Hardspace Shipbreaker Review: The Only Time is Corporate Time
“Wrap it up Cutter, five minutes until your shift is over.” Weaver buzzes in my comms. I’m nearly done with a mackerel-class ship; there's just the port side to dismantle. I squeeze my way into the access and start cutting points for the external panels. Right in front of me is the airlock entry. I cut the points for it one by one, then a blast of decompression hits me like a ton of bricks. I forgot to decompress the airlock after entering the ship. Thankfully, it's an empty shell this time, and the mistake is minimal.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a first-person physics-based dismantling simulator where you’re another blue-collar cog-in-the-wheel. A new hire at LYNX, essentially the megacorporation running everything, your job finds you in an orbital station near Earth salvaging derelict ships to pay off massive debt.
You see, LYNX owns you – they literally have your DNA and can clone backup copies of you in the event of your untimely demise – and that tech doesn’t come cheap; you foot the $1 billion-plus bill. Oh yeah, there’s also a daily 0.01% interest on that, so don’t even think about a sick day.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker Review: The Only Time is Corporate Time
To gain your freedom from LYNX corp, you must methodically dismantle ships, salvaging everything down to the seats, to earn maximum credits — and that's where things get interesting. After a few rounds of training to get familiar with procedures and your tools, you set out breaking the most basic of ships. You can practically see the training wheels welded onto the sides of the hull, but we all have to start somewhere.
As you progress in Hardspace: Shipbreaker, you’ll climb the ranks with each successful shipbreaking, unlocking access to more and more difficult ship classes and configurations. Complex long-haul freighters, fueling ships, science vessels, and even double-decker ships easily take multiple shifts to dismantle. The higher the hazard rating, the higher the risks and the rewards.
There are a number of game modes to fit all comers, from the more chill free-play and the weekly race mode, where players compete on a leaderboard for the fastest time and highest profit, to the 30-life max run and a hardcore one life mode. If it wasn't already clear, there are many, many ways to die for those not paying attention – explosive decompression, full nuclear reactor meltdowns, flying into a furnace.
But even though there are plenty of hazards, Hardspace somehow manages to have a zen-like quality to it, one that makes you always want to break just one more ship. It helps that they are procedurally generated while adhering to some semblance of a standard layout depending on the usage. There's a good mix of the familiar and the new, helping you form a plan of attack when it comes to maximizing your efficiency during a shift but always having to think on your toes.
Aside from detonator packs unlocked later in the game, you have two primary tools in Hardspace: Shipbreaker: your cutter and grapple. All of your equipment is upgradeable and also must be maintained, as performance decreases the lower a tool's durability gets. Movement in the zero-G environment has a good feel to it but can sometimes get a bit disorienting as you’re crawling between the layers of a ship. It’s very much an “easy to learn, harder to master” systems that makes you feel accomplished as you develop your skills and pull off riskier maneuvers.
The Newtonian-ruled physics system adds to the layers of depth and difficulty. That 3,000kg section of ship you have lassoed with your grapple isn’t going to move very much when you try pulling it unless you’ve upgraded your grapple tool. Grapple tethers, something you unlock early on in the game, can help to move things with their constant weak force and if multiple are used you can manage some interesting feats like stripping the entire side of a ship in a few simple maneuvers.
With the game's full, 1.0 release comes the final act of the story, totaling roughly 30 hours of play. It introduces you to a compelling cast of characters and some lore regarding life in this dystopian corporate future. The futuristic feel, from your spartan hab quarters to the simple yet loveable Americana-themed soundtrack, ties everything together and invokes a feeling that it might not be such a far-fetched future.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is pretty to look at, too, though it could still use a bit more refining as frames can take a hit at times. The HUD has also undergone a few iterations settling on a sleek, minimalist design that rides the perfect line of giving you all the needed information without anything extra or obtrusive.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker Review — The Bottom Line
- Easy to learn but high skill ceiling.
- Good story.
- Multiple game modes.
- Slight framerate issues.
- Can feel a bit grindy after a while.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an enjoyable physics-based puzzle game with something for everyone. The surgical feel of dismantling ships, the lore, and the mix of beautiful graphics and folksy soundtrack lends itself to an enjoyable time. The campaign story is enjoyable and the cast of characters are relatable if a bit stereotypical. With its 1.0 launch, now is the perfect time to suit up.
[Note: Focus Entertainment provided the copy of Hardspace: Shipbreaker used for this review.]