Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a new game from developer Blackbird Interactive and publisher Focus Home Interactive. You play the role of the titular shipbreaker, taking apart various ships in order to salvage them and pay off billions of credits in debt. It releases as part of Steam’s early access program today, and we were able to check it out for a short while. Here are some impressions.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker preview: Breaking = bad? More like breaking = good.
As mentioned earlier, Hardspace: Shipbreaker requires you to take apart derelict vessels to sell them for scrap, and it does so in quite a unique, refreshing way. On one hand, you might think of it as a first-person action game, but that would be misleading. In some ways, it’s more like a space flight sim given how you control your hardy astronaut. The basic movement schemes are there such as thrusting towards different directions as well as rolling from side to side. Since you’re floating around, weightless in space, expect some zero-gravity shenanigans such as losing your bearings or desperately trying to avoid getting pushed into a furnace.
However, at its core, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is also a physics-based puzzle game. Each ship that you dissect and disassemble will have weak points that only certain tools (or upgrades) can manage to cut through or pull. Accidentally cutting through a hull might destroy valuable parts that’ll lower your credits or, in some cases, you could accidentally push out a particular segment that’ll fly off into the distance, failing your “shift” since it’s a requirement for the salvage operation.
Of course, there are also other mishaps you could encounter such as opening an airlock only to see all the contents come flying out (which leads you to rush and pick up every component that has to be salvaged). Alternatively, you could blow up the entire ship and kill yourself. That earns you a demerit, and maybe a few extra minutes of trying to figure out where all the debris need to go.
Tools of the trade
The good news is that Hardspace: Shipbreaker offers you all the tools you need for the trade. You’ve got your trusty grapple that can pull objects or reel you in closer, and it can even fire tethers in case the object is heavier than usual. You’ve also got your laser cutter with various extensions such as a focused energy beam (for firing at smaller items with pinpoint accuracy), or another version that can slice through hulls and walls vertically or horizontally.
There’s also the scanner which tells you the weak points of the ship (in case you need to pick apart different sections). You just won’t be able to use any of your tools while scanning, which means you’re alternating back and forth between scan mode and normal mode.
Other upgrades include boosts to your shipbreaker suit such as those that prevent you from taking fire or electrical damage. These are all made available as you rank-up after each level in Hardspace: Shipbreaker, which means the progression will be very linear, to a fault.
In space, no one can hear your beam
Keep in mind that Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an early access title, so it’s bound to have a number of bugs that are present. One of these happens to be the resolution setting. By default, the game ran at 1080p resolution. When I attempted to switch to 4K UHD (3840x2160p), things looked fine at first:
Then, I realized that was simply because I had the HUD disabled since I liked taking picturesque screenshots in the game’s built-in photo mode. When I enabled the HUD again, here’s what greeted me:
HUD problems weren’t the only issue, however, as Hardspace: Shipbreaker doesn’t really do a lot of explaining even during the early levels. For instance, I started dismantling a floating container, sending all the pieces to my barge. Turns out, I should be sending aluminum parts to the furnace and nanocarbon parts to the processor. I only realized that after looking at the parts while grappling them (I honestly thought it was just a font overlap with the HUD given how that happens while scan mode is active).
Meanwhile, the next level after that gives you the sole objective of salvaging the entire ship, and you’re also given access to your tether tool. Does that mean you’ll be using your tethers to pull the ship? Where are you going to pull it towards? Why are some tethers disappearing earlier than others? Did they hit the wrong surface? Am I supposed to chop the ship into bits and pieces first? Is the tether only to be used to prevent parts from flying out?
A lot of questions crossed my mind before I just decided to break down the ship normally without bothering to use the tether upgrade. Sadly, I accidentally destroyed the reactor causing me to restart the entire level. Whoops.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker: Setting sail for early access
I’m not a puzzle game aficionado by any means, so Hardspace: Shipbreaker had me wondering what I’m supposed to be doing at times. That’s all well and good, and I do think fans of the genre might appreciate it more. In my case, I did like the relaxing gameplay (though I must admit it did get a little too repetitive after a few hours). The good news is that Blackbird Interactive plans on delivering more content based on their early access announcement:
“We have a rough plan for a year of development beginning in Summer 2020. However, game development is a long, difficult, and massively fun process that can easily extend beyond plans once you involve the excellent ideas of a big community. We’ll decide down the line exactly how much game we consider to be the 1.0 version, but we’d rather stay in Early Access for as long as needed than come out early to hit an imaginary window we’ve set for ourselves.”
For now, though, Hardspace: Shipbreaker‘s early access iteration features the first act of the campaign (around 15 hours) and a free play/sandbox mode with five ships to choose from. As we get closer to the official launch, we’ll eventually see a campaign that should last around 40 hours and an unlimited sandbox mode with procedurally-generated ships. There will be new missions and tasks, as well as leaderboards, daily challenges, mod support, and fan-made ship designs to perplex ardent players.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker‘s unique mechanics have the potential to make it a sleeper hit. In a sea of puzzle games, an offering that touts physics-based mechanics while floating in outer space definitely sounds intriguing.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker releases today as part of Steam’s early access program. You can purchase the game via its Steam store page.
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