Hands-On With Spaceship Salvage Simulator Hardspace: Shipbreaker

The blue-collar job simulator genre, despite its unfathomable popularity, is one I have never taken much interest in. Do I want to be a farmer? No thank you, I left the midwest for a reason. Do I want to drive an 18-wheel truck? No, that gives me A LOT of anxiety. Do I want to deconstruct derelict spaceships piece by piece for scrap and space dollars?

Sorry….can you say that last one again?

Hardspace: Shipbreaker isn’t a “job simulator” in the vein of Farming Simulator, but there’s really no other way to describe it. The team at Black Bird Interactive has developed so many overlapping systems and complex physical mechanics that all work together so seamlessly one wonders if they haven’t been consulting with a time-traveling Shipbreaker just to get all the details right. After four years in development, the game was made playable to the public at PAX East in Boston last weekend. While many got their first taste of the intricacies of dissembling a spaceship bit by bit, others – including myself – discovered the chaotic joy of exploding them into a million little pieces.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Declare Bankruptcy

While blowing ships to smithereens is a real good time, it won’t do much for your bottom line. In Hardpsace: Shipbreaker you start as a greenhorn spaceship scrapper, otherwise known as a Cutter, with little more than your space suit, cutting tool, and 999,999,999 credits in debt. You’re assigned a ship to chop up and given a set amount of time to work your way through a checklist of valuables that need to be reclaimed using precision, problem-solving, and sometimes, explosive force.

Fortunately, all the info you need to expertly exhume your target is available on the various scanner overlays on your HUD. It’s a lot to take in, but that learning curve is an essential part of the simulation experience. Of course, you’ll be able to spend your credits on tool upgrades and perks, but the real player progress is learning the intricacies of each ship type and how to most efficiently strip them down and get to the good stuff.

The Perfect Extraction

The ships are randomly generated, making each mission a uniquely challenging experience. Each ship is labeled with the company that manufactured it, so even though the ships are random, there are shared characteristics that cutters will learn to pick up on overtime, saving them time and making for cleaner extractions.

Every piece of a ship is worth something, but your time has a value as well, so you’ll need to prioritize what you collect. Your cutting tool is used to separate parts of the ship which can then be moved into the appropriate collection fields using projectile tethers. Navigating your position in space (where there is no “up”) while motivating objects with unbelievable mass is particularly challenging at first. One wrong push can send valuable materials careening off into space, botching your contract and sending you further into debt.

One of the most valuable parts to retrieve out of a ship is the reactor, but it’s also the most volatile. Cracking the ship without first depressurizing it will cause a massive explosion followed quickly by an awe-inspiring mini-supernova when the reactor destabilizes and explodes. There is any number of ways to approach the challenge: you can enter through the exterior access, cut your way into the cockpit and depressurize the ship, and carefully extract and deposit the reactor. You could stabilize the reactor so that it doesn’t detonate at all. You could even climb your way into the ship tether yourself to the reactor, then cut out an exterior wall that faces the deposit zone, sending you and your booty on a high-speed one-way trip to money town (someone at PAX was actually the first to discover this technique).

Oxygen and fuel are a resource, but so if your body. As you gather your space legs you’ll likely suffer countless deaths in the pursuit of knowledge. Thankfully, a clone is always ready to pick up where you left off, but of course, it’s going to cost you.

Hardspace Is A Blast, Even If You Suck At It

What struck me about Hardspace: Shipbreaker immediately was how accessible it is to spectators. You don’t need any context or understanding of all the data on the HUD to see exactly what’s going on. Every mission in Hardspace is the story of man vs. nature, the danger is ever-present as oxygen and power dwindle and time ticks away. Every move, every cut, must be perfectly executed less the cutter risks death and compromising the contract. There’s a constant high-frequency stress you feel whether you’re playing it or watching it be played. Like a slow-motion car crash, you can’t wait to see everything explode.

Hardspace also has a ton of potential for speed-running because of the high skill ceiling and slim margin for error. The BBI team talked about including a daily challenge mode that would present every player with the same exact contract so that players could compete on a leaderboard for best time.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker was unquestionably the most impressive game I saw at PAX East this year. When early access begins later this year, this is one you won’t want to miss.

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