Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an enjoyable game

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“Hardspace: Shipbreaker” is the perfect game for people with a love of space and paying off crippling debt.

Developed by Blackbird Interactive and released early access on June 16 for PC, Hardspace: Shipbreaker has the player take the role of a spaceship salvager working to pay off their one billion credit debt to their corporate overlords.

Hardspace is a dystopian future, where much of planet Earth, the moon, Mars, and space around it is colonized and industrialized.

You play as some unlucky soul who signed away their life to LYNX Corporation to become a “cutter”, salvaging decommissioned space ships. You operate in a zero-gravity environment, armed with a laser cutter, tether hook, and a scanner working to salvage as much as possible.

The main gameplay of Hardspace is figuring out how to safely cut apart the ships you’re given while still making the most money in the alloted 15 minute work day.

Ships and their components can be cut away or pulled apart for salvage. Once you dissect enough of the ship, you can start tearing away whole sections of hull to send off for processing using your tether tool. Taking the ship apart becomes almost like a puzzle, trying to find the best way to tear it apart in the least amount of motions. And everything on the ship can be salvaged for money, up to and including engines, fuel tanks, life support systems, energy cells, and even nuclear reactors. That last one threw me for a loop because we are not qualified to handle those things.

But the risk is downplayed in the face of making money. You’re working on spaceships powered by nuclear reactors, given a laser cutter and a winch and told “yeah, just pull that thing out and get it to stasis before it goes critical.”

I’m not even making a joke here. Your co-worker’s advice in some of the opening missions when salvaging a nuclear reactor is to just get it out of its casing — the thing keeping it stable — and throw it into a stasis field as fast as possible before it blows up and kills you.

And you’re going to want to, because those reactors are worth a lot of money and can bring you one step closer to paying off your debt.

And managing that debt becomes the core gameplay of Hardspace once you master the cutting part.

Someone in the Steam forums did the math — using the cost of living in the game as a baseline — and converted credits to dollars. The player’s debt is roughly $43 million when they first sign on with LYNX. And let me tell you, knowing that number did not make things any better. If anything, it made it worse.

Just the word “debt” is enough to make most people feel a hole open in their gut when they remember how much they currently owe. As if it’s not bad enough in real life, now I’m being haunted by it in video games.

What’s worse is that LYNX does everything they can to bleed you dry. Room and board does not come with employment. You’re forced to rent your equipment, your living space, and pay for everything you need — including oxygen. So, if you don’t work hard enough, you can actually end up in more debt than you started.

Your debt is this massive monster that you are desperately trying to get a handle on. And in this game, death doesn’t let you get away from your debt — it’s just passed along to your clone and added on to your original debt as a “resurrection fee.”

But there is a way out. By completing work orders, you gain certifications that give you access to upgraded equipment and better ships.

The more advanced the ship, the more advanced the components. And the more advanced the components, the more money they’re worth.

Ships go from these small shuttles meant to carry a crew of five to large cargo transporters. But the more complicated the ship, the more hazardous it becomes. Reactors become bigger, fuel lines run through the whole thing, and one wrong cut could end it all.

There’s multiple difficulties in the game, with the easiest giving you free infinite resurrections and all the time in the world to take apart a ship and the hardest giving you but one life to live, making each wrong move a life-or-death situation that could end your whole game.

Final Verdict

Hardspace is this fun blend of job simulator, puzzle, and management game. The game is getting constant updates and the developers actually seem invested in the community and take suggestions seriously. It’s currently going for $25 on Steam and well worth the price.

It’s the kind of game that I can really get immersed in and excited when I take out a clean chunk of debt. Knocking off over three million in debt in one shift feels so rewarding — like paying on the principle of a car loan and being a few months ahead. On the flipside, it’s heart-wrenching when you accidentally blow up a reactor and get fined to Hell and back for one small screw-up.

The game’s about settling into your role and job and making the most of bad situation until you’re the master of it.

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