Hardspace: Shipbreaker embraces a side of science-fiction that’s not frequently touched upon: a future where blue-collar workers toil away amongst the stars, disregarding the wonders of space as something mundane. This is essentially the story of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” who sings: “And all this science, I don’t understand. It’s just my job five days a week.” In Hardspace, you play as a “cutter,” tearing apart spaceships and sorting out the scrap to pay off your debt to your employer, the sinister LYNX Corporation.
The game’s worldbuilding crafts a biting satire of capitalism. The 1.5 billion dollar fee you owe LYNX is because of their costly hiring process, and it’s implied that there are no offerings elsewhere. The application form forces you to vote for a LYNX-approved political candidate, swear off unions, and come to work with a smile on your face. LYNX owns the rights to your genetic material, and when they force you to respawn after dying, you’re charged for your new body. When you run low on oxygen (which costs money), you’re reminded that asphyxiation is bad for productivity. Your income for every shift is automatically set back half a million dollars in fees for things like salvage transport and equipment rentals. In short, it’s basically a modern business, but in space. Like Sorry to Bother You and other pieces of corporate satire, it feels like no matter how over-the-top Hardspace: Shipbreaker takes things, it’s still uncomfortably close to reality.
Fortunately, Hardspace: Shipbreaker’s gameplay is far from a chore, balancing out the story’s heavy themes nicely. As you progress through the game, you dismantle increasingly complex ships, and you need to be more and more strategic about how you slice them up. If you remove a component in the wrong order, it can explode, destroying valuable parts and shattering whatever’s left over into tiny pieces. The way Hardspace makes destroying things a creative endeavor feels really reminiscent of the demolitions in 2009’s Red Faction: Guerilla, which requires you to think before you detonate to get the best results.
For the most part, the learning curve is smooth, thanks to the sage advice of your friendly redneck coworker, Weaver. The first few minutes are a bit bumpy when you clumsily teach yourself how to move around the disorienting lack of gravity, but it doesn’t take too long to get used to it. However, there’s a certain layout for longer engines that had me stuck because it appeared they could only be opened from the inside without damaging anything. I spent some time on this before realizing that you have to torch the fuel pipes and then race down the burning tube to shut off the gas flow before the entire thing explodes. I’ve yet to find any other ship part in the game that forces you to deliberately sacrifice smaller pieces so that you can separate bigger ones, so it’s kind of a confusing inclusion.
Personally, I find the process of dismantling the ships to be almost hypnotic, though I recognize that the repetitive nature of Hardspace: Shipbreaker may not be for everyone. There are a lot of similarities between how a lot of the ships are laid out, and your time playing will widely be divided between two tasks: cutting and sorting. However, I feel like there’s not really a way to justify how satisfying the process feels when you’re doing it yourself. The grind is, ironically, very fun, considering it plays out against a story where a corporation forces workers to carry out soul-crushing labor in an endless cycle of death and mandatory rebirth. If you’re someone who enjoys games where your progress is represented very visually (like Pikmin or any simulator), you’re guaranteed to pour hours into stripping spaceships down to their bare framework.