In these uncertain times of economic instability, what better way to unwind than to play a game in which you're an indentured labourer, working off an impossible debt? Hardspace: Shipbreaker has you scrapping gigantic vessels to chip away at a huge financial obligation to the Lynx Corporation. This clearly shady conglomerate has you fill in a questionable survey before signing your life away, metaphorically and physically. As you inch through the tutorials of your new life as a cutter, the first couple of hours feel glacial. Bear with it, and you'll discover an atmospheric and deeply immersive experience.
Armed with a grapple and a laser, you slowly get the hang of floating around the hold, scanning for cut points, and awkwardly depositing materials into designated gravity fields. Oxygen and fuel need to be topped up periodically, which means drifting back and forth to your "hab" and adding to your Lynx debt for basic things like breathing.
You're introduced to other shipbreakers over the radio, who converse and commiserate about their lot in life. The central conflict between kindly foreman Weaver and negligent middle manager Hal is engaging and heartfelt. The strength of the narrative is a genuine surprise; you care about the plight of all your colleagues.
As your career progresses, new types of ships add complexity to the core loop, while a tech tree unlocks more tools (demo charges!) and suit upgrades, making the salvage process smoother and faster.
Cutting becomes second nature and the ship-to-ship pacing gets comfortable, so changes in function feel monumental. Early on you'll unlock tethers, which completely revolutionise how you distribute materials. When power cores are introduced, their extraction becomes a tense set-piece. Likewise, decompressing a ship is an initially complex task that can ruin an entire salvage if you mess up. Later there's some claustrophobic horror in the form of "ghost ships", abandoned vessels overrun with whispering AI drones.
There's far more going on in Shipbreaker than the simple premise suggests. Outside of the career, there's a collection of difficulty modes that offer challenge by limiting resources and respawns. You can also compete against other cutters online to see who can scrap specific ship classes in record time.
A blue collar simulator-cum-puzzle game, where each ship feels like a mini-campaign, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a truly unique and rewarding experience, if you have the time and patience to clock in and put in the work.