Hypnospace Outlaw returns to an internet unblighted by fake news and 4chan

Tendershoot’s desktop sim blurs the line between dreams and reality as you surf a ‘90s-era web searching for answers

The good old world wide web turned 30 years old this month, and to celebrate The Verge compiled a twitter thread showing what websites first looked like when they went online. Scrolling down the thread looking back at how these internet giants looked in the ‘90s is a fun trip, like flicking through a highschool year book. Seeing what Youtube, Netflix, and Amazon looked like when they first went online over twenty years ago makes them seem almost childlike from the cold, analytical exterior they have today.

But its not only aesthetic changes that the internet has gone through. Financially, economically, even ethically – the internet has gone through many different states. Just having a virtual wander around the promotional page for the iconic 1997 flick Space Jam takes you back instantly to a simpler time, like digital archaeology.

The transition from being fun and free to corporate centric is a fascinating journey, and Tendershoot’s internet sim, Hypnospace Outlaw, captures the essence of this technological evolution in all its wild glory.

The game is a digital time capsule filled with sporadic gifs, virtual pets, clashing colours, web page music, and sparkly word art. But the worst-dressed decade isn’t exactly how you remember it; in this universe, the wild and colourful online world can be accessed when you sleep. Web visionaries Hypnospace corporation have developed a headband that allows you to surf while you slumber, letting you log on when you nod off.

Your HypnOS computer comes with a pixelated instructional video, computer mascot helpers, and complete access to the internet. Webpages are bloated with images, emoticons, links, banners, and pop ups – all spectacular sights on this nostalgia trip. Compared with the bold and lively design of Hypnospace Outlaw, everything feels small and dull on my real desktop – like replacing Skittles with Tic Tacs.

Read More: Check out our list of the best indie games on PC

The online world of Hypnospace is divided into ‘zones’ that act like forums for users to showcase their websites. There’s the hip ‘n’ happening Teenotopia for young adults to post their angsty web pages, the conspiracy sites of the the tinfoil hat wearers lurks in Open Eyed, and Goodtime Valley offers up a small business haven. All the websites Tendershoot have created really capture the endearing nature of making a personal web page in the nineties.

This sleep-networking technology is still in its adolescence and the virtual space of the Hypnospace network needs to be surveyed – which is where you come in. As an official enforcer your job is to scour the web reporting illegal activities to the higher ups. When you find something that violates the rules, you click on the item and then choose what regulation it breaks from a drop-down menu.

In return for your service you earn HypnoCoins that can be spent on virtual items. It’s not long before your desktop becomes a collage of gifs, logos, and stickers – one highlight of the digital merchandise you can buy is April the virtual hamster, who floats around your desktop with her angelic wings and occasionally leaves little poo gifts for you to drag to the recycle bin.

But as you cruise through cyberspace, reporting teenage squabbles and accidental use of copyrighted mascots, there’s a hint that something’s up. HypnOS users can’t remember what they did online when they wake up, only recalling bits and pieces of their night online.

On top of that, Hypnospace is trying to dominate the sleeptime market, attempting to push their technology ahead of competitor CyberWorldz. As the game progresses this race spirals into a conspiracy of corporate giants as the lines between online and offline start to blur. It almost plays out like a neo noir – you’re like a detective of digital dreams trying to unravel the bits and bytes of an online world.

Hypnospace Outlaw captures the transition from the fun space of online culture to a technological dystopia. The game doesn’t hold your hand as you try to solve its puzzles, and Tendershoot’s smart storytelling and wholesome humour will keep you hooked until the end.