Hypnospace Outlaw is a blast from the past – a fever dream of midi files, flashing stickers, and vomit-inducing colour schemes that was the 90s internet. But it’s not just the turn-of-the-millennia internet aesthetic that is taken from the time, but also one of its seemingly forgotten genres. In Hypnospace Outlaw, the point-and-click genre sees a triumphant return.
You start out in Hypnospace as an enforcer with a simple job to do—keep the internet clean at a surface level by scrubbing out copyright infringement, harassment and any illegal activity. Quickly, this simplicity fades and as the surface pages of the net are cleaned up. You’re forced to delve deeper through search terms and tags to find bigger crimes to report, more harassment to flag. Once you get into the deep web of the internet, things only continue to expand out as new communities emerge and new problems arise.
The information you receive is paced brilliantly in Hypnospace. Once you know the ropes and your way around the internet then you’re free to explore and discover what you can. You’ve still got open tasks from the enforcement agency, but you’ll find yourself lead around by your curiosity rather than a checklist of objectives. It makes you feel like a real detective—piecing together a scene on your own with notes you’ve made yourself is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game.
However, it’s the aesthetic of retro-internet that’s the real heart of Hypnospace. It’s unique and charming. Each webpage, or even your own desktop, is a unique blend between obnoxious flying stickers and awful fonts that come together to create a beautifully perfect mess that encapsulates the 90’s era internet. That’s exactly how it should be! Beyond each web page there are also applications and music tracks to distract you which makes the experience feel all the more dense and real as though you were back at a Windows 98 desktop.
Despite how impressive and true to life the 1990s era internet might be, there’s a reason that the internet has evolved beyond the point of blaring music and flashing graphics that made it what it was at the time. Compared to the quiet and calculated design we’re used to now, Hypnospace is outlandish and obnoxious. After the initial hit of nostalgia slowly starts to wear off, you’ll start to notice the cracks in the façade. You might even start to find continued play rather difficult, as the rose-tinted glasses fall off and the garish sights and sounds that vie for your attention start to be more annoying than charming, as your eyes and ears are assaulted with each new webpage you enter.
Whilst being another true to life element of the 90s internet, the viruses your Hypnospace enforcer headband unit can be infected by rarely hold the same level of charm as the webpages themselves. While a few of them are quirkier than they are annoying, the majority are designed to get in your way and corrupt your browsing experience, just as a real virus would do. Thankfully, they can be eradicated with the right bit of anti-virus software if you’ve earned enough Hypnocoins to buy it.
Unfortunately, some viruses won’t go away so easily. For example, the not-so-helpful ‘helpful’ pop ups from Professor Helper will need an exclusive and elusive installer to make them disappear for good. These viruses wear out their welcome very quickly if you don’t deal with them, thus dragging down and removing you from the carefully crafted experience that Hypnospace Outlaw provides. As in real life, be careful of what you click on while browsing the web.
When it comes to the puzzles, Hypnospace does have that satisfying pay off when you finally figure something out for yourself. While it’s hampered by its lack of a real story or structure as progress is exclusively linked to the information you can pick out of the environment, it does feel great to discover a huge burst of information. However, there’s always a going to be a large chunk of time where you’re stuck and frustrated with no idea what to do next. Not only is scanning through every page you’ve seen before oftentimes boring, but it’s incredibly demoralising as it becomes apparent how much within Hypnospace is hiding from you underneath the surface level, which makes finding the right solution even harder.
Beyond the difficulties that it may cause, the lack of a story to drive you through the game makes it quite hard to get invested within your work as there is no interconnected story between the tasks that you are assigned by the Enforcement agency to pull you through from one to another. Instead the meat of what story there is in Hypnospace Outlaw, comes through what happens over time on people’s pages and the threads of evidence that you discover and follow. Whilst these are compelling, they’re often cut short as its only in the end of the game when gameplay shifts to looking back and cataloguing, when you have the tools to discover everything that went on and research fully every hint you picked up on.
In the end, Hypnospace Outlaw offers once of the best point and click puzzle experiences in a long time that lets you think through the puzzles to find your own solution rather than being spoon fed the answers. With the outstanding aesthetic on top it is a must play if you’ve ever missed the 90’s internet.