Hardspace: Shipbreaker Early Access Preview | Scrapper’s delight

There’s remarkably few games dealing with salvaging, which is strange when you consider how many titles impel you towards picking up random bits and bobs. That niche is finally getting filled by Hardspace: Shipbreaker, which entered Steam Early Access today. This is a game that plays a bit like Lego in reverse and requires you to recycle starships beyond their prime.

In the not so distant future, humanity has taken to the stars, and the Earth is reserved mostly for the destitute. In an attempt to seek out a better life, your character has signed their life over to LYNX Corporation, a megaconglomerate. Salvaging aging and ruined spacecraft is one of LYNX’s many revenue sources, and you’re indentured to the company as a shipbreaker.

Shipbreaking can bring in a lot of cash, which is why your character so readily abandoned their freedom. However, before you can start pocketing some of this dough, you have to pay off the $999,999,999 debt you owe LYNX. For each component or scrap of material you salvage, you get one step closer to your new life in outer space, but it’s dangerous work.

There’s danger from explosive decompression if you don’t vent a ship’s atmosphere, and there’s left over fuel, coolant, and reactors which can wreak havoc if not properly handled. LYNX throws you into your new home in space without much explanation or training. Your operator, Weaver, gives you a brief tutorial, but he’s mostly there to let you know when your work shift is about to end.

It’s up to you to figure out most of the puzzle of ship disposal, but one you’ve got a handle on it, you’ll get faster and faster at sorting components and materials into their proper recycling receptacles without destroying them and killing yourself.

This game is a soothing blend of frantic and relaxing. You do have meters counting down. You have limited oxygen, and you must return to a kiosk on your shelter and purchase more if you run out. Thrusters have limited fuel, and your equipment all has to be regularly repaired. You also have a limited amount of time each day to work. However, it never really feels like you’re racing against time. Instead, it seems like all these little counters are there to impel you along. After all, there’s no antagonist actively cackling away at you in the background, so something has to keep players from dawdling.

I loved learning the layout of each new ship in Hardspace: Shipbreaker, and using my scanners to search out each anchoring joint, ship system, and object. Each ship is a bit of a puzzle, and it’s up to you to figure out what the best approach to salvaging each type is. You start with small shuttles and cargo hoppers, but the higher your certification level is, the larger the ships you can salvage. The starting ships have a small cargo/passenger area and a cockpit, but by the time you get to the highest rank available right now, Tier 6, you’ll be working on large, multi-room vessels.

Each tier of ships also adds more gameplay mechanics. Tier 1 and Tier 2 ships have systems that are mostly isolated from each other, but when you get to Tier 3 and 4 ships you’ll start seeing interplay between components. You’ll have to figure out how to drain fuel lines so you can pull thrusters, and how to power down fuses so you can pull them. Your chilled out, slow-paced salvage operation can suddenly turn into a disaster if you don’t stay cognitive of the consequences of every action you take.

The constant looming consequence that one wrong move can destroy the ship you’re trying to salvage keeps things interesting, even when you’re working on the same ship you’ve disassembled ten times before. However, it does start to wear thin after a while.

The biggest flaw in Hardspace: Shipbreaker in early access is lack of ship variety. You only get one or two ship types for each of the available six tiers, and you’ll salvage the same vessel many, many times to climb certification ranks. The devs plan on adding more ships, ship types, and mod support, so thankfully this will be addressed in the future. I also hope to see more interplay between ship systems, as they do remain relatively isolated, even on higher tier ships.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker goes a long way towards pulling off a unique concept. With more variety and complexity, this game will be a real winner. Even in Steam Early Access it’s feature complete, and it’s worth a purchase for any sci-fi fans looking for something different. This is a game I’ll have my eye on as it moves towards full release, and I can’t wait to see the final product.