There’s something cosmically calming about Hardspace: Shipbreaker, the new game from Homeworld 3 and Minecraft Earth developer, Blackbird Interactive. Sure, there are moments of panic and some facepalming frustration at times, yet there’s a comfort in how this intriguing game flows, punching in and out of your daily shifts as a “Cutter”.
Currently available on PC (via Steam Early Access) with a console release in the pipeline, Hardspace: Shipbreaker has you playing as a futuristic blue-collar worker for galactic megacorp, LYNX.
As a Cutter it’s your job to salvage an increasingly complex convoy of decommissioned spacecrafts, carefully hewing them apart with your specialist tools. It’s gruelling, perilous work, and to make matters worse you’ll start Hardspace: Shipbreaker with a billion credit debt you need to pay off. Welcome your little slice of sci-fi capitalist dystopia.
There’s a notable industrial aesthetic throughout the game, through the blocky brutalist structures of the ships themselves, down to the robust set of tools you carry and the terminals you interface with. You’ll see familiar dashes of Alien and Blade Runner for sure.
Although there are options for a free mode as well as challenges (coming as part of a future update), the career is where you’re likely to spend most of your time with Hardspace: Shipbreaker. This is where you’ll work towards clearing your debt, gaining enough credits and experience to unlock tougher assignments and a slew of upgraded gear with which to tackle them.
Clocking into each shift, you’ll find yourself staring at a ship parked in the breaking bay, flanked by four goal-like deposit holes – two processors and two furnaces. The aim of Hardspace is to slice into each ship, plucking out any valuable goods and safely loading them onto your barge. Meanwhile, bulkier materials such as sheet metal and nanocarbon housing need to be sorted then salvaged between the furnaces and processors.
The two main tools at your disposal are the handheld utility grapple and laser cutter. The former can be used to grab and move individual objects. Played in first person, you will shoot at pieces of salvage then fling them as you tug your mouse or analog stick, letting go as you watch them drift through space. Meanwhile, the cutter (which, yes, does look similar to the one Isaac has in Dead Space) is used to slice through metal, allowing you to carve pieces out of a ship that are ready to be salvaged.
There are physics at work here and once you cut the correct joints, ships will start to split and drift apart into sections. It may be confusing at first though there’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing how to efficiently cut parts of a ship away cleanly.
You’ll have a set amount of time to salvage as much as you can, the total value being deducted from your 999,999,999 debt. Each shift will also reward you with points which can then be spent on improving your suits, thrusters, scanner, and tools. By completing set objectives you can level up, giving you access to more upgrades and ships to work on.
Hardspace is a truly unique game we could only really compare to something like House Flipper. You are given free reign to approach each day on the job and while a lot of the gameplay involves tedious dismantling, there’s a calming sense of tranquillity to the work.
This is spliced with certain hazards and layers of strategy, thankfully. Bigger ships will require a deft touch to break apart, many of them loaded with fuel tanks, gas pipes, and other potential hazards to punish those who recklessly slice and dice. Air pressure is another consideration – if you fail to regulate the pressure inside a vessel then piercing the hull can cause devastating decompression events, spewing valuable salvage out into the void.
There’s a fun yet familiar streak of dystopian sci-fi humour throughout. Your LYNX AI will comment on damaged property and threats to profitability margins whenever you slip up, the overall tone of the game highlighting just how depressingly expandable you really are.
Several hours into the campaign, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is still an enjoyable experience, though there’s a repetitive groove that not everyone will gel with. The daily grind of punching into a shift and performing the same actions on a ten-minute loop requires a certain mood and mindset. We find ourselves booting up the game and completing one or two work orders before quitting out again, satisfied to have put a dent in the progress bar towards the next rank.
Of course, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is still in early access. There are some rough edges Blackbird Interactive could do with fixing, while the UI and some of the in-game info could be better presented. As for bugs, we only crashed once during our time with Shipbreaker and this was presumably something to do with a huge explosion, showering the screen with debris flying off in all directions.
As we’ve seen with plenty of other games, early access is much more than just an opportunity to iron out bugs and give their games a bit of spit and polish ahead of a full launch. Hopefully we can expect new content from Hardspace: Shipbreaker too, giving players even more ways to salvage ships, maybe even with friends online?
Currently available via Steam, there is no confirmed release date for Hardspace: Shipbreaker. Expect to hear more about the PlayStation and Xbox versions as we approach the launch of version 1.0.