Sunday, January 17, 2021

REVIEW: Hypnospace Outlaw (game)

Hypnospace Outlaw is a combination OS simulator and point-and-click mystery game.


In an alternate universe where Microsoft and Apple don't exist (I think), a guy named Dylan creates HypnOS, an operating system that allows you to access Hypnospace, a sort of Internet you use while you sleep. It's 1999, and you're working as one of Hypnospace's "Enforcers," people who scour Hypnospace and report various violations (copyright infringement, harassment, malicious software, etc.). As you work, you learn more about the various Hypnospace users and eventually gain the ability to dig deeper and find hidden pages. It isn't all just violation reporting, though - there's something bigger and nastier plaguing Hypnospace, and it's up to you to figure out what's going on and collect evidence.

Aesthetically, Hypnospace Outlaw is a love letter to the early days of the Internet: badly designed pages and every site has music on autoplay (thankfully, you can turn this off in the game's settings). The various Hypnospace communities are close-knit, often either very geeky or very confused, and you'll find yourself learning a lot about this alternate reality's current popular music. I can't say that I necessarily liked all of it (or even most of it), and I didn't feel the nostalgic warm fuzzies that some people who've played this game seemed to have experienced, but it was definitely an immersive experience. Up to a certain point, I could believe in most of these characters, and I even got attached to a few of them, despite never seeing them outside of Hypnospace or talking to them in any way.

The bulk of this game is very much like a scavenger hunt. Initially, you're given specific violations to look for, which earn you money as you report them. The various Hypnospace sites have a lot of text, and it can be tempting to zone out and not read any of it, but once you get to the endgame, you'll be kicking yourself if you haven't been paying at least a little attention to the specifics of what the various Hypnospace users have been posting about and saying about themselves.

All of the game's mysteries were solvable using hints sprinkled throughout the game, although it wasn't always immediately apparent and some of it required more patience than I possessed. For example, there were times when the game expected you to do something particular Hypnospace sites told you not to do. It took me a while to get the hang of that. Also, it was easy to miss certain things, and sometimes I turned to the Steam discussion forums just so that I could get a general idea of where in the game I should be looking for a particular password, program, or piece of information.

Some advice for new players: Yes, you have to download the programs that you know for a fact will give you viruses in order to report them. It's painful, especially if you're in the age group this game is aimed at and have spent years training yourself not to download suspicious files and software. The game's anti-virus program is your friend. Also, software that looks useless is probably more vital than you'll immediately realize. Really pay attention to the way it's described and where it comes from.

The violation reporting and (later) page archiving aspects of the game appealed to my love of obsessive and occasionally tedious gameplay, although even I wasn't quite obsessive enough to find every single one of Hypnospace Outlaw's many pages. And the game's overarching story turned out to be an unexpected gut punch. Unfortunately, it was also the aspect that I felt let me down the most. I wanted closure and justice, and instead the game gave me a slimeball character's weak "apology" and no evidence that that person experienced either true remorse or real consequences.

All in all, I'd recommend this to those who like immersive mystery games and don't mind gameplay that's a little tedious. If you feel nostalgic about old free GeoCities websites, definitely give this a try, and if you don't feel one way or another about them, this game may still appeal to you.

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