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XBLIG inspection: Hypno Vol. 1 (or: how to murder people)

An ongoing look at some of the titles available on XBLIG, with an emphasis on both excellence and originality...

Note: this review is based on the original at http://www.xboxindiegames.co.uk/ 

There's no shortage of "horror" games - from the survival horror of Silent Hill to the blood-n-guts of Painkiller and the spookiness of Clock Tower.  However, while these games generally offer gross visuals and the odd spike of fight/flight adrenaline, most are designed around cheap thrills: they're not really designed to be scary or disturbing.

Hypno Vol.1 changes this.  It's probably best classed as a horror game, though it isn't scary: there's no zombies clawing out of their grave or monsters leaping from the closet.  However, behind it's simple, monochrome interface lies one of the most disturbing game concepts I've seen for a while.  In essence, it's a murder simulator.

Boxart

The premise is fairly simple: you play the part of Lydia, a psychotic telepath recently released from an asylum.  However, Lydia's talent allows her to do far more than just read people's thoughts: she can also implant ideas.  The game starts with her casually murdering a messanger from a would-be employer; from there, you move out and start to learn how to make use of your abilities...

The game is presented in a very abstract way: all in-game activity takes place on a simple 2D map of a city which is laid out on a standard grid. People are represented by dots: black dots are normal people, green dots are people you've manipulated and dead bodies are red. There are two aspects to manipulating people: Lydia is only able to implant intentions that she's previously "borrowed" from someone else.  Therefore, you have to first find someone with the intent you want to use and fire up your psychic powers: anyone within range of your power (represented by a red square) will stop in the street, allowing you to walk up and start working on them.  Ripping an intention from someone leaves them immobilised for a few seconds; after this they'll choose a new activity to carry out.

Screenshot

Implanting commands is actioned in a similar way, and can be performed on anyone - including those you've previously brainwiped. Commands take the form of a simple sentence and can be chained together - for instance, you can command someone to walk into the bar, buy a bottle of beer, walk out of the bar, murder the first person they meet with the empty bottle and then kill themselves.  You don't just get a red dot on the map either: each death is accompanied by a highly detailed pencil drawing, presented in inverted colours - save for the occasional splash of red.

Screenshot

In spite of being so abstracted (or possibly because it's so abstract), Hypno really does a good job of being unsettling. Part of the reason for this is the fact that you actually get a glimpse of the "personality" of each person you implant: Charles is tired and on his way home, while Sarah is talkative and on her way to a bar. Or at least, she was, until you brainwipe her and implant instructions to buy a baseball bat and kill the first person she meets. Another reason is the fact that the conversations Lydia has with her employer make it clear that she takes active pleasure from killing innocent people: in this game, you're the monster. Then, there's the missions you take on: the first involves turning the tables on the murderous stalker of a teenage girl.  It's a far cry from the action in a more traditional game such as Resident Evil or Call of Duty, where the vast majority of enemies are either nameless and faceless or "evil" in some way which justifies their death.

Screenshot

Hypno definitely isn't for everyone: it's mature with a capital M, and the abstracted dots and lines are liable to put off anyone looking for Manhunt-style grindhouse thrills. In some ways, Hypno actually reminds me of an ancient Amiga game called Floor 13: a heavily text-based game where you had the power to torture and kill people in the name of maintaining political power.

Unfortunately, the game is priced at the higher end of the XBLIG scale (400MSP) and the demo timeout is simply too short to get a full understanding of the game - one thing which is very notable from the tutorial is the fact that there's no consequences to the deaths you cause: the killer simply walks off with a new intention, passerbys don't react to the deaths and there's no police presence to deal with. Hopefully there's more to the risk/reward structure of the game and the complexity of the missions, but it's hard to tell from the demo if the shock value of Hypno's game mechanics are all there is to the game.

Something else which is missing from the demo are the opening cinematics - though these are on the game's website and were apparently cut to maximise demo playing time. Personally, I'd have preferred a simple skip button! It's a shame too, as the cinematic hints at there being a much deeper plot...

 In any case, Hypno Vol. 1 is pretty much the sort of game that XBLIG was designed for: it offers a unique, almost arthouse experience that wouldn't be commercially viable in any other environment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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