There are shockingly few games that combine my two biggest loves: physics, and completely destroying things piece-by-piece. Hardspace: Shipbreaker manages to do just that, sending you into orbit around the Earth to pull apart spaceships first-person for the LYNX Corporation. Sounds easy, right? Just put the hull in the processing bin, the aluminium in the furnace, and the highly volatile stuff in the barge before it explodes and vaporises you.
Starting with small vessels completely open to the vacuum of space, you’ll soon be venting the atmosphere from ships that take up almost the entire length of your bay. Detach electronics and cargo, slice up segments of the ship, ensure everything goes into the right bin and you’ll be well on your way to repaying the $1,252,594,441.92 that you owe LYNX. What, you didn’t think transportation and lodging in space was free, did you? Oh, by the way did you want the plastic-free protein option?
You’re given a few tools to do your job, with another one unlockable once you’ve processed enough salvage to convince the higher-ups that you’re capable of handling it. Your laser cutter can slice through anything that isn’t nanocarbon hull segments, your grapple projects a field to hold and move things, and your helmet has a scanner in it. All of these are upgradeable as you progress through the ranks, but until you’ve reached a higher rank you’re going to be renting the equipment each shift. Upgrading costs you Lynx Tokens which you get by completing salvage goals — each goal is basically a certain percentage of the ship salvaged, so it’s possible to miss them if you destroy or incorrectly sort things.
As I’ve mentioned twice now, Hardspace: Shipbreaker puts you into debt immediately. You’re shown a fee report (for an additional $7.50), but the general gist of it is that LYNX has paid for everything you need, and now you have to pay it back by working it off. Shipbreaking is a hard job that is quite dangerous, so among other things you need to have your biological material kept somewhere safe to create clones upon your inevitable deaths.
Yeah, you’re going to die at some point. Maybe the mass of the nanocarbon was too great so you threw yourself into the furnace, or your cutter snagged a canister of fuel, or the ship core melted down before you could get it into the barge… There are a lot of ways to die, and probably some that I haven’t even experienced! I started playing this game when it entered Early Access and have over 80 hours logged in it, so believe me when I say that I’ve died a lot in Hardspace: Shipbreaker, and very often it was my own fault. Though a couple of times my helmet was cracked by something that I couldn’t see, so those weren’t on me…
To help you recover from damage you can buy suit patches, tool repair kits, and restock a couple of tool items, as well as refill your thruster fuel and good old-fashioned oxygen. These, of course, add to your debt, but obviously not as much as printing a new clone does!
There are four “difficulty” settings — I put that in quotes as they’re technically slightly different game modes: Open Shift, Standard, Limited, and No Revival. Despite always playing games on the easiest difficulty, I first started playing with Standard which gives you unlimited clones but you have a shift timer. Open Shift also lets you revive as much as you like, but there is no shift timer, and you have unlimited oxygen. Limited mode gives you 30 lives for the whole campaign, whereas No Revival is just a single life.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker also has two other modes available: Cutter’s R.A.C.E. and Free Play. Free Play lets you pick any ship type to break apart, pretty self-explanatory. The Rapid Acquisition Competence Exercise (R.A.C.E.) is exactly what you think it is — try to beat the scores of other shipbreakers in online leaderboards with specific ships, one every week. To gain points you need to complete different work orders, such as salvaging a certain tonnage of nanocarbon, or a specific number of electronics.
While the graphics in Hardspace: Shipbreaker aim for realism in designs and effects, the story is told through still images while people are talking to you via the screen in your habitation module. They appear to be composed in watercolours, but that might just be the style they were aiming for. There’s nothing wrong with them; in fact it adds a certain charm to things.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a quiet game on the audio front of things. Sure, the explosions are loud, and when you crack your visor you’ll know about it, but there’s usually not a lot going on. You hear your equipment working, but it’s space where nobody can hear you get blown out through a hull breach. There’s quite a few different pieces of music that play, but I would usually watch something on my other monitor or listen to music — I played over 80 hours, I’d heard it all. That is unless someone spoke to me, because it’s hard to concentrate on subtitles when you’re trying to get a decent angle on a power generator, and I wanted to hear everyone talk. The voice acting from your co-workers was all well done, and despite how infrequently they get to speak to you it’s fun to learn more about them.
Since the full release version wiped my Early Access save (something players were warned about ahead of time!) I had to go through the whole story again. As I knew exactly how to cut things and make the most of my shifts it only took me about 20 hours to finish the campaign. Yes, rushing through the story took me ages, and I loved every moment of it.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is definitely on my list for Game of the Year. I can’t overstate how much I’ve enjoyed playing this game over the last couple of years. When I’m in the groove I can while away the hours disassembling ship after ship, and even with as much experience as I have I’m still not bored with the various ship configurations. I highly recommend going into debt to LYNX.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
A great game with loads of playtime that I’m going to keep returning to for a long time to come. If only to work off my debt.