This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Hardspace: Shipbreaker.
A while back, we were talking about Ravenous Devils, which, for all its hideous violence and traumatic facial hair, was still a time management-based light restaurant sim, a genre I very firmly file under "mum games", games your mum likes; those and hidden object games, which mums like because it helps them hone the skill of zeroing in on the pornography stash in their teenager's bedroom. But every game can be pigeonholed into belonging to a specific member of the household: Mario for little Bobby, Halo for slightly larger Bobby, Civilization for Granddad, that one DS game about touching underaged girls for Weird Uncle Richard.
And how could we forget the noble dad games, which, much like dads, have gone through a lot of evolution? Dad games as a genre started as rather dry train, flight, and truck simulators, aimed at retired machine operators who want to wallow in nostalgia for the days when they didn't have to be around their fucking kids all the time. But inevitably, as the audience for standard video games aged and became parents themselves, the dad game evolved to cater more to them, and combine the honest, productive hard graft of the work simulator with the more traditionally gamey elements of fantasy, skill challenge, and narrative. So now it's not just forklift operating; it's forklift operating in Narnia, where the princess gets executed if we don't move all the boxes of tampons fast enough.
Papers, Please, Elite Dangerous, Viscera Cleanup Detail; all titles I would classify as "post-dad games", and all games that I like, being a dad and having many of the qualities of a post. And now there's a new post-dad game off of Early Access: Hardspace (HRUUH) Shipbreaker. (Ooh, been a while since I brought the dry heave out.) What the fuck was wrong with "Shipbreaker" by itself as a title? It's a game about breaking ships; it's not a game about spacing hards. Anyway, Hardspace: Shipbrea-- ugh. Look, I don't want to harp, but I feel like I could arrange all the elements of this title in random order, and it would have exactly the same effect.
Alright, alright; Breakhard: Spaceshipper is a first-person space physics game about being a worker in a space junkyard, whose job is to use their cutting and grabbing devices to split up derelict spacecraft into their component bits and drop each bit into their designated processing chutes. The core gameplay is basically peak dad game, because it's most reminiscent of putting away all the Lego after your little snot-chuggers got bored and ran off to the back garden to rub gravel in each other's eyes.
But there's a lot more to it than that; I mean, if you just want to sort shit, download one of those free mobile games where you spend one minute putting colored balls in order for every five minutes spent watching ads for other, identical games about putting colored balls in order. You have to do it while keeping an eye on your fuel and oxygen meters, making sure to handle the volatile components of each ship without blowing yourself and your Christmas bonus to atoms, and spend the whole time wrestling with your thruster controls as you maneuver yourself around hard vacuum, trying not to let yourself drift into one of the processing chutes, because the only processing chute you belong anywhere near is one with a comfortable toilet seat on top and a few bottles of Jack Daniels in convenient arm's reach.
Oh, and there's a hard time limit on each shift, and if you haven't done enough work, you don't earn enough money to pay off the massive debt you owe to the evil hyper-capitalist corporation that owns your pimply, overworked bum and every toilet seat it aspires to sit upon. But they can't be that evil, 'cos every work day's only about fifteen minutes long; well, maybe it takes four hours to take the spacesuit on and off. All of which adds a certain spice to the dad game workaday doldrums; the one thing usually absent from the zone-out podcast-fueled Zen of something like Truck Simulator is the knowledge that you're never more than three seconds from dying hideously in a burning, overturned wreckage.
So while Hardship: Facebreaker can be very Zen, as you carefully carve up someone's once-beloved joyride with the non-judgmental infinity of the cosmos stretching away above and below you, every now and again, you zone out just a bit too much, stop paying attention, and blowtorch a fuel line, or tank an accidentally-accelerated fragment of hull to the chops and smash your helmet, forcing you to weigh up if it's even worth trying to sprint to the repair station while your eyeballs are flopping around outside your face like you're a cartoon wolf looking at a sexy lady. And I'm all about this; finishing an entire room in Viscera Cleanup Detail was nice, but I'd have felt even more of the satisfaction of a job well-done if there'd been a possibility of completely fucking up, like if there was a chance I could slip on a hitherto-unnoticed kidney and impale my eye socket on the mop handle. So, successfully meeting all the targets on a single ship is actually a challenging goal to strive and improve for.
This is definitely one of those unwindy games for listening to podcasts to, but not for the first time, I'm disappointed by a podcast game not realizing it could easily have provided the podcast, at least for a while. Because there is a story; quite an engaging one, about a small group of characters who are trying to stay human despite being trapped by hyper-capitalist fuckery in their lives as dingleberries on the enthusiastically-used bog roll of the corporate structure, a story conveyed almost entirely through radio chatter. All the pieces were in place; all it had to do to get the big tick at the bottom of the page was just have these conversations play out exclusively over gameplay! You were so fucking close, Shipshape: Cakeplatter, but no! Half the time, while a conversation plays out, you're locked in a glorified menu screen, with your ability to do anything or start a new job disabled until everyone's done talking. You don't even have the option to skip. Christ's sake! I could've pitched three fuel tanks into the processing barge in the time it took for you to explain the concept of unionization, sassy colleague.
So close. Pulled the lever on the fruit machine; we got a seven, then another seven, then a great big piggy poo. Why is this such a fucking blind spot for video games? You put all this effort into creating lore and audio logs, and then you won't let us absorb them unless we let you nail our feet to the ground. Just play the fucking audio logs over our earbuds while we're doing one of your dreary shootouts! Are you so afraid we might miss something? What, is the school board going to rate you based on how we do on the comprehension test at the end?
But that one niggle aside, I do enjoy zoning out with Fartface: Breakwinder; it's definitely my kind of thing. As for whether I'd recommend it to a less dad-like audience, the spaceship-dissecting gameplay caters to multiple tastes; you can carefully and systematically dismantle the ships, if you're the sort of person who likes peeling all the labels off a new piece of electronics, or you can blow it all to smithereens, if you get more satisfaction from taking a baseball bat to the office photocopier. "Yahtz, do you worry that, as you age, you're losing touch with younger gaming demographics?" Not at all! True taste never goes out of fashion, not that you energy drink-quaffing, screamy Minecraft YouTuber-watching little fuckwits would appreciate that.
- Salt of the earth: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- But the real question is what counts as Weird Antivax Chain-Smoking Auntie Games
- Jack Daniels in the sink, amaretto in the toilet cistern