Hardspace: Shipbreaker (Impressions)

Taking perhaps the next closest job to a space janitor (looking at you Roger Wilco) and turning into something compelling seems like an impossible task but somehow Hardspace: Shipbreaker does it. Created by Blackbird Interactive (BBI), developers of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and the upcoming Homeworld 3, the game places players into the shoes of a Shipbreaker, a salvager whose neverendng task is to tear up derelict ships to pay back their massive debts to a megacorporation. Played from a first person perspective, your task is to traverse each ship that’s parked in you space dock and tear them apart piece by piece so that you can maximise your profit and repayment.

Stories that revolve around characters in debt for their lifetime are not new but Hardspace: Shipbreaker goes in the direction where even death is not an escape from your debts thanks to cloning. The irony of it in the game is that the cost to resurrect your character is is not much next to the fees of leasing a suit, accommodation, etc. As the saying goes, life is cheap. Especially when you are stripping down ships out in the black.

You begin the game with two tools: a cutter and a grapple. The first allows you to burn through linking struts that hold together most ship structures and it comes with an alternate mode that will slice through sections which is useful when dealing with larger components. The grapple is your means to grab parts removed from ships and send them off to the right place for processing. An alternate mode with the grapple is the tether that allows you to link up parts to move them around or send them to be processed in a line. These and more of your inventory (such as your suit and helmet) can be upgraded over time as you level up and earn credits for successful salvages.

Tip: aiming in the game can be difficult when everything is moving around but you can reach out for handholds (using the bumpers on an Xbox controller) which helps mitigate that. Especially useful when you’re in a section that has a lot of points to cut.

Each ship is procedurally generated so while the design may be familiar what’s inside could be unique to your playthrough. Structurally the ships make a lot of sense in their construction with pilot cabins, corridors and engine rooms connected via bulkheads or airlocks which really work and can be left powered up and pressurized. Outer sections provide protection to the internal structures with their own frameworks and mounting points. It feels very much like how spaceships are made with Lego and the consistency in how it all works makes the game’s internal logic easy to understand and apply over time. Environmental hazards are introduced during the early tutorials in the form of ships still being powered up, pressurized, fuelled or running an active reactor. Handling those incorrectly can result in a quick death, ship damage with substantial profit impacts and then a costly resurrection. For most ships you need to approach them like peeling an onion and work out how to strip the layers safely and quickly. Understanding that will maximise your chances of turning a profit each day (you work shifts) and chopping away at your debt. Making money quickly and stripping a ship down profitably is the key to advancing in this game.

Visually the game looks good and you can definitely see that it’s a BBI game as the designs do evoke a Homeworld vibe even if it’s not connected to that franchise. There’s elements of 70’s sci-fi art in the ship designs, something which No Man’s Sky leveraged well too. I grew up reading plenty of books from the era so this style definitely vibes with me. Character interactions are represented via 2D comic style art that pops up during one sided conversations. It works well and is effective too in that the details in each character drawn really helps in reinforcing the who they are without resorting to creating hyperreal characters. Sound in the game is used sparingly which fits the mostly soundless environment but it evokes the atmosphere perfectly. What’s even better though is the brilliant soundtrack with its Western like riffs that creates a mood of being on the frontier much like Firefly or The Outer Wilds. With its stark setting the music is an effective way of connecting players to the world behind the game.

Strangely, the game that I most feel evokes the vibe I get from Shipbreaker is another recent game in Powerwash Simulator. Their settings couldn’t be any further apart but the deliberate approach players need to take to best complete their tasks make them spiritually very similar. I’m more than happy to spend as much time carely dissecting a spaceship as much as I liked washing down a Ferris wheel. And this is where I think Hardspace: Shipbreaker is going to work in the long term as it will keep you invested for longer than you might expect. The daily shifts allow a player, if they so choose, to play in small doses but those who are working to a long term plan might want to play the next shift to see it to completion and that’s when it can become quite addictive. Busting up giant Lego spaceships will probably appeal to a lot of people but for those wanting to do it “the right way” this game could become an obsession. Worth checking out!

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is out how on PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.

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