Probably the most important thing to know about Hypnospace Outlaw is that it’s being developed by Tendershoot, the developer behind the clown centric point-and-click game Dropsy. That fact alone should be enough to let you know that Hypnospace Outlaw is something at least a little out of the ordinary. It’s also being published by No More Robots, whose portfolio already includes down hill biking game Descenders and Not Tonight, where you play as a bouncer in post-Brexit Britain.
Primed with that information, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that Hypnospace Outlaw is more than a little weird. Essentially, the entire game is an homage to the internet of the late 90s and early 2000s. No More Robots’ Mike Rose described it to me as “Geocities: The Game”, and it’s rare to find three words that so fully encapsulate a game.
If you do remember that era of the internet, then much of Hypnospace will be immediately familiar to you. From the overwhelming usage of animated gifs to the graphics that trail your mouse and the frankly terrible layout of almost every website you visit, it’s all right here.
You’re actually free to explore as much of this extremely weird simulation as you want, and there’s plenty of very odd things to find in the world of Hypnospace. You’ve even got a full operating system to tinker about in, HypnOS, which you can customise as you see fit, downloading new themes and software from Hypnospace as you go. Want access to a virtual pet to play with? That’s in here. How about a mad professor who acts much like Microsoft’s Clippy? That’s obviously going to be in here too.
There’s even an advert for Hypnospace itself you can uncover, and it so perfectly captures the kind of cheesily upbeat videos you used to see for services like AOL that it takes you a moment to remember that it’s fictional. The level of detail and variety in the game is almost astonishing, and it feels like there’s only potential for it to grow.
However, while you can spend your time seeing just how deep the rabbit hole goes, you do have a role inside the world of Hypnospace Outlaw. You serve as a Hypnospace Enforcer, essentially a cyberspace cop. You’re given jobs by the Hypnospace Patrol Department, and then set out to protect the virtual world from whatever threat has been posed to you. Initially this starts with simple copyright violations and investigating “suspicious” content, but from the off it feels like there’s more at play than that.
This is where it’s probably worth noting the dystopian undertones to the game. Although Hypnospace does an excellent job of capturing what the internet was like fifteen to twenty years ago, it’s very much set in its own world. While you may be presented with the game as a typical desktop, Hypnospace is something you actually access while you sleep.
Specifically, an introductory video talks about being able to get things done and work when normally that time would be spent sleeping. It’s, frankly, extremely creepy, and you can easily see how your role as an Enforcer could take on a much more sinister tone as the game progresses.
In many ways, Hypnospace Outlaw bring the hacking simulator Uplink to mind. Both create worlds entirely inside a virtual internet and operating system, capturing a very specific aesthetic. However, while you could explore in Uplink, it was a fairly linear experience overall, whereas Hypnospace feels anything but linear. In fact, if I’m perfectly honest I spent very little time actually fulfilling my role as an Enforcer. Instead I marvelled at the oddities of this simulated internet, and revelled in its absolutely bizarre world.
If you’re interested in Hypnospace Outlaw, then you won’t have to wait too long as it’s out later this year for PC, Mac and Linux – console versions are also a possibility. For those who can’t wait that long, then you can join the game’s Discord server. Not only does this get you access to the game’s beta, but No More Robots have recreated some of the 90s internet inside Discord, and even allows you to build your own website within the server.
I honestly can’t believe that’s a sentence I’ve just typed.