Having grown up around the inception of the internet, I am quite familiar with how it was. The websites were basic, people were, for the most part friendly and well meaning, but there were a few buggers out there that sought to cause harm. Generally though, everyone got along well, and then sites started allowing users to create their own minisites using their website builder, and sites made with Angelfire and Geocities became commonplace. This is, I assume, where the inspiration for Hypnospace Outlaw came from, as it has you play an enforcer for an internet-style community, accessible using a headband while you sleep. Your job? To ensure that no-one breaks the rules.
As a volunteer enforcer for HypnOS, it is your job to report any suspicious activity on the system which may come under five umbrellas: copyright infringement, harassment, horrible content, malicious software or trying to make real money from the system. Finding these rule breaking activities is surprisingly easy on there, and doing so nets you some currency to use on products as you please. You get given cases to complete, and these are usually a matter of you stumbling around until you manage to find enough elements on people’s sites to punish them and solve the case. Fortunately, you do have plenty of different tools at your disposal, most useful being a search bar to find tagged sites, making it quite simple to find various sites to aid with your investigations.
What the devs have absolutely spot on is just how incredibly ugly Geocities and Angelfire websites could be. They’ve got some genuinely disgusting looking websites out there, full of bright colours on bright colours, plenty of terrible quality images, with rubbish .wav music playing in the background to really give it that authentic feel. And there are hundreds of sites out there, with so much hidden content that you may not think to stumble upon, but it’s there. You could go the entire game and not see a large portion of what the game has to offer, because a lot of it is just not immediately there for you to click on and visit. You actually have to make a conscious effort to seek out the best parts of this game, and enjoy all of the funny little easter eggs and hidden jokes that lie in wait for you.
A True Mess
The bulk of this review is going to be under this header – and if you’ve read my reviews, you know my format. Intro, good points, bad points, conclusion. Well the good points have been stated, so now we’re in the realm of negativity, which is exactly where this game left me. Hypnospace Outlaw does replicate the authenticity of the 90s terrible websites extremely well, but I’ve moved on well from this era. I know it’s a little hypocritical of me to suggest that, given my affection of retro-styled indie games, but this is easily the most ugly game I’ve ever played. Every time I visited a new site, I couldn’t enjoy it because of the extreme unpleasantness that was put into each site. Whether it was just terrible visuals, or an aural nightmare, it did seem like every site was ruined by what the developers had put in.
When you add up the cases that you need to complete, in order to ‘finish’ the game, there’s really only four or five hours of gameplay in Hypnospace Outlaw. Yes, you’re supposed to trawl around and find all the funnies that are dotted around the place to get some laughs from, but once that becomes tiresome, what you’re left with is just a bunch of horrendous looking and annoying web pages just to click “yes this is bad”, and receive a small number of coins that, in reality, you’re going to use once or twice at most. The fact that they’re charging £15 for this tat is absurd.
My final gripe with the game is just how directionless it can be at times. It’s not a bad thing to force your players to work things out, but when your instruction is basically just “find some bad pictures on there”, with no hints as to where, what or whom to look for. Instead, you just have to trawl around a bunch of dreadful pages until you find what your current tasks asks of you. There are even some parts which aren’t very well explained at all – uninstalling rubbish software or removing viruses for example – which makes getting through the game at some stages an absolute chore.
The Final Word
If you combined Geocities, Inception and the game Orwell, you’d have Hypnospace Outlaw. My main question is why on earth would anyone want that? It’s not fun, it’s just irritating, directionless and honestly quite boring. When you take the worst parts of the three above franchises, and try to make a fun game out of it, you’re always going to fail, and sadly, that is what has happened here. It’s a game not worth your time, effort or money.
Upon reflection, I realise that there were a few good things that were in this game and I’ve bumped the score up a touch.