Science fiction is rarely mundane. Usually, it’s about what makes us human, some evil empire that must be brought down—or really, any number of stories that deal with deep philosophical issues or are otherwise epic subject matter. Then came video games like Viscera Cleanup Detail, and you’re suddenly in a whole new sub-genre of slow sci-fi—where you arrive “after the action” or are otherwise just doing some sort of job in space. I think Hardspace Shipbreaker, though it’s just entering Early Access, has the potential to be the new gold standard for such games.
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker you’re a Cutter—you use various tools to cut apart spaceships for salvage. It might not sound interesting, but oh boy, is it ever. You choose (or are given) a spaceship to cut up, and slowly, methodically, work at taking off its panels, disconnecting structural points, and removing valuable components, before incinerating or processing the rest for recycling. These ships are like large animals, and you’re picking their bones clean, using every part of the carcass you can. Be careful though, because being a Cutter is dangerous.
All ships can kill you one way or another. Fusion reactors, explosive decompression, flammable gases and more are there to kill or maim anyone careless enough to cut into them. And when you do, it makes quite an impressive mess of your salvage. You can also fly into the furnace or the recycler if you’re not careful, because space in Hardspace: Shipbreakers features a full six degrees of freedom, with inertia—and that goes for the sometimes heavy pieces you’ll be cutting off the ship. You’ll either want smaller pieces, or you’ll want to upgrade your tools.
You have plenty of tricks up your sleeve as a cutter. You have a cutting tool, and a tethering tool that works a little like the Gravity Gun. But you can also use the tether gun to shoot tethers off, tethering pieces together so they can be moved simultaneously. It’s quite fun to daisy-chain several panels together to go into the processor.
You really are given the opportunity to take these ships as you see fit. You have a scanner to see their structural points—but oftentimes you’re cutting blind—until you get upgrades. But it’s hard to get better equipment when you’re saddled with a staggering amount of debt that would make Tom Nook want to change profession: 1 billion credits. And your only option is to slowly work your way out of it. The company doesn’t make that easy, since you’ll be charged for better tools, upgrades to your equipment, etc. Hell, they nickel and dime you so much you have to pay for O2 and fuel refills, among other things. If you make any mistakes, you better believe that it will be coming out of your pay.
As an Early Access title, Hardspace: Shipbreaker already feels pretty darn polished and fun to play. Objects have weight to them, and cutting is extremely satisfying. The graphics look good, and though there’s a small selection of ships to salvage right now, there is plenty to keep you busy. Right now there’s a career mode and a sandbox mode available. Career mode sees you starting out as a Cutter, and working your way up.
While Hardspace: Shipbreaker would benefit from multiplayer, it’s a single player only game, with no evidence developer Blackbird Interactive is even considering multiplayer. Right now the plan—according the Steam product page—is to spend a year in development in Early Access, and flesh out the game from there. Personally, I can’t wait.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes it makes me wish I was in the future, doing some exciting extra vehicular sci-fi salvage job—until a bulkhead blows out, or I’m staring down a thermonuclear explosion. But it’s nice to have the option to get out into space and cut up some spaceships, even if it’s from the comfort of my office chair.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is available now in Early Access on Steam.
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