Hardspace Shipbreaker does a good job of allowing us to slice up these massive space turkeys and cover them in thick blue collar gravy like it’s Thanksgiving every day, but it gets old after a while. It’s one thing to blow up a spaceship it’s quite another to deconstruct it piece by piece, reducing it to a mound of priceless junk. There’s a lot of joy in doing a good job, especially when doing it effectively takes meticulous planning and comes with the not-insignificant risk of dying oneself in a number of ways.
The repetitious tasks and deliberately delayed growth made ship-breaking feel like precisely what it was emulating towards the conclusion of the game.
Almost as soon as you enter into space, you’re greeted with twangy music that transports me to an early moment in Firefly’s pilot episode, where the crew raids a derelict ship for valuables by cutting through the hull and floating away with them. Swimming around a shipyard with complete six degrees of freedom is relaxing, and control is easy, owing in part to the brake button, which lets you to come to a halt almost whenever you want (as long as you don’t run out of thruster fuel).
Innertia is a powerful force to be reckoned with in both your own movement and when moving items around. Physics aren’t completely Newtonian in the sense that objects will ultimately slow to a halt, but it is a powerful force to be reckoned with in both your own movement and when moving objects around. While the visuals and lighting aren’t cutting-edge, the spaceship designs are unusual, frequently asymmetrical, and intriguing it would’ve been simple to predict if I hadn’t previously known that the developer, Blackbird Interactive, is also working on Homeworld 3.
Workers are kept in indentured servitude to a totalitarian interplanetary economic empire that abuses them brutally, even reviving them after unfortunate deaths on the job so that they may continue to pay off their crushing debt, according to the storyline. There are a few decent lines in there, like a low air alert that comes with a reminder that oxygen deprivation might result in a loss of corporate revenues, but it’s mostly on the nose, and the humour is completely based on that simple premise.
Your faceless, mute character’s squad of salvagers is effectively compelled to unionise to fight back against their corporate rulers, and the plot that plays out over unskippable audio is equally one-note. There are twists, but they’re so obvious that there aren’t many memorable moments or surprises, and the supervisor villain is a typical middle-management stereotype. Aside than that, there’s a decent bit of world-building knowledge to be uncovered in emails and hard drives recovered during salvage operations, albeit nothing really revelatory.
Explosive decompression may splatter you like a bug on a windshield by blasting you against walls with enough force to spatter you. In zero gravity, dismantling a big starship is an extremely satisfying experience. It comes down to zapping yellow parts that link hull plates together with your cutting laser, then tossing debris and machinery into whichever of the red, blue, or green ports in the surrounding space station you’re directed to.
While your laser’s broad beam mode may split some materials apart freeform, much of the cutting seems like paint-by-numbers because only those cut points can be dissolved. When approaching a new ship, however, you must be aware of explosive decompression, which may not only hurl valuable salvage into space and destroy sensitive equipment, but also blast you into walls with enough force to splatter you like a bug on a windshield if you cut through the hull carelessly.
If you want to get the most out of every salvage operation, you’ll need a keen eye and the use of your suit’s sensor views to make sure you sort out different types of components that’s something I wish could be automated to some extent, because it’s infuriating to be penalised for missing a single light fixture or failing to manually detach every last computer console and door control aboard before tossing a chunk of hull into the furnace, and then having to hurl each of those small pieces into their own receptacle individually.
When it comes to managing the valuable reactor, which is similar to disarming a bomb, shipbreaking becomes more complex. While a Type 1 reactor can simply be grabbed and tossed into the recepticle before it goes critical, more advanced versions require an order of operations to maximise the amount of time between when it’s detached from its housing and when it goes boom, causing an explosion that makes my GeForce RTX 3080 cry “uncle” as it tries to keep up with all of the resulting shrapnel.
That’s about as stressful as deciding whether to cut the red or yellow wire on an explosive first, and accidentally firing your cutting beam at a fuel line that hasn’t been flushed yet can vaporise you (sometimes unfairly, if you ask me) and spray tiny fragments of the ship’s hull all over the place. But, if you know where to look in the tooltips that appear when you target anything, pretty much everything is laid out for you, so it never seemed obtuse.
Different objectives are sorely needed by Shipbreaker to keep things interesting. There are various different types of ships to dissect, each with its unique layout, reactor setup, and quirks that must be learned in order to deconstruct them quickly. That’s a nice start, but what Shipbreaker really needs to keep things interesting are diverse objectives within that beyond merely breaking down a ship into its pieces and those don’t come up very often.
I liked it most when I was given a secondary shopping list of components to purchase in order to work on a side project, but it only goes so far, and it’s even removed altogether for the third act for plot reasons that don’t provide a replacement. I was also interested when strange “ghost ships” came to be deconstructed.
However, I was disappointed when it turned out to be little more than barnacles that needed to be lasered off before being handed in as salvage. Even if you unlock the remote-detonating demolition charges, nothing changes because they just allow you to demolish cut spots that are rated too high for your laser which I only encountered a few of before I acquired the charges.
I wanted more diversity and pressure as my 35-hour playing progressed, perhaps more opportunities to oppose the wicked corporation’s rule through sabotage or other covert action, but it never arrived. Unlike the sequence in Firefly where Mal, Zoe, and Jayne had to improvise to get back to Serenity before an Alliance ship catches them in the middle of their illegal salvage operation, there’s never any suspense or need to rush in Hardspace Shipbreaker, except than the prospect of arbitrary penalties.
The ships may differ in size and shape, but every salvage mission takes place in the same spacedock facility, and you’re always alone, never in danger save for your own recklessness. The aim isn’t shook up until the last mission, and only in the most basic of ways, with just one variation on that notion to experiment with. It took me 25 ships to finish the narrative, with each one taking an hour and a half to cut to shreds which, considering the quantity of substance here, was almost twice as many as I’d expected.
Because Hardspace’s economy is illogical, the fines you suffer by going slowly are useless. You’re trying to fight your way out of a $1.2 billion debt mountain throughout the duration of the campaign, which means you might not notice the impact a $10 million haul makes in the total unless you’re keeping close checks on your ledger.
It certainly emphasises the story’s point about being effectively trapped in this Sisyphean servitude for the rest of your life, especially when you finish a shift and are presented with a screen tallying the charges you’ve incurred such as equipment rentals and administrative fees that deduct a significant portion of your earnings.
At the same time, when the figure is so large, decisions like whether to spend $9,000 on equipment repair kits or wait as long as you can to top off your thruster fuel for $10,000 each charge seem completely insignificant (unless you’re battling for every cent in free-play mode). What’s a bit extra when you’re already deep in debt and can never run out of money to spend? Aside from that, it’s not like you have an option between buying oxygen for $16,000 per tank and the alternative, which isn’t ideal.
You’re never alone, and you’re never in danger from anything other than your own negligence. So, while it may appear to be all about money, and it is shown in the largest letters at all times, Hardspace’s true currencies are the two sorts of points earned for filling each increment on the salvage bar.
One lets you enhance your tools with generally uninteresting, incremental improvements like greater cooldown speeds, capacity, and durability that don’t affect how you play, while the other levels you up, unlocking new upgrades to be acquired and moving the plot forward. It’s weirdly hidden, though I suppose it might be seen as a message that money isn’t everything.
But, if that’s the case, why do shifts have time limits? Every time you walk out into the shipyard, you’re given a 15-minute countdown during which you’re encouraged to perform as much labour as possible before being returned to your dormitory. Then, in the following shift, you may simply return to the ship you were working on (or move onto a different one if you’re happy you’ve done everything useful), with the only expense being the monetary costs connected with each expedition.
That renders the idea of being taken out at the end of a shift as worthless as the money, and the fact that you already have to return to your base every few minutes to resupply oxygen and thruster fuel makes it simply another annoyance. Sure, your living quarters have a nice lived-in feel to them, and it’s a nice touch that you can personalise them with posters you find on the ships you’re salvaging, but going from the freedom of zero-G movement to the oddly constricted movement system where you can’t even walk freely, only move from station to station is off-putting.
It’s worth noting that in the non-standard Open Shift mode, you may disable shift times (along with oxygen and fuel constraints), which I would do if I were to replay the campaign.
Dismantling Hardspace shipbreaker is a puzzle-like concept: Learning to pilot Shipbreaker’s starships in zero-G is incredibly satisfying and Zen-like, especially to the tune of its peaceful Americana music. Extracting a reactor without blowing yourself up is a stressful type of slow-paced action while you’re first learning the ropes. The difficulty is that, save from a few ship types with distinct layouts and reactor disassembly methods, that work is seldom advanced or riffed on in any significant way, so it soon devolves into regular labour.
At the same time, while Hardspace’s use of money is thematically appropriate to the amusing corporate dystopia, being crushed under such a massive mountain of debt makes several other systems feel like unnecessary annoyances rather than decisions on how to spend your resources or a sense of progression. The fact that the plot necessitates so much padding-out repetition of the same duties finally suffocates it long before it is finished.
- 0 Comment
- June 4, 2022