Hardspace: Shipbreakers – A Review

Here we’ve got an early-access game that actually seems pretty good. The early-access part seems to be mainly just lack of content – the polish is pretty good, even at this stage. If you’re looking for a work simulator, but IN SPACE, this might be the game for you.

So far, I’ve done 21 hours in the game. I have ADD, and this is a work sim, so that should tell you something. If I didn’t have other exciting games to play, I’d be playing this every night. Sure, it doesn’t have any fighting, but there are layzors and splosions, so it’s still fun and exciting and manly and such.

As suggested on the cover, you play the role of a ship breaker – the person that takes apart ships for salvage. This is a real-life job, but naturally it’s not a space job, yet. In the normal game mode, you have 15-minute blocks of time to take a ship apart. As long as you do it in one sitting, you can pick at the same ship for multiple time blocks (logging out for some reason doesn’t save the ship). There is also another mode where you have an unlimited amount of time per block to work on a ship.

Regardless of the time taken, each block represents one day of work. After each shift you have to pay interest on your loans, as well as rent on your room and equipment, and any fees incurred during your last play session (if you die, you get charged for the cloning). Oh, yes, you have loans. You start the game with a billion-space-bucks debt, presumably the money the company spent to ship you up to space. It’s very much a company store situation. ‘Fortunately,’ you get a big chunk of money for each part you salvage, so your goal is to get more money from salvage than the costs you incur each day.

As can be seen from above, each item you salvage is itemized. There are three broad categories of salvage, based on where you put them. There’s stuff you put into the barge, which are things like chairs, computers, fuel, and reactors, that can be reused as-is. There are things that go to the processor, and then things that go to the furnace; I don’t know the logic of which goes where, here, but there apparently is a difference. The game helpfully tells you what item goes where as you hold it, so you don’t have to guess or memorize, though you get used to it pretty quick. If you put something in the wrong place, it is rejected and destroyed, and you don’t get any money from it (I don’t know if that gets taken out of your profits as well, or not).

Lucky for you, you don’t just have your hands and mass to move entire ship parts. You have a space magic tool to help you move those heavy objects contrary to Newton’s laws. You have a sort of tractor beam, which lets you directly manipulate objects. You can then push objects to…give them a push to where you want them to go. And then there are tethers, which basically pull two objects together like a rope that contracts on its own.

Conveniently, the ships you take apart are very modular. Parts are mostly just held together by some sort of space magic glue field, with a few structural joints that are easily cut with your laser (those yellow striped bars in the picture above). It’s only the rare part that you actually need to cut metal for (like the airlocks for some reason, or glass windows). After that, you just need to put the right parts in the right place, starting from the outside, then moving in.

I mentioned death earlier. Because you sure can die, in many terrible ways. You can fly into the furnace. You can get hit by any of the various parts your moving around. You can exploded by the reactor or fuel or coolant. You can run out of oxygen. You can get electrocuted. You can even somehow catch on fire. The main difference in the harder difficulties is how many lives you have – infinite on normal, 30 on hard, and one on the hardest.

There is some management and improvement possible. Every individual ship has certain items that you are assigned to salvage, via the Work Order system. Each work order you accomplish gets you xp (they call it LT in this game, but it’s xp). You can also recover lore bits (Logs), which give xp as well. You use this xp to upgrade your various gear, and you can even use it to buy it outright from the company (so you don’t have to rent it – your equipment rental is the main daily cost that eats into your profits). Your upgrades are limited by a level system, which is task-based, and thus independent of xp (though things that give xp often also accomplish those tasks as well).

That’s about it. Pretty simple game. The fun is in the execution. It does get repetitive, though. At this point there are only two classes of ships, with two basic variations each. As I said, I got 21 hours before I wanted to play different games. If you like work sims, or other games where fine-tuning the process is what you like, this is for you. I only have a certain amount of patience for that. But still, 21 hours is a good amount of time, and I didn’t even come close to completing everything (didn’t even get to trying the last major ship variation). If the devs just abandoned it right now, as-is, I’d say it’s worth the $25 price tag. But they haven’t, and are continually improving it (there was one major issue I had, but it was resolved in the last patch!).