How 'Hardspace: Shipbreaker' Is Like A Taylor Swift Costume Change
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Featured Image Credit: Black Bird Interactive
As with most on the job accidents, I was killed because I wasn't paying attention. I'd pulled four straight shifts dismantling Mackeral class ships and I thought I'd got the routine down - use my cutting laser to detach the engines, tether them to the recycling barge, depressurise the central cabin, cut loose the thruster panel, eject the engine... Except, when I cut loose the thruster panel it shot at me like a ball from a cannon, cracking my helmet and killing me instantly. In my rush I'd forgotten to depressurise the cabin and when I cut the panel, all that air inside suddenly wanted to get out.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an unusual concept for a space game, one that on paper might not sound that exciting. You're a blue collar worker out in the depths of space working off a debt by breaking down decommissioned ships for scrap. Ships appear in the dock whole and, using nothing but your cutting laser and gravity gun, you turn them into sorted piles of material to be recycled and sold off.
However, in that methodical process of transformation there is something intensely absorbing. There's some really impressive physics and destruction tech under the surface of Hardspace, so with your cutting laser you can slice up any panel into any shape pretty easily. If you want to get into a ship quickly, you could just thrust your spacesuit to the nearest wall of the vessel and cut a square hole in the metal, making a doorway. But, there's often a more efficient way. You can bring up a scanner view that lets you see through the walls of the scrap ship, highlighting all of the vessel's weak points. If you cut through those then whole sections of the ship will come free, making the work go much faster.
It's deeply satisfying to cut through all the key joints holding down the exterior panels of a ship and then use gravity tethers to yank them away, like a costume change in a Taylor Swift concert.
You're often working with the same style of ship over different jobs, so you learn where to look for weak points. Your first attempt at scuttling a ship might take four of the game's 15-minute shifts to complete, but with practice you can get that down to two. Though, while the ship class might be familiar, there are so many variants each job I've completed so far has felt unique.
I've seen the same class fitted out for cargo hauling, and so found it stuffed with vulnerable cargo I had to avoid damaging; passenger ferrying, where the seats hid weak points at awkward angles; and another that looked like it had come from a warzone, with the entire ship encased in armour plating. Each variant presents unique challenges and has to be solved like a puzzle.
What's fascinating, too, is the story this game tells. The ships that come into the yard reveal the different work that's being done out in the galaxy, but there are also the stories inside the ships. When you first get through into the passenger space and find supplies floating in zero-g, clearly abandoned in a hurry, or flight logs revealing stories about the pilots, you aren't advancing the narrative of your own character, you're building up a view of the galaxy. I feel like the janitor who knows what's going on in the lives of the office workers they clean for - I'm going through what's been forgotten and learning about those who left it behind.
Fans of Alien will point out that sci-fi has always told interesting stories from the perspective of the people working at the bottom. After all, the crew of the Nostromo were simply space truckers at the mercy of the abstract plans of the corporations that owned their contracts. So, I'm interested to see if the story in Hardspace will remain one of a person on the outer edge of the galaxy sifting through the odds and ends that drift into their drydock of if we'll start to discover something more active later in the campaign.
Shipbreaker has only just launched into Early Access and Black Bird Interactive is planning a year of updates, adding new ship types and expanding the campaign. But if this launch is anything to go by, I can't wait to see what's coming next - bigger, more complex ships; more stories; more upgrades to your gear to unlock.
Until that next update, I'm going to try and master not killing myself with a thruster panel.