I find it difficult to put Hardspace: Shipbreaker in a genre or category of game. It’s a shipbreaking simulator, and if your real-life career isn’t in shipbreaking, you will likely have no idea what to expect. That’s what makes it so unique, it’s the first game of its kind I’ve ever played. Shipbreaker places the player in the spacesuit of your average joe who makes a living deconstructing old spaceships and salvaging their components and valuable materials. A simple premise, to be sure, but beneath that lies a complex web of decision-making, subtle worldbuilding, and simultaneous relaxation and anxiety.
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker, the player joins LYNX Corp. in search of a job in space, and is immediately saddled with a billion credits of debt for tool rental, your space suit, and the satellite from which you work. A fellow cutter instructs you on how to locate valuables on ships and salvage them, and you’re turned loose to deconstruct ships to your heart’s content. You can discover audiologs in the ships you deconstruct to add more to the world, which do have the occasional swear, but they’re overall not bad. Just don’t play the audiologs you find if you don’t want to risk it. There isn’t a lot of setup, but it doesn’t need anything else to be effective and intriguing. The real draw of the game is in the gameplay.
The gameplay is a unique melding of several mechanics that you are given in order to accomplish your task. First of all, you’re in zero gravity, so movement takes a bit more thought than just walking over to a place. Secondly, there are your tools. You have a tool to grab things and move them around, and a tool to cut and melt certain materials. The former can pull off things like antennas, computers, and storage bins and move around loose bits you’ve pulled off. The latter is the one you have to be more careful with, because it can cause heat damage to your suit and set things on fire within the ship. But it can be used to cut connection points, which is the only way you’re gonna effectively sort out the different materials for salvage. Speaking of which, you have three places to put your salvage. Some material is waste, and goes into a furnace. Some material is valuable, and goes into a processor. And lastly, intact components like engines and furniture go into a barge that houses reusable parts. You’ll also have certain goals to accomplish while deconstructing, like salvaging a reactor, or however many tons of metal.
All of this is in service of the ultimate goal of paying off your debt to LYNX. You’ll receive credits for salvage and work orders, and you’ll accumulate debt by purchasing more oxygen reserves and repairing and upgrading your equipment. The goal is simple, and the tools are easy to understand, but the manner in which you apply the given tools to go about completing your goal makes the game fun and challenging.
There is another twist to the gameplay that isn’t necessarily tied to the core gameplay. You can die, as is commonplace in video games, and the game circumvents death with a resurrect system. You’ll be fined for your extra life, but this plays more into the difficulty levels available to the player. You’re provided with four character slots, each with a certain modifier. The “normal mode” provides you with unlimited respawns, but sets a fifteen minute timer on your shift. You will have to end your shift at the end of the timer, no matter how much you’ve salvaged or scrapped. However, this doesn’t reset your progress on a ship, and you can come back to it in the next shift. The easiest setting removes this timer, so you can pick a ship and take as long as you want. The two harder settings limit the number of respawns you’re allowed to have, with 30 respawns for the second-hardest and none at all for the hardest. I think this caters more to the kind of game you want to play rather than how hard you want the game to be. No shift timer means you can relax and pull apart ships at your leisure. Adding the timer lets you easily chop up your playtime into short sessions, and then limiting your respawns adds challenge modes for those who want to make speedruns on Youtube. There’s something here for every player, from casual to obsessed.
Overall, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is well worth your time. It’s very accessible and yet challenging as well, with just enough context to keep you invested in playing. Each ship you deconstruct brings with it the thrill of finding something valuable, the suspense of carefully working around a dangerous component, and the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal. The game is currently only available on PC via Steam Early Access, but the developers update frequently and have announced plans for future console ports.
Language: Occasional swear in audiologs that you may or may not find
Violence: Working in a dangerous environment, but no other living things are harmed in-game