Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Durrrr… durrr- durrrrr…… duh-DERRRR!

What do you mean, what am I on about?! It’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra! From 2001: A Space Odyssey? What do you mean, I’m nuts? You’re nuts!

Ahem

Hardspace: Shipbreaker has that zero-G space navigation I’ll always associate with the Stanley Kubrick film. Gentle, deliberate motion that’s all very zen until you find yourself drifting off into the vast darkness of the void because inertia.

Currently in beta/early access of Steam, H:S puts you in the space-shoes of a scavenger, salvaging space wrecks to pay off debt; the debt they’ve accrued by becoming a scavenger. That’s Capitalism! The gameplay and objectives are all about adjusting to the 360° motion, the inertia and momentum of both yourself and the freight you’re loading.

With the stars all around and a cheery redneck giving you guidance over your headset, you glide forward and back with the left analog stick, turn with the right, move up and down with face buttons and rotate clockwise and anticlockwise using L3 and R3 respectively.

You get to use some space-tools that grip, release, manipulate and all that space-jazz. Right off the bat, you’ll be skidding around in the frictionless void, trying to bring order to chaos by snipping valuable items from their mounts using laser cutters, then gripping it with a space-whip and flinging it into a space-net for later collection.

For an early access game, it feels like it’s in decent shape. I didn’t run into any bugs as such, although I did find the UI and directions a bit unclear. The in-your-ear controller gives basic instructions, then you are expected to use on-screen navigation to find the reclamation object. The arrows and ‘this here be the thing’ pointers don’t pop, and it would also be nice to have a pathfinder arrow (think Dead Space, or braking guides in racing games) to make it 100% clear.

To be fair, there is a selectable alternate vision mode that shows points of significance (and I’m sure there will be upgrades to your suit that impact the UI) but i’m big on hand-holding directions and would like a little more in the way of navigation – the challenge should be in the task, not finding the task, in my opinion.

Technically it works well, and I was gratified to see that this early build supports ultrawide displays. That said, it feels like a game crying-out for VR support. I find that orientation in zero gravity games is significantly easier when your head can move independently of your avatar’s body.

Bobbing around in the wrecks of ships is, as the man says, not glamorous work. It’s also demanding – anyone who played Descent back in the day will remember how tricksy full 360 navigation is, and how hard it can be getting used to operating in that space. H:S features a neat control wrinkle where clicking-in L3 and R3 simultaneously will bring you to a dead stop. Laws of physics be damned! I’m happy enough taking that, as the alternative is scooting off into oblivion everytime you nudge the stick in the wrong direction.

In all honesty, I’ve never really got on with this style of game, but hey – that totally doesn’t mean it ain’t a good one. If you want the feeling of tetherless freedom in space, loved Kubrick’s film and Moon, Gravity and Ad Astra, or just like pseudo-realistic, task-based objectives in your games – this could be the ‘Rag-and-Bone-Man-in-Space’ simulator you’ve always wanted.

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