There’s a lot you can say about space, but a couple of basic truths overwhelm all others. First and foremost is that its size is literally beyond human comprehension, but that’s not the one that’s important in Hardspace: Shipbreaker. All of space is trimmed down to a work area a few hundred meters per side, with the adventures of a universe happening far beyond its borders. An endless supply of derelict spaceships come into the yard and it’s your job to break them down to their component parts, salvaging whatever still works while dividing the hull up between the bits that can be repurposed and those that need to be melted down. Every day is another task and the basic truth of Shipbreaker‘s outer space is that being there is insanely expensive.
How expensive? Well probably not the $999,999,999 debt that your new employer LYNX Corp. saddles you with at the outset. After signing the single worst employment contract known to mankind, you are now gainfully employed away from the hellhole Earth has become but are now little more than another low-value profit-generating unit. Thankfully LYNX recognizes that it’s best to give its resources a bare minimum of training, because while cloning fees are tacked on to your debt it would still be nice for the company’s minions to earn more than they owe. Like any job, though, a lot of the subtleties are learned through experience rather than instruction, but even working with minimal efficiency should mean at the very least you’re not seeing the debt go up.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker opens in its only setting, which is a dock in orbit above Earth. Every day is either a new ship or the unfinished remains of the previous day’s efforts, sitting there waiting for your attention. The object is to tear the ship apart piece by piece, being careful to avoid accidentally destroying it, yourself, or when things go completely wrong, both. Most ships come with air still inside them, for example, so the proper thing to do it enter through the airlock and use the internal systems to flush the atmosphere into space. Before doing that it’s best to make sure all the various bulkhead doors are open, because accidentally opening a pressurized cockpit into the cargo hold’s vacuum will have unfortunate side effects.
Once the ship is relatively safe to work in, it’s time to get down to the business of tearing the poor thing into its component pieces. You’ve got a few tools at your disposal, primarily the cutter and tether, plus a spacesuit with jetpack. Space is a six-degrees-of-freedom environment, with all the complexity in movement that brings, but once you’ve got the hang of full three-dimensional travel it’s just a matter of learning the layouts in the various models of ship. Seeing as Shipbreaker is in Early Access that’s actually not particularly hard, because there’s only the two base versions so far (with more on the way and maybe more shipyards too), but they come in a number of configurations even if the base shell structure is the same.
What this ends up meaning is that you can settle into a nice groove, creating your own rough structure for attacking the latest derelict and sorting out the specifics as you go. The tether is good for popping off items that are lightly attached, such as the antenna. Hold down the grapple and a small meter fills up beside the antenna until it comes off, then use the push function to send it flying towards the collector barge. Bigger items take more effort than a simple yank to break off, such as the thruster nacelles which are held in place by a strong connector. This is what the cutter is for, disintegrating the connector with a single shot, and then the grapple’s alternate shot connects a super-strong auto-retracting tether from nacelle to barge. With the outside taken care of, it’s time to head in.
The hull is made of components that, like the thrusters, are held in place by connectors. As you break the connector points, panels of the hull come loose, and you’ll need to send them to the right area for salvage. Most of it goes to the processor for use as-is rather than the furnace to be melted down, and while that pays off nicely you’ll still want to do a quick sweep for usable bits before sending it on its way. If there’s a light fixture on the wall, pop it off and toss it to the barge. Control panels, chairs, computers, reactors and just about anything else that isn’t a chunk of hull goes to salvage, while broken fragments and the aluminum ship frame are for the furnace. When in doubt the HUD has a display indicating which piece goes where, but it doesn’t take tearing apart more than a ship or two before you can basically ignore it. A big part of what makes Hardspace: Shipbreaker work is settling into its comfortable rhythms, knowing what the job is and just getting it done in a relatively peaceful cycle of efficiency through experience. It’s hard to call the game “fun,” but like a lot of titles that are more about work than play it’s enjoyable to lose yourself in its rhythm, which is an exercise in organization even if it is possible to accidentally turn the central cabin of a giant spaceship into a mass of giant shrapnel.
Eventually, though, the day’s shift will come to an end. Each “day” is about ten minutes long, with a timer that gives you plenty of warning that it’s coming up so you don’t get caught trying to rush an expensive component into salvage. Once the shift is over the take is tallied up and then the next day begins with a $500,000 charge put against the previous day’s earnings. LYNX is greedy, charging $8,000 for something as necessary as an air canister, but on the plus side even a cheap day’s haul comes in at about $1,000,000. Back at home ship, called The Hab, you can then see if you’ve got enough contract points to buy equipment upgrades, translate any data logs you might have found floating about the cabin, check your progress towards the next promotion and then suit up to head out into your own little productive corner of space. The billion dollar debt slowly goes down as your rank rises with LYNX, but no matter what the finances look like there will always be another day to peacefully lose yourself in a fantasy job without meetings, quotas, supervisors or any of the pressures that leech all the contentment from a task well done.