Hypnospace Outlaw is very much like Telling Lies. You're a law enforcement agent - all you get is a desktop interface, and the ability to type in search keywords. But where Telling Lies' medium for information is video footage, with Hypnospace Outlaw it's website. Yes, the game is an internet simulator!
It's no ordinary internet simulator, of course. Hypnospace Outlaw builds a 90s, early internet with full of wit, charm and whimsy. You have separate sections, each bursting with references that'll be a joy to anyone who was around during the early years of the internet. Each webpage tells its own story, and all pages are linked together to form a unique, consistent world. This is no less immersive than building a world through polygons and art.
Unlike Telling Lies, Hypnospace Outlaw straddles the thin line between freedom and direction rather well. While you're free to surf the Hypnospace and report illegal activity as you like, you do get an enforcement portal and defined cases. There are just enough clues to get you started, and from there, you enter a rabbit hole of webpages and keywords. It does demand a fair amount of engagement from the player, as you piece together the violations.
At first, it seems to be individual cases, but over time, an overarching narrative unfolds, which is surprisingly engaging. It also gives the game fair replay value, as having knowledge of how it all ends gives the entire space a fresh new context. There are plenty of memorable characters that are expertly developed - particularly admirable because it's all through lines of text. Every detail - their opinion, and even the way they type or use language, goes a long way in realising surprisingly fleshed out characters.
As the game goes along, the cases become increasingly more mysterious. You have secret webpages, encrypted files and pages that require special apps and methods - the game really pulls every trick one can imagine. As a result, right till the very end, things are remarkably well paced - there's no sense of repetition for what initially seemed like a one-trick gimmick.
Some of the endgame puzzles are deviously difficult - but they need to be when the secrets being hidden are that significant. I had to end up using a game guide, but that's OK, it's one of those games where it remains rewarding even if you need a little help. The ending is brilliant and poignant.
It is an extraordinary rarity for a game to be truly unique that there's like none other quite like it. Hypnospace Outlaw is one of them. There's no other internet simulator I'm aware of. While simulating the internet itself isn't the greatest idea, where Hypnospace Outlaw shines is delivering a highly entertaining version of the internet, and somehow wrapping a compelling narrative around it. Hypnospace Outlaw is a must play for anyone looking for unique gaming experiences.