It’s 1999 and surfing the web is no longer the nerdy pastime it once was. If you don’t own a fan site dedicated to the latest fad, or a homepage filled with crudely animated GIFs, you’re a nobody. Dreaming big – quite literally, in this case – an innovative company known as Merchantsoft has created Hypnospace – an internet service you can browse in your sleep via a headband. What could possibly go wrong?
One thing is certain – Hypnospace needs to be monitored for fraudulent activity. This is where you come in, acting as a Hypnospace Enforcer. Hypnospace Outlaw introduces itself as an internet moderator sim but soon evolves into more of an investigative adventure, with later cases requiring thorough sleuthing. You’re presented with a faux PC desktop, a handful of applications and an ever-growing list of webpages to survey, each presented in glorious 1999-o-vision.
It’s an experience wonderfully observed, featuring purposely low-res video clips, gaudy fonts, garish colour schemes, and badly animated GIFs. Each site has ear-piercingly awful MIDI welcoming music too, which in true 33k dial-up internet fashion, occasionally stops and stutters.
It starts off simple enough, with a short introduction to ease you in. Your first case – as they’re known – is to simply browse a dozen or so websites and use your ‘banhammer’ (as it isn’t known) to report any copyright infringement of Gumshoe Gooper – a rather gormless looking cartoon fish.
Successful allegations bestow a small amount of cash, which can be used to purchase new apps such as vital anti-virus software – clicking on dodgy links can have unforeseen consequences.
As mentioned, later cases require more busywork. A good example is a case surrounding illegal music downloads. It’s easy enough to find a lead – Hypnospace has a whole channel dedicated to music from wannabe artists – but the actual links are hidden away behind a password, which you’ll need to crack by taking note of not-so-subtle clues.
The developers have managed to weave a story in here too, again requiring detective work to uncover. Like every good story, it’s spread across distinctly different chapters. Working out how to transition one chapter to the next is the biggest challenge you’ll face. This is far removed from your typical video game, with no distinct boundaries or penalties. The most useful tool in your arsenal is the faux email system, as this is where the majority of clues come from – the higher-ups will drop you a line after major events, often containing information that’ll assist in progressing the story.
There’s a wealth of other stuff to mess around with, including the ability to download a virtual desktop pet. Indeed, Hypnospace Outlaw itself can feel less of a game and more of a time-wasting tool. Delve deep and you’ll discover amusing conspiracy theory sites, websites for quintessentially ‘90s toy lines and videogames, joyously brazen online scams and more. The majority have no connection to cases; they’re simply here for your amusement.
While unique, Hypnospace Outlaw isn’t going to please all and sundry. By offering a full, faux, internet service a few annoyances have emerged in this console iteration. If you detest using a virtual keyboard to search the eShop/PSN/Xbox One Store then you’ll likely find Hypnospace Outlaw troublesome at times – the search engine plays an integral part. Nintendo was so concerned about this that they requested the developers implemented keyboard and mouse support in the Switch version. Using the right analogue stick to scroll, instead of a slider, would have been beneficial too. This is a game authentic to a fault.
Nevertheless, it’s an experience like no other. As the first of its kind, it’s brilliantly on point – it’s like GeoCities has risen from the dead, taking us back to a time where the funniest thing on the internet was an animated dancing baby, and religious groups firmly believed a little-known thing called Pokémon was a danger to our children.
If you miss the hazy days of the internet boom, then strap yourself in – Hypnospace Outlaw lets you party like its 1999, albeit not without a few hiccups.