more. For each one you take down, you’ll receive hypnocoin. Hypnocoin is a virtual currency, and cannot be converted into cash, but you can purchase digital goods on the internet that you find.
Should you not choose to police the internet, you can spend your free time indiscriminately downloading software, sound effects, music, virtual pets, wallpapers, screensavers, and by extension: viruses. You can choose purchase anti-virus software (with your hard-earned hypnocoin) at various tiers for better protection and detection. There’s even a WinAmp-like player that you get new skins for it when listening to your favorite tracks collected from the internet. But many of the high-level things you could do back then, are possible in Hypnospace Outlaw‘s version of the internet here, and it’s amazing.
Like any good desktop, your hypnoband computer comes with email, an internet browser, a file explorer, a music player, sticky notes, and a recycle bin. HypnOS more closely resembles Windows 95, but is trying to be Windows 98. There’s settings to customize the wallpaper, screensaver, and overall theme. HypnOS has unique file extensions and error messages with a means to look up what those are, and how to make sense of them. Some are more intuitive than others, but for what you can’t suss, out there’s lots of tips to better use your computer. You’ll find tips early on that if you wiggle your mouse cursor violently across the screen, it makes pages load faster. After 10 hours into the game, I cannot tell you if it actually works or not, but it does make me feel good – much like many of us felt twenty years ago doing the same thing.
Nothing is as it seems, though. Future software updates introduce unstable releases, and people become more questionable the more you hear from them. You’ll later work yourself into FTP-like file directories, which are not indexed by anything you can find in a standard search. This is done by obtaining a password or purchasing access to this. What unravels from here is best left for you to discover, but Hypnospace Outlaw has more surprises than it leads on.
Okay, back to working an as enforcer again. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. For instance, to properly report malicious software, you’ll have to download a program, discover it has malware, and then buy the uninstaller due to some shady business practices. Or if you download some software that doesn’t work right, you can purchase the anti-virus software to clean it completely. Doing your job effectively is about knowing how to search by tagged files, or using stamps to mark pages you’ve cleansed or offer no threat.
My favorite thing that I’ve done is an enforcer, is downloaded free website accelerator software, then immediately reporting it as it was a case I had for illegal software. I then reaped the benefits of its use (with some mild pop-up annoyances) to do my job faster than had I not used it, or deleted it. The act of finding the violations aren’t always apparent, and it too often relies on pages that aren’t indexed, and needing to do some guesswork or follow all links to get to where you’re going. I think this, along with the endgame, pad out the game length in undesirable ways.
Browsing pages within Hypnospace Outlaw is similar to what you remember seeing on Angelfire or Tripod years ago. You can sense the web immaturity here, and revel in the time where pages take ages to load, and music dominated each site with every connection. It all feels like you’ve gone back in time to experience the internet of your youth, but contained in this bubble of preservation and uniqueness.
Furthering this sense of deja vu, is seeing plenty of websites where people don’t know how to be a proper webmaster. They include test text, images they can’t figure out how to remove, or placing images from chain emails as banners because they think something bad will happen if they don’t forward it on. The game does have the passage of time, so there will be certain events that happen, and webpages get updated as you re-browse them. So, it’s cool to see things evolve and react to the things you do as an enforcer.
Aside from bad webpages, you’ll be learning about emerging music genres like coolpunk which is music infused with Christmas sound. Toys like Squisherz have songs get stuck in your head. In fact, almost every website you visit has their own song, and brands are often hypnotic and catchy. I’m looking at you, “Granny Cream“.
Should you see everything there is to see, you can download the developer’s offering of Hypnospace Page Builder and Hypnospace Tune Sequencer dev tools to make your own. Utilizing the graphics and sound quality of 1999, you’ll be able to make your very own website for browsing in the game, along with making its own earworm to accompany it.
Hypnospace Outlaw uses its own originality to spark nostalgia for the weirdest time on the internet: the late 90s. It takes a while for it to “click”, but when it does, it’s an absolute treat as you work through your cases. With a solid 10-12 hours for the story to reach its conclusion, this is a fantastic experience I want more of. With there being more discovery and fascination ahead, you’ll only want to spend more time on this faux internet. While I wasn’t fond of the times I had to retread territory I had already cleansed, Hypnospace Outlaw is the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year so far.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes