Ever wondered what it what be like to be a spaceman. If so, Blackbird Interactive's latest title might just be the game for you. In this action game, you're tired of living on an Earth that, after all the environmental degradation, is barely liveable. Your debts are high and you want to build a new and better future for yourself. Your hope becomes the stars and the ad you read seems to have the solution. You apply to work for a company called Lynx Corps, which dismantles spaceships in large depots in orbit around our beautiful planet. Just as you hoped, you get the job and have to read lots of contracts. I had a good laugh at the absurd toilet guidelines and several of the paragraphs in the contract you sign.
I will say right off the bat that Blackbird Interactive has done a great job introducing players. You're not completely left out to figure it all out yourself. There's a narrative that supports the gameplay with context and world building. However, not everything is as it should be. You quickly realise that the company is a dystopian nightmare, to which you sign off all your rights. They buy up your debt from Earth and increase it when they're done equipping and training you. Then, in order for you to make money in the profession, you have to work off all the debt, which is an almost impossible task. This new future won't be quite what you imagined but hope is the last thing that abandons man, so they say, and it's clear here. Your work supervisor is a friendly individual with a southern accent and you soon get to know other space disassembly workers on surrounding stations. The narrative is charming and enjoyable without getting in the way of the gameplay.
Once you get started, you have limited equipment and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you're given. You have limited shifts which means you have to prioritise how long you work on the spaceships. Each shift lasts around 15 minutes. Don't think for a second that you have free oxygen, fuel for your rocket or repairs. You'll be able to buy these refills at a kiosk which adds to your debt. The costs are small but it's always good to try to minimise expenses and increase income from the hull. The spaceships are different from each other with different ways to disassemble them. With a tool called "Handheld Utility Grapple" you can use energy beams to grab and send scrap into the correct container. It is important that you send the scrap into the correct container or all losses will be added to your debt. With your laser cutter, you can cut apart the spaceship. This is a puzzle game and the charm is how quickly and efficiently you can break apart the craft. As you level up and are able to upgrade your equipment in your office, new challenges also arrive. The spaceships not only change in scale but also come with dangers. It is this evolution and increasing challenge that creates an cycle of constantly getting better and faster.
It took me a while to get good at handling pressure differences between the outside and inside. Get it wrong and you can create an explosive reaction as things are sucked out of the ship. It's important to know what you're doing because you have health and can die in the game. It's not just pressure that matters, the more you level, the more hazards start to appear in each craft. The company you work for felt it was cheaper to leave things like this for the workers to deal with. If you're not careful where you cut, you can trigger domino effects where air pressure detonates containers and your precious hull becomes totally useless. It's important to constantly think about where you're starting and have a plan to make as much money as possible. Thankfully, you have a special visor to help you and great training that prepares you for new hazards during the campaign.
More money also means bonuses, points to upgrade your equipment so there are plenty of reasons to progress. Should you get blown up, melted, stabbed or otherwise die, it's no big deal. The company has already killed you once in order to collect all the genetic material they need, like body fluids to create clones of you. Each clone body costs you a lot of money. If you die a lot, the debt increases, which of course is sad. But it's not uncommon to blow up, burn, run out of oxygen or be electrified to death. Accidents happen in this universe and every death is a lesson learned.
Although I find it can get repetitive at times and lacks a multiplayer mode, there is a lot to be gained here. I think the game arrived just in time for me. It's a light-hearted game that is quite relaxing to play. Learning to beat other players' best records takes time and shows that there is depth. As you gain more tools, the opportunities to think outside the box and really break spaceships into pieces in your own way increases. It helps that it looks neat with a custom design that I feel permeates everything in the world. The lighting is also great. The sounds and voice actors do a good job of narrating and explaining. You don't meet the characters in person, but they talk to the player over email and radio. I also like the music, which brings to mind the great game Bastion, the American South and the Wild West. Darren Korb the man behind the music in Bastion described his music as "acoustic frontier trip-hop". Hardspace: Shipbreaker strips away the trip-hop aspect and offers a bunch of really good songs. It's nothing new to use dark Country-Blues/Folk in space games but it fits the theme perfectly.
What makes Shipbreaker shine is the combination of the gameplay and the music. It's hard to describe the feeling of watching a large spaceship literally float apart into easily sorted pieces. It's dripping with atmosphere despite the fact that you're floating around in space above Earth. This is a world that the developers manage to breathe life into.
While I love the music, the game mechanics and the setting, there are some minor issues worth highlighting. I feel that despite the increased complexity of the spaceships, the game could have used a little more variety in the set-up and missions. Of course, I understand that the game is meant to simulate highly repetitive slave labour. It's also understandable that the developers can only do so much and it's better to have a polished basic concept to expand on afterwards. There are some glitches and a lack of precision in the cutting in some situations. You can accidentally trigger an explosion because the tool doesn't quite cut where it should. In addition to the campaign with its various difficulty levels, there's also an open game mode and a competitive mode, both of which add some longevity.
If you can see past the lack of variety and some minor technical issues, this is one of the best experiences of the year. If you don't get bored at first, you can get 20-30 hours out of this. I was completely engrossed during my hours with the game and it was hard to put it down. However, if you don't get hooked on the gameplay, you won't like this. I like that we are getting more and more experiences that try to let us see other perspectives in these worlds. Shipbreaker's gameplay concept would have been a great thing to build an experience around the opening moments of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Letting us work for that universe's "Scrapper Guild" and break down the big warships after the Clone Wars. If you think Shipbreaker has something to offer you, you can't go wrong playing it.