This game is kind of an odd twist on the "job simulator" genre, in that it simulates a job that doesn't actually exist. Hardspace: Shipbreaker is set in the year 2349, in a sort of Cowboy Bebop / Planetes future where interstellar spaceflight isn't a thing, but the Solar system is heavily settled. (The setting also has more than a touch of The Fifth Element about it, as well, in the sense that Earth is a massively overpopulated shithole ecumenopolis about which "dystopia" would be an unrealistically complimentary choice of words, and it's generally implied to be the worst place in the Solar system to live.)
The player character's job, as the title suggests, is breaking up decommissioned spaceships for scrap. You work in an orbital breaker's yard with a nice view of Earth and nothing else to recommend it. It's an unpressurized, zero-G environment, so you spend the game maneuvering around in the 24th-century industrial equivalent of a spacesuit with an MMU on it, cutting apart hulked spacecraft with a laser cutter and wrangling the bits into various facilities along the periphery of the dock to be recycled or salvaged, depending on what they're made of.
It's a tricky job. Your laser cutter doesn't work on everything, so you have to know where to cut (you have a scanner to help you out with that part, though the "engineering language" of the ships becomes reasonably clear once you get familiar with it). Your tools have limited durability, although not so limited that you can't get through a shift without repairing them. In the default mode, you're limited to 15 minutes per work shift, and your suit holds enough oxygen for only a few of them (I haven't timed it), so you have to scavenge for more aboard the ship you're salvaging or buy it from a kiosk nearby. (Fuel for your thrusters is handled similarly.) And there are lots and lots of ways to blow yourself up, set yourself on fire, electrocute yourself, or crush yourself between weightless-but-massive bits of ex-spaceship.
But that's OK. If you do manage to kill yourself, your employers will clone you and send you back to work. That almost never fails.
Oh yeah, also, you start the game a billion credits in debt to your employers, and you start out having to rent all your equipment from them. Including the dock itself. And the habitat module you live in when you're not cutting. And the air that goes in it. So if you're not clearing at least a half-mil per shift, you're not only not making money, you're going farther into debt. But this is so much better than the deal anyone on the surface is getting, this horrifically hard and dangerous job with its visibly rigged financials is one of the most sought-after and competed-for jobs in the world.
Good luck, cutter! You're gonna need it.
The grimness of its setting aside (and it's mostly played for laughs,* albeit very dark and cynical ones), this is a neat game. The controls take some getting used to, because your maneuvering physics are semi-Newtonian (you have a maximum speed, which objects under thrust in a zero-G vacuum really don't on that scale, but you have to cancel your motion to stop or change heading, and "up" and "down" are all in your head), and because you start out with a less-than-ideal thruster rig that you can upgrade as you go. (The experience system is presented as a secondary in-game currency which you can use to buy upgrades for your gear, separate from the "regular" money you earn for your work and owe to the company.)
And, like I said above, there are a lot of hazards. Cut into a compartment that's still pressurized, and BLAMMO, you have at best made an unholy mess of flying wreckage you will have to chase down and ruined a lot of the delicate (and valuable) internal equipment, and at worst blown yourself to bits along with the ship. Grab the wrong object with your grapple gun and you may find yourself holding a live power conduit. Pull the reactor core before you have a solid plan for what to do with it and your shift ends at SL-1 o'clock. Forget to vent the fuel system before you cut the pipes and... well, you get the idea.
But even with all that, once you get into the groove, there's something meditative about it, as there is with many games in the "job sim" genre. And I respect the designers for figuring out a way to work mortal danger into a game that has no conflict. You're never going to get shot at working the breaker's yard. Your only enemies are the laws of physics, the design of some of the ship parts, and, most frequently, yourself.
It's also got a nice twangy Old West-style soundtrack (another characteristic it shares with parts of Cowboy Bebop), which gives it a proper "lonesome struggle against the elements" kind of vibe. Except when you get electrified and your helmet radio goes haywire, then it usually plays ragtime until the circuitry settles down again. :)
In fact, the sound design of the whole game deserves a mention here, because it's great. The music is effective without being obtrusive, and the sound effects are largely fantastic. The noise the cutter makes, in particular, combined with the visual effect of it doing its thing, is so effective I sometimes feel like I can almost smell hot metal (even though your character wouldn't be able to).
TLDR: You scrap old spaceships in a future-Victorian-capitalist hellworld. Cool concept, fun mechanics. Good game. Not finished yet, but it's in a reasonably advanced state of early access (compare Subnautica around the time that it became properly playable), so I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10 provisional, likely to go higher once it's completed. Twenty or 25 bucks on Steam depending on whether it's on sale on any given weekend. Other platforms later, I believe.
* One of my favorite touches is the fact that there is a huge NO SMOKING sign painted on one wall of the dock, despite the fact that it's just a huge open corral floating in orbit and smoking there is physically impossible. This may give you something of a flavor for the game's brand of humor.
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
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