There’s a definite fad for producing games that set you in charge of performing a simulated version of a job. Lawn Mowing Simulator, Car Mechanic Simulator, PC Building Simulator… they all have a similar theme of putting you to work in your downtime. What they typically lack though is a story that you can get behind, and a situation that puts you way out of your experience levels. Hardspace: Shipbreaker remedies these misses by being set in orbit taking apart derelict vessels whilst having you battle the corporate hierarchy through the means of unionisation. Talk about two contrasting concepts. Do they make for an easy plot to disassemble, or is it a fatally explosive combination?
The Lynx corporation offers a new life and a new job for everyone who wants one, with a catch. Sign up to work in their ship breaking yards and you’ll end up in a huge amount of debt that will take decades to clear – and all for the privilege of working for them. That’s not the worst of it though… part of the deal is that your body is backed up on a nightly basis so that death won’t get in the way of your indentured servitude, and that means the original being destroyed before you even start. Why would anyone voluntarily go for that? Still, things in the future must be desperate as there’s not really a shortage of candidates, and here we are signing our lives away for what might be forever. Hardspace: Shipbreaker hardly paints a rosy picture of the colonisation of the galaxy, and manages to convey that you’re an insignificant speck in the expanse that’s there for one purpose. Salvage.
The premise of Hardspace: Shipbreaker is that as a cutter you wake up every day and head out for a shift of taking apart whatever vessel is waiting for you in the yard. Materials have to be stripped and sorted and placed in the right recycling route, and a certain value has to be claimed to be able to progress up the various levels of competence. Put the wrong bit of scrap in the wrong receptacle and the total cash value of the salvage will drop. Similarly, destroy components and you’ll not maximise the return for the shift. This is hugely important as each day sees a payment required to pay off the debt of about $500,000 (higher if you’ve incurred costs), and earning less than that will see your debt levels grow. Hitting the target isn’t a major problem, as long as you’re careful with your tools and pay attention to the surroundings – orbital shipyards are very hazardous places.
It’s space, so obviously there’s an oxygen management component where regular top ups are needed to refresh the supply. Then there’s fuel for the thrusters in the suit, repair tools to fix up the laser cutter and grapple, and the not-so-simple task of not puncturing the suit and decompressing. All these dangers are present before even starting to tackle electrical systems in the derelicts, fuel pipes loaded with flammable liquid, coolant reserves, and radioactive power sources. As your status increases you’ll see more and more complex ships appear and have to progress from simply cutting and moving panels to deactivating systems in sequence, as well as dealing with pressurised compartments. Not paying attention to your scanner info will leave you floating off into the void with a gaping hole in your helmet faster than a strut melts. It is very easy for something to go wrong and it never allows you to get complacent with the surroundings and hazards likely to come up. A stray laser blast can cause chaos, though sometimes you might want to do it intentionally to make quick work of a wreck.
Hardspace: Shipbreakers limited relaxation time comes between the shifts and this is where a lot of the story plays out that sees you being contacted by various other cutters on the platform about being part of an “illegal” union, searching out old logs, or even being given a ship to rebuild from spare components you find whilst salvaging. Taking place in only 2 rooms in your habitat (hab), there’s a surprising amount going on, including upgrading your tools and equipment to make the job a bit easier. It’s also here that you uncover a lot of the history of the Lynx company and the rail network used for interstellar travel. Without doubt it’s clear that the development team have crammed a lot of detail into the game to be uncovered over time, and the relatively tight confines of the play space (only the hab and the dock) hide a lot of depth.
Having the core mechanics as pulling apart or cutting through ships hulls in zero gravity, it’s obvious that the physics modelling needs to be up to the task. Having not actually been floating above a planet zapping metal with an industrial laser I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but it plays well with momentum and thrust direction being crucial to master early on. Graphically everything is functional and utilitarian in keeping with the design aesthetic of a fictional future where space travel is done at the cheapest possible cost, and most of the time this suits the console performance as well. The only issues I ever saw were when re-pressurising airlocks with the amount of particle effects in play with the gas, and it chugging along a little bit. Otherwise it’s smooth all the way through when using the quality mode. It’s worth shouting about the way ships are deconstructed too as these are a lot like puzzles that have to be unravelled in layers, and the interconnecting systems make for some interesting ways of disassembly… or destruction.
Whilst being a game about repetitive tasks and completing the same activities over and over again, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is massively addictive – at least if you’re easily attracted to this type of game. Gameplay isn’t overly complicated and the tutorials are clear and integrate into the main tale nicely. Then there’s efficient use of space that really does help draw you into the campaign and make you feel part of the crew in the way it delivers a glimmer of hope and comradery through an overwhelming sense of isolation and insignificance. Finally, I can’t help but feel that the Lifeguard backup that Lynx use is a form of purgatory where no matter how many times you die, you’re back stuck in the same job, in the same place, ready to complete it all over again. I’m sure most of us feel that way in our 9-to-5’s, but the way it’s delivered by Blackbird Interactive somehow makes it appealing.
A PS5 review copy of Hardspace: Shipbreaker was provided by Blackbird Interactive’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, PC and Xbox for around £35.
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