It's time to step into Hypnospace!

I think Hypnospace Outlaw isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s a game you’ll never forget.

Hypnospace Outlaw is a game developed by Tendershoot and published by No More Robot. You, the player, are in an alternate reality 1999 in which a company named Merchantsoft created a way to browse the internet in your sleep. Being a volunteer enforcer, you browse HypnOS and moderate a slew of user-created sites to earn the game’s currency, Hypnocoins. You spend most of your time clicking through late 90’s/early 2000’s style webpages, solving small puzzles to find offensive material. If this sounds interesting to you, or you have a mad case of GeoCities nostalgia, go play the game, you won’t regret it. It’s a creatively fantastic game that leaves you satisfied for days on end. Spoilers for the story ahead.

The game starts with a satirical FMV tutorial of your enforcer tools and how HypnOS works. Between the loud muffled voice lines and shouts of “Good enough!” after takes, the tutorial has you laughing off the bat. Soon enough you get an email with your first case and you’re freed out onto Hypnospace.

Our detective friend, Gumshoe Gooper.

Your first case is cracking down on the unlicensed use of Gumshoe Gooper. You’ll quickly jump around various websites, whether it’s Terry’s (apparently out of control) sticker collection, or Counselor Ronnie telling you not to do T-Nubs, you’ll have a great time browsing the various websites. This is where the heart of the game is, browsing and policing Hypnospace.

Hopefully Terry gets some help getting those thumbs off.

At first, solving the cases is a side effect of having a good time seeing all the crazy stuff people put up, downloading random garbage to throw on your desktop, and stumbling on someone doing something naughty. Eventually though, the cases start getting more serious, a few mysteries start to pop up here and there. You’ll have to guess passwords, or search for hidden unlisted pages to find what you’re looking for. You start to get invested in the characters of Hypnospace and have a real interest in how they’ll develop.

After bringing the cybercriminals to shame, one of your bosses, Dylan Merchant, sends you the prototype of his new game, Outlaw. Long story short, Outlaw is a mess, it fries most of the enforcer’s headsets, including yours. Fast-forward about a month later, your headset’s been repaired, with an apology email to boot! You’re let back into hypnospace, where things have gone to hell. With all the enforcer’s gone it’s been open season, they’re not assigning cases, you’ve got no help, but someone’ll have to pick up the pieces.

The resistance is in full force.

Following the crackdown on Gumshoe Gooper, the Boomers on Hypnospace have risen up and have decided to stand with Gooper, posting him all over despite the backlash. After cleaning up the Gooper fiasco and handling some of the other incidents, you’ll get a notice that someone is hosting copyright music, and you need to find and remove it. This is where the puzzles start to get a little more difficult.

After guessing a password and unlocking a new kind of hidden page, FLIST pages, you’ll eventually find where the music’s coming from, the FLIST page of Dylan Merchant himself! After striking down some of the links, he’ll angrily message you, saying what you’re doing isn’t funny, and asking when it’s ever been illegal to share music, you dolt. He’ll remove you from active enforcer work, letting you know “you should be grateful you’re not banned.” You’ll quickly be logged out.

Another month later, it’s New Year's Eve in 1999. Another of your bosses, Samantha, assumes what happened was a mistake. After a hasty apology, she restores you to your former position. There’s a massive Y2K virus that’s hacked one of the official Merchantsoft pages, and everyone’s out of the office. Fortunately, you’re able to guess the password, using clues you’ve picked up from earlier cases. Able to breathe a sigh of relief, you get a download for the new version of Outlaw. It starts bouncing around your desktop eating icons, distorting text, and breaking your system apart until you jolt awake. It’s the Mindcrash.

6 people are dead, and hundreds are injured. You get a list of all the users killed, and it’s gut wrenching. These are not nameless people, these are people that you’ve gotten used to seeing after visiting their pages time and time again, finding clues, and seeing what’s new. You’re stunned. The world is outraged, HypnOS is shut down, and the creator of the Mindcrash virus, a user by the name of T1MAGEDDON, is sentenced to 6 years in prison.

It’s time to visit Hypnospace for the first time in a long time. It’s been more than 20 years. As a new member of the HAP, the Hypnospace Archival Project, you’ll go around archiving pages and searching for oddities that your fellow members faintly remember. This is where the puzzle solving gets extremely difficult, you’ll have to fight hard to not look up the hints page in-game. After solving a couple of the lost and found pages, one of your team members, Chelsea, reveals herself to be Samantha from 20 years ago! She doesn’t think Tim is behind the Mindcrash, and needs help proving it.

The HAP is in full swing

They knew the whole time!

First, you’ll need to find proof that Merchantsoft knew the year 2000 update wasn’t ready, and second, that they knew Hypnospace can cause serious medical problems. You get cracking, but Dylan Merchant joins the archival team! He introduces himself, saying if you run across any internal information relating to Merchantsoft you should run it by him for background (a little suspicious I think!). After getting involved with old pages from a hacker group named M1NX, you’ll come across the pages of a user named Re3ckoning, who uncovered a jackpot of internal Merchantsoft memos.

Once the evidence is sent over to Samantha, Dylan posts a confession along with the final version of Outlaw. This time it works! Playing through the game (within a game), you unlock 6 files containing an apology for the Mindcrash, one for each victim. It honestly makes you teary-eyed reading them. Then the game’s over, and you’re left to reflect on the journey you just went through.

In conclusion, Hypnospace Outlaw is one of the most satisfying puzzle games I’ve ever played. The world and character building is second to none, the atmosphere is fantastic, and as someone who’s spent hours browsing the web of Wayback machine archived pages, it’s a perfect re-creation of that late night at the keyboard feeling. It’s quirky, serious, and sad all one after another. It’s a rollercoaster of an experience, and one I won’t soon forget.

If you’ve read through this without playing (Which is a mistake!) I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve talked about maybe one percent of the content in this game. It’s insanely expansive, with hours of content to watch and read through. It’s definitely worth a playthrough if you’re nostalgic for that 90’s website experience, or if you enjoy puzzle games like Simulacrum or Welcome to the Game. I’ve spent hours thinking about the pages in this game while I’m not playing it, and I hope that it can give you that kind of experience too.