Ah, the internet. It might be a cesspool of fibre optic-fuelled hate and anxiety these days, but back in ye olde dial-up times of 1999 it felt like a new frontier of hot information. It was a place where people were just trying to share their art, thoughts, music and other assorted paraphernalia with like-minded folk half way across the globe, and where today's trolls were but mere gnomes in a forest of cobbled together home pages and horrifically bad graphic design.
It's this early version of the internet that Hypnospace Outlaw captures down to the pixel, only here you surf the web while you sleep via a special headband. Part museum piece, part detective thriller, it's a wonderful reminder of happier times when all you had to worry about were turds called Zane and making sure your virtual hamster doesn't die of loneliness while you solve online crimes.
In Hypnospace Outlaw, you play as an enforcer who's been brought in to make sure the denizens of Hypnospace play by the rules. At first, this means stamping out unlawful use of beloved company mascots and investigating accusations of bullying and the like, but soon you'll be traversing Hypnospace's many 'zones' for evidence of more sinister goings on that I won't spoil here.
It's a brilliantly conceived world that's full of mystery, intrigue and weird internet nonsense, and every page you stumble on using the game's built-in search tool feels full of life and bursting with character. These aren't static creations, either. As the game goes on, you get to see its online denizens reacting to your presence, updating their pages to complain about no longer being able to use the likeness of cartoon fish detective Gumshoe Gooper, for example, as well as other events taking place in the wider world of the game. The more time you spend delving into their personal corners of the internet, the better sense you get of what makes these people tick - and some of their stories are genuinely quite tragic.
Beyond the main thrust of the narrative, though, Hypnospace Outlaw is just a love letter to all things online. There are virtual pets, irritating malware programs, an entire MMO-like game world to discover and lots of lots of poems, fan art and philosophical waffle. For people of a certain age, it's like revisiting a part of your childhood, and for those of you still in said childhood, well, it's still a warm, tender-hearted oasis of good old-fashioned fun times regardless. You can play it on Steam, Itch and Xbox Game Pass, and heck, you can even turn your Switch into a makeshift PC for it thanks to the game's keyboard and mouse support for it. So go forth and enjoy, and remember, SquisherZ for life!
Disclosure: RPS contributor Xalavier Nelson Jr. is the narrative designer for Hypnospace Outlaw.