Hypnospace Outlaw is almost certainly one of the most unique games I’ve played this entire console generation. To talk about it too much would be to spoil a little of its charm. However, I’m here to spoil it through words so I’d urge you to go play it on Xbox Game Pass for free and make your way back here again. If you have a love of archaic internet, meta-commentary and just great games, Hypnospace Outlaw should be on your watchlist.
To put it very simply, Hypnospace Outlaw is a mixture of a traditional detective-style game and a late 90’s internet simulator. You are let loose on the wild west of the internet age and told to track down people breaking one of five central rules: Content Infringement, Harassment, Illegal Content, Malicious Software and Extralegal Commerce. As a hypnos enforcer, you must wander your way into different sites to hunt them down, and maybe just envelope yourself in the weird meta joy that comes with it.
Your very first case is a Content Infringement one where you must find pictures of in-game 1962 cartoon character “Gumshoe Gooper.” You are given a picture and you must find your own way to the case’s conclusion. The entirety of Hypnospace Outlaw takes place on a virtual home computer in 1999 complete with a rudimentary web browser, download queue and the option of acquiring some rather strange applications. There are a few central networks that have homepages of sites such as “The Cafe”, which is a non-specific group of people, “Goodtime Valley”, which is for the nostalgia-driven, and many more. These all give a rough idea of the personalities they contain and make your wild goose chase for issues a little easier. Harassment might be found in kid-centric rooms due to their propensity to bully, whilst Copyright Infringement might be easier in nostalgia-driven places because of their lack of knowledge of the internet and willingness to talk about copyrighted figures.
Whilst this is more or less the basic premise, the gameplay and world are what will truly keep you going. Instead of doing detective work and looking where you think you are most likely to find it, every room is unique and often oddly funny. This means you won’t want to miss a single page on your way. Sometimes you stumble into an oddly unaware and funny obituary, and sometimes you find some music gatekeepers talking about the real way to play Coolpunk (a genre that utilises cold themes, Christmas tropes and a specific brand of soda). This isn’t just great because of how funny the ideas are, it adds a great deal of world-building to the fascinating world at the core of Hypnospace.
Hypnospace (pretentious sentence incoming) blurs the line between game and experience incredibly well. It feels natural, responsive, and incredibly open. It offers a world to exist in, not just a puzzle to solve. As you report content or buy items (with money given to you for solving cases) the world reacts accordingly with characters responding to you and other voicing their opinions. In this same vein, there is so much to explore that it doesn’t feel like the game is forcing you to do so. It doesn’t point to the right areas with a big red arrow at the top of the screen. It tells you its problem and just lets you tackle it how you like.
The gameplay itself can occasionally feel not quite as good as it would on PC. As it is a very mouse-focused game emulating a computer, it can occasionally rely on a quick click like when a virus grabs a hold of the PC. This act became more tedious due to the foreign feel of using a controller to move a mouse. Fortunately, this can be fixed with Keyboard and Mouse support, with Xbox One gamers helped along by Razer’s Turret for Xbox One.
The music, visuals and writing are incredibly well put together in Hypnospace. Images have a blurriness to them only old download speeds and physical limitation allows; music differs wildly between each, with some showing artistic merit and others just goofing around. This dichotomy is true of Hypnospace itself. It’s goofy yet appreciative of what came before it, it’s funny but also offers a rather dark world below the surface, it emulates hundreds of users yet comes across completely sincerely.
This sincerity is expressed through its wacky meta humour, its writing and, more importantly, its entire presentation. Hypnospace Outlaw on Xbox One is so wonderfully put together, it’s hard to imagine anyone it wouldn’t make an impact on. If you have any interest in the early days of the internet, meta humour or just unique games, I strongly urge you to give this a go.