Hardspace: Shipbreaker review – A genre-defining blue-collar space sim
Hardspace: Shipbreaker gives an interesting and entertaining look at a rather bleak future where workers dismantle ships in order to pay off their insurmountable debt, and it’s to die for.
Blackbird Interactive is a team of developers made up of former members of Relic Entertainment and EA Canada who were responsible for the Homeworld series. The new studio is responsible for Project Eagle, played a part in developing Minecraft Earth, and is working on Homeworld 3 — which is slated to release later this year.
In 2020, Blackbird released its rather stunning physics-based space sim Hardspace: Shipbreaker via early access on Steam. Being put into the boots of a space-age scrapyard worker may not sound like it offers the most invigorating gameplay, but being a blue-collar employee working for a tyrannical corporation has never been this fun.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a genre-defining masterclass in simulation that provides fun yet challenging gameplay, an impactful narrative that tackles real workplace issues, and a heaping helping of dark witty humor.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker – Key details
- Price: $35.99/£35.99
- Developer: Blackbird Interactive
- Release date: May 24, 2022
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Hardspace: Shipbreaker trailer
Welcome to your new home, cutter
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is set in a distant future where Earth is plagued by a myriad of issues, and the player has no choice but to sell their soul to an exploitative company known as Lynx. The company hires the player but not without first sinking them into enough debt to ensure they’ll never be able to leave. You owe Lynx roughly $1.2 billion, but at least you have a new job.
The billion-dollar debt is composed of various onboarding fees, the most costly of which is the storage of your biomaterial that allows the company to make a copy of the player when/if you die. Still, you should avoid dying at all costs because making these copies is a very expensive procedure that will only sink you further into debt.
From here on, you live in a habitation pod working 15-minute shifts each day while gradually getting to know your crewmates. They all have dreams and aspirations of their own, optimistically hoping that one day, they’ll shrink their debt to $0. Their dreams help shape the story too, whether that be sticking it to the man and establishing a union or repairing an old ship and taking it to a star.
It does sound like a rather bleak existence, but it’s not without its bright spots. The crew is quite chipper most of the time and grows to feel more like family. And as brooding as Lynx can be, it offers opportunities for the same dark humor you’d expect from Portal’s Aperture Science.
Living the dream as a shipbreaker
Despite the crushing weight of debt, the job at hand offers a satisfying mix of relaxing yet intense gameplay. Your job is to enter the shipyard each day and dismantle procedurally generated ships using a small arsenal of tools.
There is a lot to learn to become an experienced ‘cutter’, but Hardspace feeds all the information you’ll need at a reasonable pace. Just when you get the hang of one tool, you’ll get thrown another until your toolbox is complete.
And that’s important because between learning to maneuver and orient yourself in space, attempting to minimize losses, and trying not to make fatal errors: you don’t want to be inundated by droves of tool tutorials.
Players will use a grapple, laser cutter, scanner, tethers, and more to piece apart ships and deposit them in the correct receptacles. That’s either the furnace, processor, or barge. At first, it can be overwhelming, but when players get the hang of it, little compares to the feeling of smoothly dancing through the ribs of these metal beasts.
But you aren’t going to crawl out of debt by taking apart the easiest ships. In order to earn the big bucks, players will have to tackle more challenging vessels with life-threatening hazards. These may take longer to properly dismantle, but they are far more rewarding and introduce strategic elements of gameplay you won’t find on tiny “pond hoppers”.
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A sim like never before
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is in a league of its own when it comes to physics-based simulators. In fact, it’s hard to compare it to any other titles because it’s unlike any other game.
What makes it so unique is how it allows players to tackle a ship in any way they see fit. Want to precisely dismantle a ship with zero losses? Go ahead. Want to blow up a ship and sort through all of its tiny bits? You can do that too. There’s no “one way” to correctly take apart a ship. The game gives you enough tools to experiment however you like, and as Weaver says, Cutters can do some beautiful things in the shipyard.
There’s also a plethora of game modes that make the game more or less challenging. There are modes where you have unlimited lives and your shift never ends, allowing players total relaxation. Others limit your lives or only allow one life — making every cut the choice between life and death. There’s also a race mode that pits cutters against one another in timed challenges to see who can dismantle their ship the fastest and most efficiently.
On top of all that, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a collectathon. While the majority of items left behind in a ship should be thrown into the barge for profit, there are a few items players can keep for themselves. These are posters and stuffed animals to decorate the player’s hab, data drives that contain information about life among the stars, and components that can be used to repair a ship.
Hardspace has a lot to offer for being a simulator. You won’t be shooting aliens or piloting your own starcraft, but there are still plenty of moments that have players wiping the sweat off their brows or comparing notes with others online.
The downsides of working for Lynx
It’s easy to sing Hardspace: Shipbreaker’s praises because it’s such a lovely surprise. Even under the thumb of Big Brother Lynx, I constantly found myself laughing or smiling or admiring all of the little details Blackbird Interactive squeezed into this experience. It left me yearning for more games set in this universe. I almost want to be employed by Lynx to fill other roles regardless of how I would be exploited.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker isn’t without its flaws, but on a number of those I found myself blaming Lynx more than the developers. Like only being able to work on a ship for 15-minutes at a time could be frustrating when you’re in the middle of disengaging a giant fuel tank. But oftentimes, Lynx was to blame for only letting their employees work strict hours so as not to allow them to earn too much money in a day.
Tools often need to be repaired and oxygen refilled, but that’s Lynx’s fault for giving its employees crummy equipment. Equipment that employees have to spend their hard-earned Loyalty Points to upgrade signifying it costs Lynx nothing to upgrade them.
Outside of some minor issues, it’s hard to find fault with Hardspace: Shipbreaker. It’s not a game for everyone, but it does a fantastic job at what it’s attempting to be, and could be all-consuming for the right player.
It’s an engaging sandbox with a compelling narrative and addicting gameplay. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Players will easily fall in love with the blue-collar spaceship salvager lifestyle making every shift in the yard feel less like work and more like a dream come true.
Reviewed on PC
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