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Just one more piece.

That is the mantra that repeats itself as the player floats between huge chunks of a starship’s bulkhead. Just throw one more piece of the ship into the incinerator before the shift ends. Just one more chunk of your debt paid off and one step closer to freedom.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an action-adventure simulation game developed by Blackbird Interactive and published by Focus Entertainment. In this game, you play as a shipbreaker employed by the Lynx Corporation and must break down spaceships into scrap to pay off your massive debt. It is very different from many other simulation games; you are thrown into the void of space and must keep track of different hazards and dangerous components of a ship while you try to dismantle it as fast as you can before your shift ends.

Shipbreaking

The narrative is rather simple and unfolds while you work through ships that gradually increase in complexity and difficulty. It highlights themes of worker exploitation and corporate corruption that are reflected in the gameplay.

Breaking ships down is dangerous work and you are under the pressure of cutting a fuel line, disrupting electrical flow between components or jettisoning yourself into the depths of space before you can even blink at all times. The Lynx Corporation does not care about you, but you have to pay off your staggering debt to it while you live in a stellar equivalent of a company town.

While stressful, the core gameplay loop is satisfying and holds a good amount of depth. Before your 15 minute shift begins, you can choose to start dismantling a new ship or pick up where you left off on an unfinished one. You are then transported to an empty port in space with the ship suspended in the middle.

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The main goal is to identify different parts of the ship and sort them into three different areas: the incinerator, the salvage barge and the processor. The concept seems simple on the surface, but many dangers are lurking within the ships that could cost you money and your life if you aren’t careful.

You are given three tools at the start of the game: the laser cutter, the scanner and the utility grapple. You must scan the ship for structural weaknesses and cut into them to be able to move smaller pieces into the correct receptacle with your grapple and tethers that come with it. The tethers were unwieldy and the physics with them felt strange and inconsistent.

However, solid zero-gravity movement and accurate metal cutting make breaking ships down piece by piece immensely satisfying. You must be sure that you don’t accidentally destroy any pieces with excessive cutting or you will lose money and your rewards will be diminished.

Tackling the Danger

The premise of the game might sound boring at first, but there is a gradual difficulty curve as the story progresses. You start off only having to worry about your health, oxygen tank and fuel reserves for the first handful of ships. Over time, your company rank increases  and with those increases comes the clearance to break down larger and more dangerous ships. 

Every so often a new hazard is introduced to shake up the gameplay and keep you on your toes such as flammable fuel lines, unsafe electrical equipment and reactors that can blow up a sizable chunk of the ship if not extracted properly. The game forces you to approach each ship like a puzzle and you have to solve it while working under a time limit if you so choose.

Story progression isn’t just about encountering more dangerous ships. There are sizable upgrade trees for your tools and spacesuit as well, which you unlock by increasing your company rank and spending the LYNX Tokens you’re awarded for reaching shipbreaking thresholds during shifts.

These large trees felt too bloated and unnecessary. Most of the upgrades in them increase stats by small margins, such as the rate at which your tools break down or how fast your thrusters work in space. The upgrade tree seems to exist just to make  you feel like you’re not stagnant for multiple ships in a row.

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There are different difficulty options within Hardspace to make the game more accessible. The “Open Shift” difficulty allows you to play through the story without worrying about a time limit or oxygen drain. “Limited” gives you thirty lives to use before you must restart the story, and “No Revival” gives you one life as the name implies. There is also a Free Play mode where you can break down procedurally-generated ships at your leisure with access to all of the tools and upgrades in the game.

A smaller part of Hardspace that doesn’t stand out on its own but helps build immersion is the score and sound design. The sounds of your laser cutter slicing through metal or chunks of the ship bumping into each other is muffled by the vacuum of space, reminding the player just how dangerous their job is. 

Your spacesuit comes equipped with a radio that plays folk guitar at all times, but when you’re in danger of a ship hazard a pulse-pounding synth score swallows it up while alarms blare and your character’s breathing grows heavy with panic. This solid sound design combined with every other aspect of the game creates an immersive and memorable experience.

Conclusion

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a stellar scrapping sim that is different from most of the other new games on the market. It can feel tedious or boring to some, but the solid mechanics and beautiful visuals make it worth a look to those who might be interested in a unique sim game. The Lynx Corporation is always looking for bright new workers to join its family, after all.

Review copy not provided. Played on Xbox Gamepass on PC.

Will Edmonds

Will Edmonds is a sophomore who loves single-player video games, playing the saxophone, and creative writing. He is majoring in professional writing and a part of the one of the jazz bands at the Catlett Music Center. He plans to become an editor after graduating college and hopes to publish his own book.

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