The More Things Change…

HIGH The authenticity in capturing the time period.

LOW Using Switch controls for a game clearly designed for PC.

WTF Growing to hate a fictional teenager.

Since I started reviewing games, there’s been a recurring joke in my house — I’ll load up a review game and then tell my partner that I’ve “clocked in”. Sometimes I’ll claim that I’ve “worked all morning” if I’ve been playing a review copy.

I found this very amusing because my partner currently works from home, whilst I have recently left my job and have yet to start my third year at university. Of course, I know it’s just a hobby for me, but early on with Hypnospace Outlaw it sure felt like work…

Hypnospace Outlaw sees the player in the role of an enforcer of Hypnospace, a parody version of 1999’s early internet. As an enforcer, the player is required to locate instances of rules violations, including things like viruses and cyberbullying. To do this, the player must browse Hypnospace zones populated with faux user-created pages such as Teentopia or Goodtime Valley.

This concept is sold brilliantly. Upon starting, the player is presented with a desktop page with icons which are familiar to anyone who uses a computer in real life, but stylised in a way to match the time period. All the navigation within Hypnospace Outlaw is done through this interface, including the game’s settings. With a tutorial in the form of cheesy and dull videos similar to those found in the orientation of any low-paying job, it all helps the player to become immersed in their position as a Hypnospace enforcer.

The cases start simple, the first involving the misuse of a cartoon character. Enforcing this one is straightforward, requiring simple browsing through zones and pages, clicking on any copyright infringement spotted. It is safe to say that this did not require much brainpower, and felt like a chore.

However, the cases get more complicated and increasing familiarity with Hypnospace’s interface is a must for progress, requiring the detective work of pinpointing connections between pages and making relevant searches. Successfully figuring this out always felt satisfying and logical.

For example, in one case the player is tasked with tracking illegal shock images due to a virus. After receiving an email that appears to be malicious, the player can use this information to search the title of the email in Hypnospace to find instances of the virus. From here, one of the results leads the player to a page that gives descriptions of those who have been victims of the software, but not their names. Using the knowledge that the player has accrued up to this point, these descriptions can be used to track down who these people are and the pages which feature these images.

However, sometimes navigating through cases (whether easy or difficult) was problematic and caused me to question Outlaw’s suitability for the Switch. This is often the case with games originally designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind — here, the joycon sticks and on-screen keyboard are functional, but lack the intuitiveness that using a PC would bring. 

Otherwise, Hypnospace Outlaw was a joy because of its authenticity. I might be giving away my age here, but as someone who experienced the period being emulated firsthand, I felt nostalgic. The fake pages look accurately amateurish, with messy writing and garish color schemes, and are littered with pixelated images of people with bad haircuts. There were also instances of music parodies from the time, like pastiches of Linkin Park and Kid Rock. I felt I was being transported back to my younger days. 

Hypnospace also offers a sense of people coming to grips with this new-at-the-time way of connecting, and the excitement of being part of a growing online community. This is a credit to the strong writing, as it all rings true.

In this respect, Hypnospace Outlaw moved from being a task-based game to a voyeuristic experience as I peered into the lives of these people. However, as I continued my role as an enforcer, the game brought me to instances of the underlying toxicity — things like a teenage girl harassed by multiple boys, instances of bullying, or a culture war breaking out due to a cartoon image.

It would be easy to dismiss Hypnospace Outlaw as an outright nostalgia piece, but these instances of toxicity are valid as reflections of contemporary social media and communication. For example, as the player makes their way through the narrative, a conspiracy starts to grow. The developers play on 1999’s fear of Y2k here, but at the same time seem to be warning against the unchecked power held by those who develop these platforms, as we now see with the influence of Facebook or Google. 

Hypnospace Outlaw is a fascinating experience that I wholeheartedly recommend. It is well-written and authentic, and while the early going may feel like completing chores, it soon tests the player’s detective skills. With cases that are satisfying to solve and a story that also applies to the internet as we know it today, it’s a must-play.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Tendershoot and published by No More Robots. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Drug Reference, Suggestive Themes and Violence. Hynospace Outlaw contains violent images, like pictures of guns. There are references to a fictitious drug called T-Nubs, and their effects on a user. There is one particular instance of violence at a certain point, but this is not depicted to the player — instead, they learn about it after the fact. Most of the adult material found in Hypnospace Outlaw is only hinted at and not depicted in a graphic way.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. Players with eyesight issues may have some problems reading text,  as it’s not always displayed neatly, or in colors that have sufficient background contrast. However, there is the option for the “Hypnospace helper” to read aloud all the text in the game by pressing Y, with the option to have the game also caption this.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Due to its desktop design and structure, this game is fully playable for those who are Deaf.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Gareth Payne
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