Whether or not HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW hooks you depends on how much you’re into the world of late ’90s cyberspace. You don’t have to have been there yourself. However, you’re going to need a base appreciation for stilted animations and rough audio. A willingness to browse pages and pages of weird, disjointed nonsense. An eagerness to link up all that nonsense into something new. Hypnospace certainly captures the feeling of its subject matter with archival quality especially for those who received AOL CDs in the mail and read walls of text about pushing the truck with Strength. The adventure game wrapped around it has its ups and down, but the experience of getting back into the webring game make it more than worth the trip.
Hypnospace is the hip new way to access the web while you sleep. After purchasing a Hypnospace headband, each hour you log in dreamland is an hour you can spend surfing the net. You play as an enforcer, hired on by parent company, Merchantsoft, to police its walled garden. Your task is to take down copyrighted content, remove bullying, and ensure that everything runs smoothly or at least do so as smoothly as possible.
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Hypnospace works like America Online or other early web portals. Instead of typing whatever you like into an address bar or searching for specific sites, you went to different zones and browsed around. This lends itself well to the point and click gameplay. Instead of an infinite internet, you need to explore a set number of websites to solve your assigned cases. While you’re doing your job, you’re free to roam around and take in the sights and sounds, which is Hypnospace Outlaw at its peak.
It’s easy to see that a ton of effort and creativity went into every browsable corner of Hypnospace. Sites are almost always personal homepages for a specific person. As the game goes on, time passes and you can see how their life is progressing. You can even see your actions causing ripple effects among the userbase. Old sites shut down, new ones pop up, and everything has an intricate amount of detail. This is a game where you’ll want to spend hours just poking around every corner, trying to find every hidden secret and weird tangent the developers built in.
Hypnospace Outlaw Review | In and out of Meatspace
It’s not even just what you read. While the visuals are clunky and obtuse (by design), Hypnospace Outlaw has a whole host of original music that runs the gamut. There are full albums you can buy in the game if you want to dig into the hip sounds of Fre3zer, the coolpunk act all the kids are wild about. You can surf to an official brand webpage to hear a full jingle and then go to a fan page and here a remixed MIDI version of the same song. It all just blends together into a perfect whole that feels like a window into an alternate past.
Eventually, you will run out of things to click and start picking up on the story. It’s here where Hypnospace Outlaw starts to lose a bit of its luster. However, the subtle narrative at play throughout the 10 or so hours is great. The websites update over time and so do the tools you use to interact with them. But by the end, you’ll really have to think outside the box to unlock every secret. If you stripped away all the ’90s attitude and just looked at the campaign, you’d probably still have one of the best pure detective games around. But, no matter what way you slice it, reaching that ending is anticlimactic.
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For one, investigating Hypnospace reveals just how limited your corner of the web is. Sure, that makes sense, you don’t want too many red herrings or putting together clues becomes impossible. However, part of the joy of exploring any corner of the internet is how vast it is. You want to feel like you could keep on clicking forever, but there just aren’t enough sites that aren’t related to your cases. There should have been a few more sites that were just there for the heck of it and fewer puzzle pieces. With just one more layer of off the wall nonsense, you’d avoid breaking the illusion.
The other, more literal example comes with the ending itself. Hypnospace Outlaw peppers in little bits of FMV here and there throughout the game. It’s never enough to oversaturate and always just enough to keep you surprised. However, the ending that’s there now could use one final moment outside of the Hypnospace interface. As it stands now, it’s basically a hard crash to credits that significantly undermines the otherwise expertly paced narrative. In that way, Hypnospace is reminiscent of another ’90s pastiche, Pixel Titans’ Strafe. Hypnospace Outlaw has just enough stylish videos to leave you desperate for more, and they just don’t deliver.
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Unlike Strafe, Hypnospace Outlaw delivers on exactly what it sets out to do right out of the gate. It’s got some issues but most of them stem from wanting more, which is a good sign. Thankfully, there’s already a Steam Workshop support update in the works, meaning that Hypnospace may still get the expansive number of bizarre tangents it so richly deserves. Until then, Hypnospace Outlaw stands as a unique one of a kind adventure that’s hard to pass up.
GameRevolution reviewed Hypnospace Outlaw on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.