Initially, I saw a blue collar, space trucker type game. A game that might allow you to experience what the crew from Alien might have done for work, before the Xenomorph started picking them off on the Nostromo.
Taking a look at the trailer, and combining that with its genre described as “action-adventure simulator”, I still didn’t quite know what to expect. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting a highly addictive, incredibly satisfying job simulator.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker Review (PS5) – A Highly Addictive And Satisfying Work Simulator
It Ain’t Much But It’s Honest Work
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker you play as a “Cutter”, who is also referred to as such throughout the game. A silent protagonist who works for a corporation called LYNX.
The core objective of the game is to dismantle spaceships into their smaller parts, and sort them into the incinerator, or the processor, which are located on either side of the salvage bay. The more expensive parts, often, need to be placed in the barge, which is situated below.
The salvage bay is located outside of Earth’s orbit in space, meaning that you’ll be stripping these ships of their parts in zero gravity.
Despite the game sounding fairly ordinary, what follows is a very satisfying experience, that requires some patience, and a methodical approach.
As the cutter, you will be equipped with tools such as the modular laser cutter, that allows you to cut certain points of the structure, or horizontally slice through objects in order to divide the parts into smaller, more maneuverable pieces.
Other tools include the handheld utility grapple, that allows you to move some objects with ease. There is also a cross spectrum scanner, which is a visualisation tool, to help you plan your job.
The demolition charges, which unlock a bit later, can be used destroy tougher sections of the ships.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker Creates Awesome Organic Moments
Floating in zero gravity, meticulously dismantling the ships by finding their structural cut points, and then sorting them into the proper location with the utility grapple, as you steadily break the ship down until there is nothing left, is such an addictive gameplay hook.
It’s a game you can play for consecutive hours, without realising how much time has passed.
The ships themselves start out small, and gradually get bigger and/or more complex as you progress through the game. You will find yourself having to deal with increasing hazard ratings, which include dangers such as reactors.
Reactors will require that you plan an exit strategy, as once you remove it, you only have moments to move it to the barge, before it explodes.
Figuring out how to properly dispose of a reactor for the first time, and accidentally cutting a cooling pipe, leading to an entire section of the ship exploding into pieces, makes for a fun organic moment.
Fun, until you have to clean up the floating rubble at least.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker feels like a puzzle game at times. There’s also some occasions where creativity is required to be more efficient. Such as using tethers to pull things out the way for you, so you can reach a fuel switch in time, and avert disaster.
Whilst working your blue collar job, in a spacecraft chop shop, you will have to keep an eye on your oxygen, your thruster fuel, and the clock counting down to end your shift. You can sometimes find oxygen and fuel canisters on board the ships.
However, it is also purchasable from a computer vendor, where you enter the salvage bay.
The salvage bay can be a hazardous work place. You can damage your suit, even break your helmet, which will cause oxygen to deplete rapidly.
There was a moment where I was trying to rush, to finish before the deadline, and ended up retracting something with the utility grapple too fast, shattering the glass on the helmet, thus suffocating.
Whilst shocking, this made for another great organic moment. If the damage is minor, and you’re quick, you can find a suit repair kit to patch yourself up.
There are other hazards you will want to avoid, like exploding reactors as mentioned earlier, or being pulled into either the incinerator or processor. Admittedly, when I first started, this happened to me more than once.
Not to mention, your equipment is degradable, which can cause the laser cutter to overheat faster. Overheating the laser cutter will set you on fire, and do some damage to your health.
Profits And Resource Management
The primary reason for sorting the ship’s dismantled pieces into the incinerator, the processor, or the barge is to earn money. Some parts are worth more than others, but most of the ship will be needed to completely fill the meter, at the top of the HUD.
The meter is split into segments, which simultaneously display your profits and help you level up. Naturally, sorting those dismantled ship parts incorrectly, or destroying them, will see the meter decrease with potential profits declining.
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker the overarching objective to earning profits is to pay off a debt. A debt that the LYNX corporation kindly saddled you with, upon giving you your start in the ship breaking business.
Other costs include the resources you need like oxygen, and the body you inhabit. The body being a platform, that also costs money, if you happen to expire on the job.
Every shift will cost you money on top of that, so you want to manage your time and resources as best you can, as a means to maximise profits, and pay off your 1 billion credits worth of debt.
All these moving parts show how Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a tightly crafted experience, where every aspect plays into each other, further accentuating its addictive gameplay hook.
In between shifts, you will rest onsite at the HAB. The HAB is a mini hub, that is essentially an outer space studio apartment. It is a place where you can read messages, and decorate with some posters, that you might have found whilst salvaging. The HAB is also where you can upgrade your equipment.
The HAB is not big enough to freely move around as you would in the salvage yard. You select which part you want to interact with and that’s it. This is the portion of the game where I wanted a bit more.
It feels quite limiting, and it’s almost like it is designed to feed into the time management aspect of the gameplay loop.
Midway through the game, you will be gifted your own derelict spaceship, which is visible from the HAB. You will be tasked with salvaging specific parts for it, from the ships you deconstruct during your day job.
However, you wont be installing the parts with your equipment. You will just apply them on a computer monitor and it will be done for you.
The lore that exists in Hardspace: Shipbreaker is mainly experienced at the HAB, through reading at your computer terminal, or listening to audio messages. Conversations over radio sometimes take place at the start of each shift as well, which does feel more natural.
The story that can be found within the game is quite intriguing, though. Your employer LYNX, is a company that mistreats and exploits its workers for profit. Hardspace: Shipbreaker explores things like unions, corporate propaganda, and the insatiable hunger of capitalism.
I certainly enjoyed these subjects being explored, and appreciate these topics being a focus, especially in a work simulator. It’s a nice touch. It’s also worth noting that the game has a satirical approach at times, which provides a degree of charm.
Once you’ve completed the lengthy task of paying off your debt, there are two other modes to explore outside the main campaign. The “Weekly R.A.C.E” which sees two players compete against each other to salvage a weekly ship.
The other mode is suitably named “Free mode”, that allows players to start with unlimited resources and fully upgraded equipment. These modes are nice additions and offer some replay value. Beyond that, there are difficulty settings, one of which, has a permanent death option, if you’re looking for more of a challenge.
Country Soundtrack And An Industrial Aesthetic
The soundtrack is suitably rather country. It is similar to what you would hear in something like Firefly. It perfectly fits with the industrialised, blue collar aesthetic that Blackbird Interactive are going for. It’s also very much needed, as the game would feel very quiet without it.
Graphically the game captures the industrialised, space trucker aesthetic well. Planet Earth provides a nice backdrop whilst you laser cut your way through the equally industrial looking spacecrafts. The game taking place in that one location, means there’s not much in terms of variety.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game that took me by surprise. It fulfilled my fantasy of working a blue collar job, in a salvage yard, in outer space. Admittedly, a fantasy I didn’t know I had until I started playing this game, and couldn’t put it down.
Blackbird Interactive have crafted a highly addictive experience, with interesting story elements and workers rights at its heart. It is game that takes pride in the honest days work, and if you work hard enough, you just might pay off that debt.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is now available on PS5.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.