EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Adam Nix
previewed on PC
New Job, Who Dis?
Everybody remembers their first day of any job. They’re never fond memories. Nobody can really prepare you for that first day. After a while, you get a hang of things, but it can take months before you feel fully comfortable with what you are doing. For most, the mistakes made as you learn a job are expected. You might feel dumb, but you can always brush yourself off. It’s not like you are going to die… or explode… or accidentally destroy precious equipment and resources that will cause your employer to increase your debt from $1 Billion to $1.2 billion... Unless of course, you are working as a “Cutter”.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker opens with you in a rundown, futuristic home. Chaotic noises of a broken earth reverberate around you. There is only one escape from this mess - become a “Cutter” for the LYNX corporation. Cutters take apart old spaceships for valuable metals and reusable parts. The work is dangerous and in order to start, you sign yourself over to be owned by LYNX and allow them to clone you if you die, all while putting yourself in 1 billion dollars of debt.
Now all of that sounds pretty bleak, right? Well it is, but at least you get to float around in space listening to instrumental bluegrass tunes.
Working 9 to 5
The game concept is pretty straight forward. There is a ship in front of you and you need to break it apart, organizing it into three categories: Barge material (reusable parts), processor material (metals that can be recycled), and the remaining trash to be deposited in the furnace. In 15 minute shifts, players must deliberately take apart these ships piece by piece. It is a game that thrives on an understanding of spatial awareness. Not only must players constantly keep their head on their shoulders as they float through space, but the game offers scanners that give players an x-ray view of the ship. In my own gameplay, it would take a couple minutes before I started taking apart a ship. Understanding the best places to start cutting open the ship, which places to steer clear of, and how to avoid being blown up are extremely important before you start chopping up your spaceship.
After cutting apart the vessel with your “cutter”, you whip out a “grapple” and grab these with an electronic rope of sorts, pulling them towards their designated area. Once a piece of the ship has the correct trajectory, you can let it go and watch as it slowly approaches its timely demise. I often found myself turning up the in-game music and just watching these pieces of junk slowly float into oblivion.
Am I Really Qualified for This?
With clean mechanics and fantastic 3D models, Hardspace: Shipbreaker lays out some solid groundwork out of the gate, but what truly makes it shine is how well it melds the experience of holding an awful job you probably shouldn’t even have with fun and attention-grabbing mechanics. For instance, players start the game by going through training with someone over a radio. They walk you through the basics of gameplay but leave out so much more. Once the tutorial is finished, I was confused when I blew up when I cut one thing, got electrocuted when I touched another, and got sucked into a metal melting furnace. Why hadn’t that guy told me about all these hazards? Well, it’s because he doesn’t care. This is as much a job for him as it is for you. He is punching in and punching out and will only give you the necessary training to keep his job.
This tone is settled into further as you delve into the game’s upgrade tree. There is a host of options for upgrading your grappling gun, cutter, and spacesuit. Looking at these at the beginning of the game was slightly meaningless. What is going to be more helpful to me, 5 more feet of cutting distance or stronger breaks on my thrusters? After flying too fast into a furnace multiple times with too much force to break, I knew that answer. I even missed some upgrade paths that felt pivotal to succeeding in the game. For instance, one upgrade allows your x-ray functionality to see what objects should be added to the barge for reuse instead of being burned in the furnace or recycled in the processor. Isn’t it fairly important for an employee to know what shouldn’t be destroyed?!
I LOVE MY JOB!
There are times where I would knock a game for its underdeveloped tutorial or for providing essential tools in an upgrade tree that could be missed, but I can’t do that for Hardspace: Shipbreaker. Every gap in the tutorial, upgrade element, and ridiculous death in the game are in service to the setting of this dystopian future. You are owned by LYNX. If you die, LYNX will clone you, get you back to work, and charge you $150,000 for the inconvenience. They urge you to be as efficient as possible in every aspect of your job, but just like the real world, that just isn’t possible. People are bound to constantly make mistakes. In real life, this capitalistic nightmare makes you feel ashamed, embarrassed, and constantly fighting against the infamous “Imposter Syndrome.” What makes Hardspace: Shipbreaker so great is that you truly are the imposter. You have no idea what you are doing. Your debt builds up every day, but there is almost a “screw you” nature to your resilience. Every mistake and death in the game is a bit created through in-game mechanics and clever writing. Any advancements and money you make is a blip in the shithole of a situation you are in. The game does such a fantastic job with finding satisfaction in this work while putting a spotlight on how absolutely ridiculous it is that you are enjoying this.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got $1,000,700,597,000 to pay off. Those ships aren’t gonna break themselves!
There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.