Hardspace: Shipbreaker

After a hundred and twenty odd hours nurturing my inner car mechanic in Car Mechanic Simulator 2018, I figured it was time to try something else for a while.

Instead of endlessly taking things apart, cleaning/fixing/replacing and refitting, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is all about dismantling. Space ships. In orbit. With lasers.

Wait, what?

Yep, you’re kitted out with a nice functional spacesuit, top-of-the-line adequate jet pack and a powerful lethal laser torch. And a billion credit debt for the pleasure of taking the job.

But whatever, the Earth is in a state, people down there are living in squalor and by the sounds of things, law and order has pretty much been abandoned. But from up here, it still looks beautiful – you just don’t get a lot of time to enjoy the view.

This is an early access game, and if that kind of thing bothers you maybe wait a while, but if you’re ok with losing an hour and a half of meticulous disassembly and salvage gathering due to the odd crash, then go right ahead and get it because it’s another strangely compelling experience. To be fair, this has only happened once – it just happened to coincide with the last cut I was planning to make for the shift, so yes it was a little irritating.

Anyway, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, this kind of employment (hopefully without the crippling debt) might become an actual thing. Possibly not in near earth orbit, and possibly not scrapping an endless stream of spaceships, but maybe mining on the Moon, or captured asteroids.

There’s a nice undercurrent of humour running along in the introductory sequences, and that’s carried through to the cheerful terminal that bills you for the materials that let you do your job, or fix your gear, and it’s also evident in the messaging that chides you for inadvertently destroying something of great value. Which is pretty much everything except you. You’re an easily (and expensively) reproduced clone. So no, blowing yourself to bits, or drifting into the furnace or materials processor does not get you out of work. And, you guessed it, you pay the bill. Or at least that billion credit debt you’re working off doesn’t get any smaller.

I streamed the above play-through to YouTube (this was a test so it’s a bit rough), but at least I didn’t die on this shift.

Okay, great, but why is this a good game? Setting aside the knee-jerk It’s an opportunity to experience an alternate reality that I have no chance of doing for real reaction for a moment, I think it’s because it’s something that you can, and sometimes have to, stop and think about how to tackle the next step in the process. There are usually a few ways you could approach something, and most seem to be fatal, and therefore expensive, if you rush in without a pause for contemplation. To work out your entry point. To map through your cuts. And to plan your extraction route for whatever material or module it is that you’re liberating from the ship.

I have zero experience of this kind of work (although I do know what it’s like to work in a factory environment, welding, cutting, drilling, grinding and heaving large lumps of metal around) but I expect that actual, real life shipbreakers are pretty careful when cutting through anything, and spend a lot of time figuring out the mechanics of how something is likely to behave when it loses structural integrity. If you don’t do that you probably won’t be working for long – real life cloning to get you back up and running isn’t a thing yet as far as I know. But like I said, I’m just guessing.

Also, in a real breakers yard (dock?) gravity does its thing pretty well I expect. Unlike in orbit when you can cut off a multi-tonne lump of structural material, and it doesn’t go anywhere. Unless there’s an unintended explosion to hurry it along some.

I’m looking forward to see how this game develops, and it’s already easy to sink time into. I tried playing in limited oxygen mode (yes, you have to go and buy more or die) but found it too limiting. And let’s be honest, NASA deploys astronauts on eight (or more?) hour long maintenance spacewalks, and they don’t have just a few minutes of air at a time, so I prefer playing in the more relaxed unlimited O2 mode so I can focus on what I’m doing rather than be constantly monitoring my air supply. Also, when you find O2 or fuel cylinders and pick them up, they seem to be consumed immediately even if you don’t need it, so don’t scoop them all at once if you’re playing in the more challenging modes.

So, if you like spaceships, and fancy cutting them up with a laser for a kind of reverse jigsaw puzzle experience, get this game. Now, if you’re patient, or later if early access and the odd bug isn’t your thing.

Explore often, scan twice, cut once.

Good luck, breakers!