As of January 2021, the space agency reported that there are nearly 22,000 foreign objects orbiting the earth. Around 4000 of this number are satellites, but the rest is just space junk. There are probably millions of smaller pieces of junk that can’t be traced too. It’s a problem that NASA is trying to deal with, mostly as these pieces of junk can be extremely dangerous for future space adventures.
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker there is an imagined future in which it is the astronaut’s job to head out and recycle these pieces of junk in order to earn some money. Or in the case of your hero, to pay back some debts. Let’s clean up some space junk.
People seem to like organising and cleaning up in video games, as experiences such as House Flipper seem to justify. In this game, you are a grunt who signs up to be a ship breaker – your dangerous job is to go into orbit and take apart old ships, scavenging the parts for money. You work for a space business empire that you are already in debt to for millions of dollars, so it’s time to start paying it off. Slowly and with some hard graft.
The campaign – which is a long old one – takes you through a story that is funny and satirical, focusing on some seriously huge business. There is some nice writing included, mostly through those who teach you the ropes and through the emails and content in your cabin or home. As you progress through the game you get to meet others via the radio who give interesting insights into their world and the place of a shipbreaker in general. It’s a decent story full of unique narratives, powered by a rather great concept. Ultimately though the game is about breaking up ships in space. You will be doing a lot of that.
What you are faced with is a job; a job which has you working space salvage yard out in orbit. You will be tasked with floating around in zero-G armed with a laser cutter and space pulley, yanking objects around. Your job is to get an old ship, break it apart and then either throw the right parts into a furnace or a processor for recycling. Yet hardest part of this job is breaking down the ship. It feels like a reversed jigsaw puzzle, as you carefully unravel bit by bit.
You float in zero-G, not knowing which way is up and which is down; that in itself takes a bit of time to get used to. But once that feeling is sorted you’ll find yourself heading out into a kind of zen-like state, all as you get to work. That involves getting to a ship and the first thing to do is scan the ship for all the weak points, the bits you need to cut. You find ways in like going through a window and then start to take the place apart bit by bit. You do this by using your cutter at the right points in the ship and then tearing away the material and disposing of it in the appropriate junkyard.
It takes a while to get used to, but when you get into the mood and rhythm of Hardspace: Shipbreaker you’ll discover that there is something very relaxing about it. Later on it does get tricky when you have to deal with reactors, decompressive incidents, and explosions but by then you should be a dab hand at what is required. You can die too, and if you do you’ll discover a copy coming in to take your place, at more expense to your debt. There is a permadeath mode for the hardcore, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker has a nice, rather simple, visual design about it and this creates some interesting ship designs and first-person space exploration. The interiors of the cabin which you spend a lot of time in are nicely designed and have a tongue-in-cheek quality to the design. The sound is good too, with all the effects and creaks and groans in space. Alongside that though is the music; running a country theme it may well grate on a few people. Just because you’ll be scouring space for a while, it may be worth bringing your own music along for the ride. The voice over is excellent though, running with some great supporting characters.
If you are a fan of the multitude of ‘work’ type games that have arrived on console in recent years, then Hardspace: Shipbreaker will cover your needs. The dismantling of ships is relaxing and pretty satisfying, but it’s hard to imagine it’ll be enjoyable for everyone. It’s a game helped along by the story and humor, but be aware that the whole thing gets a tad tricky and space fast starts to feel a bit one-dimensional.
That said, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game that is different, soothing, and very compelling.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is on the Xbox Store