When playing a game, I often wonder what it would be like to play as an ordinary character in that game’s universe. I find myself wondering about this extensively and quite often, but I’m not sure why this idea is so appealing to me, I guess it’s just that I’d like to experience the game’s world through another perspective.
In that sense, Hardspace: Shipbreaker definitely falls within that category, so if you ever wondered about what happens to those spaceships that end up getting decommissioned, or if the mere idea of dismantling spaceships sounds interesting, then you’ll probably have a good time with this game.
In case it wasn’t obvious, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a space game about breaking spaceships apart. You play as a newly appointed shipbreaker, whose job is to take apart spaceships of all sizes and salvage as much of them as you can. When I first heard about Hardspace: Shipbreaker, this sounded like a great idea, but, now that I’ve played it, I can safely say that it ended up being more fun and engaging than I could’ve possibly imagined.
Moving around in space is exactly as you’d expect, if you fire up your thrusters just for a bit, you’ll gain some momentum, but you can move even faster if you use your grapple gun to pull yourself to something that’s far away from you. Likewise, you can also pull light objects towards you, which makes the task of moving ship parts around a lot easier.
In that aspect, the game plays phenomenally well. The way that things move around in space in zero gravity and how you can move any way that you want, roll, or whatever, adds a ton of freedom to the whole experience. This is only exacerbated by how your tools help you do your job, the cutter, the grapple, the demo charges, and your helmet’s scanner that lets you find weak spots in each ship. You don’t have that big of an arsenal, but the developers have definitely made sure that what you have has a very specific purpose and feels great to use.
While the gameplay is undoubtedly the crown jewel of Hardspace: Shipbreaker, another key part of the game is not only its story and characters, but also its worldbuilding. In some aspects, I think that the worldbuilding here is superb and pulled me in right from the very start.
As a new worker for LYNX Corporation, you’ve pretty much signed your own eternal death sentence when you signed up to be a shipbreaker. Hardspace: Shipbreaker spares no expenses in portraying a grim and depressing future where the working class finds itself at the mercy of its corporate overlords. With Humanity having finally expanded towards the rest of the solar system, it’s corporations like LYNX that keep the constant flow of traffic and goods circulating throughout the solar system.
These entities promise a new beginning and a promising future if you join their ranks, but as soon as you’re in and the papers are signed, you quickly see yourself drowning in a ludicrous amount of debt. It’s all from processing fees and other shenanigans associated with your hiring process, and you’re supposed to quickly chip away at it, but that clearly is far from being easy. The daily work life of a shipbreaker is no easy task, not only because it’s tough manual labour, but also because death is always lurking around the corner waiting for you if you end up being careless with your work.
The gameplay loop of Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a pretty tight one, and you’ll find yourself doing a lot of the same over and over. Each shift starts when you select which ship you want to salvage ext. Then, once you’re out in space, you have to use your suit’s thrusters to manoeuvre around and use your tools to slowly cut through each ship. At the same time, and depending on the difficulty you’re playing at, you also need to manage your oxygen levels and your thrusters’ fuel.
Whether you’re using the laser cutter to cut through each part of the ship, or whether you’re using a grapple gun capable of tethering ship parts together, it’s important to take your time and avoid thrashing any salvageable part of the ship as much as possible. If you mess up and ruin a lot of things, you might find that you’re not making that much progress and you’ll eventually be out of money once it comes the time for your next debt payment. You also have to send different types of materials and parts to specific processing areas, and failure to do so will result in a payment penalty at the end of the day.
Up until this point, everything should sound pretty simple, but the game keeps getting more complicated as you level up and unlock access to more complex spaceships. These spaceships not only get increasingly bigger, but they also come with new and challenging hazards, such as fuel tanks and electrical components which can quickly ruin a good portion of a ship if you don’t remove them carefully.
Salvaging each ship is almost like solving its own puzzle, because one small bad cut can cause a series of explosions or push some debris your way and you can quickly find yourself on your way to an early grave. Slow and steady wins the race here. You’ll gain experience as you complete your work on each ship, which will let you increase your rank as a shipbreaker and gain access to new tools’ upgrades and new ships. The bigger and more complex the ship, the more money you’ll get out of its salvage, at least that will remain true as long as you don’t damage it too much.
Visually, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is stunning. It doesn’t have groundbreaking graphics or what some might call “next-gen”, but its aesthetic is deliberate and striking. The Homeworld influence here is obvious, and it’s expected due to the developers, Blackbird Interactive, having made Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and they’re currently working on Homeworld 3. However, the game still has its own distinct look that gives it a space frontier kind of vibe.
At the end of the day, Hardspace: Shipbreaker can be as much of a repetitive slog as it can be an extremely relaxing and soothing experience. It sure won’t please everyone, but for those that it does, it will most likely be carved in their memory. It’s a remarkable and unique experience unlike anything else out there, and if not for anything else, then I think that it deserves to be played at least for being so unique.
The campaign is worth playing through at least once, but if you just want to play the game for the music, the visuals, and the gameplay, then you can also just chill in the Freeplay mode for eternity. Whatever might be your case, if you’ve read this far, I’m sure that you’ll deeply enjoy it. If you’re not really sure if it’s your thing, you can always try the game out through the PC Game Pass and buy it later if you want to support the developers, and I believe that they definitely deserve that support. Safe shipbreaking cutters!