To Blackbird’s credit, the gameplay loop is absolutely addicting. A puzzle game at its core, Hardspace: Shipbreaker sets you to work on extracting as many valuable resources as you can from a variety of ship classes. The more scrap you deposit, the more money you make to pay off your debt. Each type of ship, ranging from the smaller Mackerel-class transports to much larger (and more dangerous) frigates, provides its own kind of puzzle that you must learn to traverse and efficiently cut down to its most basic parts. Learning to work your way around all of the different ships quickly and efficiently is key to your success in Hardspace: Shipbreaker. After all, the more resources you recover in a single shift, the more you offset the daily fees Lynx charges you for essentially keeping you alive in space.
Completing work orders — long checklists that tell you what Lynx needs you to extract from each ship — also earns you valuable credits that you’ll need to upgrade everything from your spacesuit and helmet to the grapple and laser cutter that make up your main set of tools. Better gear means completing objectives faster and more easily. And the more work orders you finish, the faster you unlock higher certifications to work on bigger (and more difficult) ships that pay more money.
The endless gameplay loop has a sort of hypnotic effect. After hours of recovering things like easy-to-cut aluminum, the thicker and more valuable nanocarbon that makes up the outside shells of most ships, and the extremely volatile reactors that power these craft, the grind to complete work orders can start to feel a little mundane. But I also found myself taken with the routine of waking up inside of my HAB each morning, upgrading and repairing my gear, and setting out for another 15-minute shift, excited to see what valuables I’d find in a new ship.
At its best, Hardspace: Shipbreaker will make you feel like a happy little work drone. It helps that cutting through ships for treasure and avoiding the many potential hazards that come along with the work is a lot of fun. While I found the ship’s many systems and zero-g traversal a bit disorienting at first, made all the more frustrating by a tutorial that doesn’t always clearly signpost what you’re supposed to be doing, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly things started to click once I learned the game’s somewhat complicated controls.
The game is designed with keyboard and mouse as well as controllers in mind, but I found that the latter was a bit easier to use in this case, even if pressing down on both sticks to brake and using the A and B buttons to ascend and descend feel a bit awkward at times. In fact, learning how to traverse the scrapyard without accidentally launching yourself into outer space or hurtling into a wall will likely pose the biggest challenge for the first few hours. It doesn’t help that the game’s default controls have moving forward and backward, rolling left and right, and braking all bound to the dual sticks of your gamepad (I used an Xbox One controller), which can make things really confusing when trying to evacuate an emergency situation or while rushing back to your HAB for an oxygen refill. Of course, you can customize all of these controls to your liking, so your mileage will vary in this case.