Hypnospace Outlaw is the work of designer Jay Tholen and developer Tendershoot. Released in March 2019 for PC and Mac, it won several indie game awards. This adventure title is best known for its unusual satirical subject matter.
The premise of Hypnospace Outlaw is that a fictitious company has created a version of the internet you can use in your sleep. This isn’t the modern-day web either. Instead, players will be familiar with it if they were browsing back in the late ’90s and early ’00s. It is a parody of the internet when the social media service of choice was MySpace.
Many games have attempted to poke fun at internet culture, especially in recent times. Yet, far too many miss the humor mark and fall flat despite good gameplay. Does Hypnospace Outlaw live up to the hype and make you laugh?
Is It Funny?
In this alternate 1999 timeline, you take on the role of an Enforcer for the Merchantsoft corporation. This group is responsible for creating Hypnospace, which users strap on at night when they go to bed. As an Enforcer, players are tasked with erasing all objectionable content from this bizarre GeoCities-inspired internet. Such content can include viruses, copyright infringements, or even harassment.
Browsing the internet as a game might not seem like an exciting thing to do. Nevertheless, Hypnospace Outlaw makes the experience worthwhile thanks to the bizarre and hilarious websites you find. Online stores, communities, and other pages are filled with interesting and compelling content. Much of it takes a satirical look at the type of content you can see on the web. Sometimes the sites might hit a little close to home, reminding you of what the internet genuinely was like in the late ’90s.
Traveling around the Hypnospace reveals how much work went into creating each and every single page you visit. Not only are they interesting, but they are also genuinely funny. I laughed out loud several times while making my way around this version of the internet. It is unique in terms of the games I have played in that the parody and humor land consistently. That pushes you to want to discover more and fall further down the rabbit hole.
At its heart, Hypnospace Outlaw is a puzzle game. As previously mentioned, you act as an Enforcer on the internet. This essentially means you are a moderator and must remove any questionable content from the service.
At first, you won’t have to do much other than identify potentially offensive or objectionable text and images. A quick press of a button and it will be erased from the Hypnospace forever. Completing the tasks rewards you with HypnoCoins. These act as a kind of currency you can use to unlock special items such as screensavers and wallpapers.
But things soon become far more complicated than that. To discover the origin of illicit postings or banned imagery, you have to turn detective. Unfortunately, you have little in the way of investigative tools. Getting past the puzzles means you have to do a lot of research. It is a lot of trial and error, looking at pages to find clues like passwords or a user’s browsing habits. The challenges quickly become very difficult and involving.
While it is possible to stumble upon the right answer occasionally, most of the time it takes hard work. Hypnospace Outlaw can be frustrating but it is also immensely gratifying. Getting to the bottom of a mystery really does provide satisfaction because of the effort you put in. Many of the puzzles require some creative thinking as well. They are not the usual type that players will have come across before.
If Hypnospace Outlaw nails the humor, it also does an exceptional job with the presentation. It looks just like the internet did back in the late ’90s. This was a time when people were first able to make their own sites and set up communities. There were few tools to help create professional-looking content so everything had a sort of amateur appearance. Nonetheless, this was a time of creativity and excitement.
In that respect, Hypnospace Outlaw just feels right. A great selection of music spread across the sites helps this immensely. Ranging from the basic electronic tunes you would expect to find on sites with Flash animation to full-blown original songs. All of them add character and help set an eerie atmosphere.
Strangely enough, Hypnospace Outlaw actually ends up being a great detective game. Although you are not a police officer in the conventional sense, your role as an Enforcer involves similar work. Instead of using clues to solve a murder, you are attempting to shut down file-sharing operations.
The puzzles force you to go out and investigate. Complete with notepad, you are sent into this odd version of the internet to hunt down clues. It is an immensely satisfying experience that is carried with some solid humor and an excellent presentation.