I love taking stuff apart. And I love space. So, imagine my delight when I got the news that Blackbird Interactive and Focus Home Interactive were developing Hardspace: Shipbreaker, a space salvager title that is a mixture of both of those things. Now I won’t have to creep out at midnight and take apart my neighbours’ cars to sate my need for disassembly, pretending I’m an astronaut working on the international space station. I don’t do that really…
Hardspace: Shipbreaker casts you as a cutter, or for want of a better word, a ship salvager. You join up with the Lynx Corporation who provide you everything you need to get started in your salvaging adventure including some pretty impressive tools and a ship berthing area, albeit with the caveat that you now owe them a billion credits. Ouch. And that is essentially the story as it stands, it’s up to slave and toil your days away to earn your keep and pay back what you owe. On the flip side, dangerous work pays pretty well.
The game’s campaign kicks you off with a very handy tutorial, and a more experienced cutter called ‘Weaver’ narrating you through the baby steps needed to salvage your first ship. You first couple of ships will be of the smaller variety, offering a chance to get well acquainted with both the finer subtleties of salvaging and the various dangers that come with it. You start out with all the necessary bells and whistles to do so courtesy of Lynx Corp. Including your full space suit get up, a grappling tool and your trusty cutter tool.
You control your cutter through a thrust system, having the option to move in all directions and ascend/descend with relative ease. Moving is no easy affair though, we are in space after all. Whilst the thrusters of your suit give you the ability to traverse the berth area, controlling your movements to ensure you don’t plummet headfirst into the furnace or float off into space is its own monster. That said, the control system is very natural, especially given the handy thruster brake you have access to. It just take’s precision, though it didn’t take me all that long to get used to, and I was weaving between ship and drop off points with skill pretty quickly.
Your start off at your hab, essentially a yellow platform that is your home for the duration of the game. On it, you have access to panel to purchase any extras you might need during your salvaging including oxygen, repair kits, tethers and other assorted options. To note, oxygen is finite whilst your salvaging so keeping an eye on your reserves is as important as getting your work done efficiently, otherwise your likely to meet a rather unpleasant end at the hands of the vacuum of space.
You have the option to pick a ship to take apart, with access to more valuable ships coming as you rank up. Throughout the process of salvaging a ship, Lynx will task you with work orders that you have to complete which might include processing a certain amount of metals or nano-carbons, or salvaging particular ship components like power cells or the reactor. Keep in mind that these guys are your employers, so you’ll want to make sure your meeting their expectations… you do owe them a billion credits after all.
You find out very quickly that disassembling ships isn’t point and cut. Your introduced to your space suits scan mode very early, a tool used to identify structural cutting points which overlays your vision with the ships internal frame. Cutting points are displayed in bright yellow, and typically, you’ll have to remove these should you want to salvage the otherwise attached ships panels as well as access areas that are impossible to get to without doing so. Once the points are done away with using the cutter (point at cutting point, shoot laser, watch it burn), you can use your grappling tool to deposit the materials in either the furnace, processor or barge. Each component of a ship is fully salvageable but can only be salvaged correctly in it’s corresponding bay. For example, ship hull panels are typically nano-carbon and must be processed, whilst internal walls are aluminium and must be deposited in the furnace to receive the credits for salvaging them. You can identify what goes where from the information displayed on your targeting reticule when hover over it. There’s plenty of depth and complexity to it, and I found it a welcome learning curve that added plenty of discovery and fun to the title.
Taking apart a ship requires patience, but plenty of precision and agility too. I’ve no qualms telling you how inept I felt to begin with. Nearing the end of the tutorial you get access to an addon for your cutter called the split saw and it is every which way as a cool as it sounds. This tool is used to make line cuts in the softer metals like internal ship panels. Using said tool will display a couple of red dots in a line to convey beam path, with you being able to change between both vertical and horizontal cuts with ease. I cannot adequately explain how satisfying it is to cut up a panel like butter, and it’s important to get used to this tool because you’ll be using it a lot. It will allow you to salvage panels without over damaging them, as long as your precise enough, and as mentioned earlier, will give you access to areas in the ship that aren’t available to enter through conventional means.
You’ll encounter a number of hazards while taking apart ships too, ranging from explosive fuel tanks, degrading reactors, electroshock, cryofreeze and sometimes fatal cabin de-pressurisation. As an example, one of the first tutorials guides you through de-pressuring a ships internal area by utilising its airlock and atmospheric controls. This takes your through a couple of steps that you’ll get used to following with every ship, as cutting into a pressurized ship has… catastrophic results. I’ll leave that to your imagination but I’m not ashamed to say that I forgot about this on a number of occasions, and quickly regretted not being more diligent. Keep in mind too that each ship system is connected with power, and without giving too much away, there’s a particular order to de-coupling certain components to ensure you don’t damage them, as well as avoiding meeting the icy clutches of a premature death. Damage to your suit is shown with cracks in your helmet glass, and I thought it was a nice touch of immersion to add a bit of tension to the game.
Tools and your internal systems are subject to damage too. Use of your tools will naturally degrade them, so you’ll be repairing them quite often. Alongside your oxygen, your thrusters also use fuel which depletes through use. Management of said resources and knowing the limitations of your skills gives the game a more strategic vibe, where coping with the many facets of salvaging and making the right decisions will determine your overall success. I loved the resource management element, feeling that the game would have been a lot less fun if it hadn’t been included.
Depositing the various materials and components you come across in your operations is as easy as grapple, point and fire. The grappler has a Newtonian force push mechanism that can send salvage careering into your appointed bays and is relatively straightforward to use. Naturally, larger objects are a little tougher and require something called ‘tethers’. And these are an absolute ball to use, offering a both efficient and hilarious way to move heavier freight. Attaching tethers allows you to pick a point on your component and attach it to, for example, a bay. The component will then be pulled towards the point you’ve set with speed dependent on component weight. It’s exceptionally satisfying when you’ve dislodged three or so panels and you attach them via tethers, making your own panel-train like the pioneering salvager you are and watching it glide effortlessly into your destination of choice. The more tethers you use, the faster the component will travel, and I quickly got the handle on how many tethers was needed for each particular piece of salvage.
In Hardspace: Shipbreaker’s campaign mode, each salvage operation you take on is limited by days and time. For example, some of the starting ships will give you two full days across a set clock time for each day as designated by Lynx Corp. Trust me when I say, even the earlier ships can be tough to fully salvage within the time scale. That said, by satisfying those all-important work orders I mentioned earlier, you’ll earn tech points that will allow you to upgrade your gear. Upgrades for your cutter and grappler can range through stronger lasers, better push capabilities, heavier load pickup, more tethers and greater range. You’ll also be able to upgrade your internal scanner, offering overlays for identifying components and power systems. Finally, you can pimp up your space suit with better thrusters, more oxygen reserves and protection against varying hazards. Some are locked behind your rank too, so keeping at those work orders and meeting the conditions for rank up should be one of your greatest focuses.
Each rank level will have a set of criteria to achieve. These will normally be to meet a certain amount of profit from salvaging, as well as completing a certain amount of work orders or salvaging several specific components. Ranks aren’t just important for unlocking upgrades, with each increased rank giving you access to bigger and more valuable ships to salvage. Naturally, this is important as it will give you more days to salvage and greater opportunities to earn credits. At the end of each day it’s worth noting that Lynx will deduct rental costs from you, taking away from your haul and the ability to pay off your debt, so ranking up is an important part of that eco-system to negate your costs and increase your push towards debt consolidation.
Visually, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is pretty beautiful, with its depiction of space being both refined and polished. There’s plenty to see outside of the internals of the ship, with various fleets scattered in the background to give the universe a bit of life. The games effects are also pretty impressive, like cryo-tanks exploding causing freezing of the walls around you and misting up your visor. It all comes together nicely and certainly does the immersion an adequate level of justice, making for some pretty impressive and tense moments.
The thing that deserves special mention through, is the games excellent musical score. It’s like a western in space. With dulcet country tones mixed with sci-fi, I genuinely loved the soundtrack and thought it made an important contribution to the feel of the game. Anything, and I mean anything, that can empower me to feel like a space cowboy is good in my book.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is currently in Early Access on Steam, but there’s already plenty to do in the game. The main campaign has one act so far, and that will set you back around 15 hours for completion. Add to that there’s a free mode in which you can salvage ships without time limits and have a general mess about, and there’s plenty of replay-ability in this impressive title.
With its dedication to the laws of physics and its impressively addictive gameplay, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a breath of fresh air and brings something new to the table, making for an enjoyable and exciting salvaging experience.
Being in Early Access, the game is naturally somewhat light in certain areas content wise, but still offers plenty of opportunity to enjoy it at this stage. If the level of quality in detail at this point is so exceptional, it gets me genuinely excited to see how this game is going to look in a couple of months with a roadmap already having been drawn up.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker offers a space salvaging escapade that is out of this world!