A WDesm review for XBoxHornet
“A Brand New Direction for XBLIG, and the result isn’t for kids”
Hypno is the first part in a series of darker games by Andrew Gaubatz (in fact, the full game title is ‘Hypno Volume 1’). The premise of the game is that you play a psychopathic & blind hypnotist who, after breaking out of an asylum for the criminally insane, begins to use the local town as her playpen of murder, torture, and manipulation. The themes are a marked departure from the usual games released on XBLIG, and, in the words of the developer, this is both an “Experimental title and [an] Artistic expression.” I’m not bold enough to speak for the masses, but love it or hate it, it certainly gave me some food for thought, and it’s a rare thing indeed when you leave a game thinking more and thinking more critically than when you started.
The game starts with a montage detailing the main character and how she has ended up in her predicament. The demo does not include this opening cinematic, not for exclusivity or elitism, but simply because its inclusion would significantly take away from the eight minute demo timer. The cinematic is instead hosted online for you to view, and is an excellent measure of the game’s themes and storyline – be warned though, Hypno is a dark game, and certainly not recommended for children.
I was fortunate enough to steal a small discussion with Andrew Gaubatz, and it sheds some light on the purpose of having such an intensely dark game;
“Hypno started not so much with [aspirations of experimentalism and artistic expression], just as “wouldn’t it be cool to make a game about hypnotists”, but as I started fleshing things out I realized that it would be a great opportunity to experiment. Specifically with something I’m really interested in, that being games where you’re not playing as the hero. I wanted to see if you could create something different and more powerful by putting the player in the shoes of someone who is ultimately the villain. So that’s definitely the core experiment here.
The artistic side of things didn’t really emerge until I had the game engine up and running and could watch a few people play around with it. And that’s where I started to develop the core theme of the game, which to me is dehumanization. Every element in the game, the visuals, the way people are represented as dots, the structure of the missions, is designed to show the player how anyone, even they, can do some really awful things and enjoy it if they are distanced enough from the humanity of the people involved. So ultimately the whole game, and more literally the main character’s blindness, are there to represent the way we blind ourselves to what’s really going on in order to do some of the things we do, whether justified or not.
Now that said, it is also just a game and I have no problem with people who want to take the game and play it just on face value. And I also (obviously) have no problem with violent games, I just think such games give us an interesting window to look at where we might be falling into the same (though of course less extreme) paradigms in real life, where they would obviously be less appropriate.”
For an Indie game release, Andrew certainly has set his personal bar high. Most likely, the demo will be primarily judged on its gameplay rather than its themes, and with the opening cinematic and storyline being cut from the demo, gamers will have to manually hunt down the story to the game if they are that interested. Fortunately, I was able to experience the game in its full form, and the story was full enough to hold my interest long into the later missions.
The game plays out from an overhead view of a small town. People are represented by small black dots, and their colour changes as their priority changes (targets are red or orange, while hypnotized minions are green). By expanding your hypnotizing circle around you, you are able to either “Rip” the thoughts from passerbys, learning new data and locations, or Implant them with instructions (mostly revolving around going somewhere, getting something, and killing someone / themselves with a tool that they have or have collected, or a combination of the above. Small twists, such as being able to contact hypnotized minions via cellphones to set off chain reactions, compound these options). There are seventeen such missions in total, plus a sandbox-style feature between missions for you to experiment on your own in the city.
As an artistic/experimental game, Hypno has merit: Not at all art, or video games, can be rainbow gems and self-venerating ultraheroes. However, an obtuse game from an unknown company has more fundamental hurdles, such as market penetration and name recognition. The gameplay is relatively shallow to other XBLIG offerings, and at Microsoft’s highest Indie pricing point, it becomes difficult to see gamers staying around long enough to distinguish the dehumanizing themes from a perceivably ‘simple’ psychopath simulator. Without the opening story trying to hook the reader, the gameplay can be understood and mastered well in the demo timeframe, and unfortunately, while Hypno might have a great deal of artistic depth, I don’t think it has done a good enough job of tantalizing gamers with its gameplay to leave them thinking about deeper self-reflection.
If, however, after reading this, you can’t help but wonder what such a simulator and such an experiment would look like, I cannot encourage you more to download the demo below. After all, the value behind each piece of artwork is to assess it for yourself – good art is supposed to leave one thinking, no?
Game Score 5.5/10
Download a demo here.