Review – Hardspace: Shipbreaker
If you ever told me I’d eventually play a game that centers around sorting out trash and throwing it in appropriate bins, I’d laugh, and then tell you to ease off on the meds. I’d call for an ambulance to take you straight to the asylum if you ever told me I’d spend hours playing said game, eventually getting hooked on it, enjoying its straightforward gameplay loop. But this is where we’re at. Yet another example of a menial task simulator showcasing how these bizarre gameplay loops can actually become addictive and relaxing, just like PowerWash Simulator before it, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game I never thought I’d ever play, let alone enjoy as much as I did.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game where you have to dismantle gigantic spaceships and place each piece of scrap into the appropriate chute. Menial materials, glass and broken machinery have to be incinerated. Valuable materials, such as titanium and carbon fiber, have to be sent to a processor. Finally, electrical appliances and more esoteric machines, such as computers and reactors, can be resold by the company that hired you, therefore you need to throw these things into a barge. In summary, it is basically a mix between a recycling simulator and the act of disassembling a Lego. Yet, I really enjoyed it, not only because of its surprisingly relaxing gameplay loop, but also because of the many additional gameplay elements that made the game a lot more interesting.
First of all, the “Legos” you’re disassembling are gigantic spaceships. That also means you’re IIIIIIINNNNNNN SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE while disassembling them, so you have to deal with hazardous hindrances such as an oxygen meter, zero gravity, the risk of having a door flying onto your face after opening up a formerly pressurized room, radioactivity, and much more. Second of all, you are an employee to a cartoonishly ultracapitalistic corporation (more on that later), so you start off the game owing them a literal billion space credits, in a loan shark move not even Tom Nook would consider doing. To make matters worse, you need to rent your equipment, and your debt generates interest. You are basically forced to salvage as much as possible in each short, fifteen minute long shift, in order to slowly pay off what you owe.
The more you salvage, the more milestone goals you’ll achieve, allowing you to upgrade your equipment (ultimately allowing you to buy them off, reducing your weekly rent) and unlock new, more complex ships to disassemble. They will require a bit more precision in order to be salvaged, sure, but they also feature more valuable components. Even though your initial debt is humongous, you can eventually pay it off. You can easily make between three and four million credits halfway through the game, further increasing your earnings the more you play. The only hindrance being the limited amount of minutes you have per shift.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is one of those games that, at first glance, don’t look very hardware-demanding, given the fact it runs at 30fps at its ideal setting, as well as the fact that its file size is minuscule. This is not a game that pushes the Playstation 5’s GPU to its limits; it does this to its CPU instead. The sheer amount of objects inside each ship, each with a unique physics algorithm, takes a toll on the system’s hardware. Even in its “performance” mode, it never manages to achieve 60fps with ease. I stuck to its 30fps mode, which feel decent enough for a game that, despite being able the hardships of salvaging nuclear-powered spaceships in the vacuum, was way more relaxing than expected. The Firefly-esque soundtrack also helped. A lot.
This is clearly a game that was developed with personal computers in mind. The sole fact that Hardspace: Shipbreaker was developed and released for consoles as well is already a shocking surprise, but that means that its controls, once designed for a mouse and a keyboard, had to be adapted to a controller, and it does feel awkward at first. Some of its commands are bizarre, such as using L3 and R3 to spin your character around. Then again, Hardspace: Shipbreaker spends a lot of time teaching you each of its mechanics in excruciating detail, so you’ll never feel lost doing what you need to do. You can thank the game’s many NPCs. Speaking of…
The main issue in Hardspace: Shipbreaker is its story. Sure, kudos to the team for trying to come up with a plot in a pasttime simulator like this game, but I can’t help but feel like I didn’t care AT ALL about the story, its characters, its dramatic moments, and so on. It felt like a complete afterthought, something added late into development just to try to make the game stand out from PowerWash Simulator or Truck Simulator.
Given how the game is set in the future, you know what to expect from the background setting: Earth is not a good place to live, poverty and inequality, the company you work for is so cartoonishly evil you can’t help but laugh, unions are a thing of the past, and everyone opens up to you about their life stories, all while you never, ever interact with them in person. Hell, you don’t even open your mouth unless you’re being burned alive by a leaking fuel pipe. To make matters worse, the game forces you to listen to some obnoxiously long monologues in between salvaging shifts, without being able to skip them, bringing the pace to a whiplash-inducing standstill.
Some unnecessary design choices hindered my overall enjoyment with Hardspace: Shipbreaker, namely the monstrously uninteresting story and short work shifts, but I still spent a shocking amount of time with this curiously relaxing mix between a pasttime simulator, a puzzle game, and a survival title. It featured one of the most enjoyable, innovative and relaxing gameplay loops from any game I’ve played this year. It’s not exactly an easy sell, especially considering the fact you need to laboriously dismantle tons of spaceships at a very slow pace, but I’d still wholeheartedly recommend it. On a PC, if you can, that is.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is really taxing on the CPU side, resulting in PS4-esque visuals at a steady 30fps at its ideal and default setting. The game’s gameplay loop and nature don’t require the fastest of framerates, thankfully enough.
The game has to be lauded for making a menial task of recycling scrap so fun and addictive. That being said, it is hampered by pacing issues and a somewhat weird control scheme, a necessary adaptation for what was clearly meant to be played on a computer, not a console.
A lot of good, but tiresome voice acting distracts you from the fantastic, Firefly-esque soundtrack featured in Hardspace: Shipbreaker.
Fun Factor: 8.5
The core gameplay loop could have been a perfect 10 if it wasn’t for the arbitrary time shifts and completely unnecessary (and unskippable) dialogue sections, bringing the pace to a whiplash-inducing standstill.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is available now on PS5, Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Hardspace: Shipbreaker was provided by the publisher.