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Some disassembly required – a Hardspace: Shipbreaker review

Hardspace: Shipbreaker has come a long way from Early Access, but are any of the changes worth buying it on console?

With the advent of the “cozy” game genre, that is games where players accomplish menial tasks from tending farms to brewing coffee for a more calming experience, there are multitudes to choose from. Operating red-hot welding tools in the harsh and lonely expanse of outer space doesn’t seem fitting in this respect but alas, Hardspace: Shipbreaker works. Previously on Steam Early Access, this title fully released on consoles on September 20.

Nerdvana previewed this title when it debuted on Steam Early Access in 2020. Since then, multitudes of changes have been applied by the teams at Blackbird Interactive and Focus Entertainment for the console version. Much of these changes are improvements to the gameplay, eliminating the audio bugs, enabling faster load times, and expanding the amount of things available for players to work on.

Players can choose ships of various difficulties to rank up and improve their gear.
Players can choose ships of various difficulties to rank up and improve their gear.

At its core, Hardspace: Shipbreaker hasn’t changed. Players are saddled as practically indentured servants to the Lynx Corporation as cutters: workers specializing in the dangerous job of disassembling space ships. Done in a first-person perspective, players use a selection of aging tools to expertly salvage a craft, while managing not to be crushed, burned, suffocated, or some other terrible fate afforded from this dangerous profession.

Since its initial release, the game has since seen the incorporation of a campaign mode, in which the player is included in a team of cutters. Along with completing ship disassembly jobs, the player cutter is tasked with sourcing enough spare parts to build out a separate ship of their own to use once their debt to Lynx is fulfilled.

The story truly feels like a reflection of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cutters are forbidden from interacting with each other in person (as per company directive), so they reach out over comms. Confined to a small habitat unit, players can tinker with their equipment, upgrade their side ship, or simply sleep between shifts. The small group of NPCs sharing stories over the radio reveal their histories in endearing fashions, and evoke all too familiar feelings of being in quarantine. That paired with the ever expansive lore unveiled through a variety of conversations and mined data drives reveal a world full of empathy and humor in the face of crushing capitalism (courtesy of the Lynx Corporation).

Cutter tools can be upgraded, but precision must still be applied to avoid damaging valuable components.
Cutter tools can be upgraded, but precision must still be applied to avoid damaging valuable components.

In addition to the campaign, Hardspace also received a Free Play mode where players can deconstruct ships without constraints, as well as a Cutter’s R.A.C.E. mode where players compete for the fastest time in accomplishing specific disassembly tasks within a certain time limit. The campaign mode also boasts several difficulties that include constraints such as timed shifts for each ship job, or exclude those options entirely for a more free and chill gameplay experience.

Images of posters that players can use to decorate their characters' rooms.
Players may decorate their HAB space with posters found in ships.

The controls have been adjusted slightly and work well on console. With dualshock, the ever-present thrumming of your hands from using cutter tools or rocket thrusters may become fatiguing after awhile (this option can thankfully be disabled). Players can freely navigate in an open space, feeling the drifting slowness of zero-g to be both fun and disorienting at times.

From casually tethering a heavy door to be processed or sweating through a delicate decoupling of a volatile reactor, the gameplay can be relaxing and tense at times. It’s part of what makes Hardspace a cozy game: the ability to pour hours into a ship, carefully pulling it apart in order to net the highest payouts. Chipping away at what seems like an insurmountable goal with the hopes that, one day, you can manage to break your last ship and sail off for your own new purpose.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker final score: 4/5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Two years in continued development and polishing have only made Hardspace: Shipbreaker more addicting and endearing to play. Hardspace: Shipbreaker is currently available on Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X/S for $39.99. It is also currently available on the Xbox Game Pass.

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About the author

Christen Bejar

Christen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.