Posted on 16 Jun 2020 by Jay Shaw

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

The Defence

Developer: Blackbird Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Action, Simulator
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 16 Jun 2020

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 6600K
AMD Ryzen 3 1300X
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 770
AMD Radeon R9 380
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 8700 GHz
AMD Ryzen 5 2600
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 980Ti
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
RAM: 16 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a space ship salvaging sim from developers Blackbird Interactive and Focus Home Interactive. The game is currently available in an Early Access and features two ships to break down and the first act of the campaign. Chances are, you’ve already read the words “space ship salvaging sim” and made up your mind whether that sounds fun or not but you can keep reading for our thoughts on the game.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker‘s gameplay loop is fairly simple: choose a space ship to salvage and then try to complete your work orders and grab any extras you can along the way. Each work shift lasts fifteen minutes and some ships can last for multiple days. Initially we weren’t impressed with the timed shifts, preferring just to be out as long as we felt like, but once ship complexity begins to ramp up the timer actually helps you prioritise tasks.

We quickly fell into a routine for each ship; first we’d do a quick fly around and see what could be safely stripped from the outside like antennas and engine nacelles and then we’d venture inside to vent the atmosphere to prevent large scale decompression once we start making cuts, and then we’d check for collectibles like voice and text logs and utility keys which are used for disabling potentially dangerous ship systems like fuel feeds. Once satisfied we’ve had a look around the interior we’d leave the safety of the interior and make our way into the crawl spaces between inner and outer hulls to begin cutting structural spars.

Recoverable logs provide world building, humour, and talk of a machine god.

At this point we venture outside once more and begin moving the outer hull segments away to the processor or furnaces on either side of the work space. This largely involves just shooting tethers between the object and the appropriate spot on the wall and then leaving them to drift away while we get back to breaking things down. At this point it’s time to make sure it’s safe to make more dangerous cuts; fuel and coolant lines can be highly destructive if ruptured and accidentally hitting the reactor does not end well so we trace any pipes and make sure the ship’s reactor and thrusters are disconnected safely by touching our hands to the pipes, allowing us to hear whether anything’s flowing through them or not.

Once we’re confident it’s okay we cut the ship’s thrusters loose by dismantling their mount on the outer hull and begin pulling the large engine cylinders out to drop into the salvage barge waiting below on a backdrop of Earth. Next up is the reactor, an unstable component that will have only a short time before exploding once it’s disconnected from its housing. If we want to play it safe we’ll drop the housing and reactor into the barge together – losing the housing salvage but more safely disposing of the reactor. To do this we need to make sure we have a way to get the reactor out of the hull quickly but more advanced designs may be encased in their own special multi-part containers that are themselves cocooned in dedicated rooms that may require some risky cuts to get free. Precision and patience are key.

The most dangerous parts of the work orders are now done and we can begin to take a more leisurely approach to tasks that require a larger number of items to complete. This is where our knowledge of the interior comes in handy and we can begin stripping furniture, electronics, cargo, and mechanical components from the various rooms and dropping them into the waiting barge. Some larger ships have very secure interior hulls where cracking them open with multiple cuts is necessary. In this case we begin looking at the connecting spars between plates – it’s much more efficient to cut half a dozen spars and crack the inner hull clean in half than to cut holes in walls and floors in each room.

Putting things in the right place is important.

Cracking the hull also has another big advantage – it takes less tethers to move less mass and so we can begin moving the aluminium inner hull into the furnaces for even more salvage. Often we abandon any small objects left inside once our work orders are done; for example we leave cockpit glass and any leftover chairs and storage bins to burn up in the furnace as they’re not worth the effort of salvaging just for the money. Sometimes parts of the inner hull are secured to an outer hull segment too, the cockpit and airlock are always connected to the segments they pass through and also have to be severed from the main inner hull to allow the outer segment to be salvaged.

Why are we doing all this? Because we signed up with LYNX Corporation and are now a billion dollars in debt. Also because it’s a lot of fun to approach each ship like a potentially deadly puzzle box and work out how to most effectively turn it into maximum profits. The voice on the radio calls this “using the whole buffalo” and it’s an apt comparison. Yes, we’re destroying something amazing but ideally we’re not letting any of it go to waste. Seeing the last segment of hull slip into the furnace or processor, leaving an utterly empty bay behind, is a moment of pure satisfaction with a job well done.

While you’re working explosions of fuel and coolant aren’t the only threats you’ll face. You have to keep an eye on your remaining oxygen and thruster fuel, the condition of your tools, number of tethers remaining, and also any other hazards you come across or accidentally produce. Using your grapple tool’s push function can sometimes result in several thousand kilograms of wildly spinning space ship that can hit a human home run right out of Earth orbit. You may hit an electrical component against a wall too hard and electrocute yourself by accident, pull a thruster from its housing too roughly and crush yourself against a wall, or you may just use your grapple tool’s reel-in function to get around quickly and slam yourself face first into the ship you’re working on.

Nuclear fire is typically bad for your health.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game about taking care and diligently doing your job as a ship salvager. You may be on the clock but it rarely pays to rush an action unless you’re one hundred percent sure it’s not going to backfire horribly. Dying isn’t a huge problem, you’ll respawn at the nearby habitat module and be charged a hefty fee for LYNX Corporation’s cloning service. With this system, Blackbird Interactive have managed to make an individual death a minor setback but repeated screw-ups will result in the dent you’ve made in your debt disappear.

It’s not all about the money; as you complete work orders you’ll gather LP which act as upgrade currency you can spend between shifts to improve your tools and suit. Upgrades are locked by your salvager rank, as is access to more complex and valuable ships. We never felt like we were grinding, even eight hours in and with only two ship types it still felt interesting to be opening these metal beasts up and experimenting with new ways to complete work orders and certification ranks more quickly and safely.

Even this Early Access build has a lot of charm. Hardspace: Shipbreaker delivers on its surprisingly badass name with a very cool concept executed in a way that’s both complicated and very easy to understand. Some players may struggle with the zero-G movement but a brake button allows you to arrest your movement if you get out of control and extending a hand will suck you to any surface it touches. Our main complaint right now is that there are no rebindable controls in this build and while the controls were fine for us, they likely won’t be for everyone so bindings are one of the bare minimums for a PC game in our opinion. We also ran into some performance issues with decompression and ruptured fuel lines where frame rates would tank on an order of magnitude when these events happened but we expect that will improve as the game continues development. If cutting up space ships sounds like a good time to you then you should definitely give Hardspace: Shipbreaker some of your time and money.

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