Hardwar is one of the most under-appreciated games I’ve ever played.
In recent years we’ve had a revival of free roaming spaceflight games with… sigh. Okay, fine, Elite-likes. I still wish we got a modern version of Hardwar. A remake that captured its novel feel, and expanded on its ideas. And not another bloody MMO.
Hardwar still holds up really well, although good luck finding a copy since it vanished from Dotemu several years ago.
It’s the future, and lots of people are stuck living in a series of craters on one of Saturn’s moons. After centuries of mutation and pollution and corporate abuse, it’s a proper craphole. You’re lucky enough to acquire a ‘moth’, a solar powered craft that can fly freely about, allowing you to trade, bounty hunt, pirate, or scavenge metal from less lucky pilots. AI pilots fly about, engaging in a simulated economy where you can trace a piece of scrap metal through its full manufacturing chain to forming one of your guns. The atmosphere is murky, stormy, all alien pinks and oranges such that I’m sometimes not sure whether it’s even night or day. It sounds excellent still, combat is exciting (though often one-sided), and even just flying about is strangely relaxing. Provided you haven’t enraged the cops or one of its duelling corporate factions, at least.
It’s very much a precursor to the X series, though vastly more approachable (and, on balance, less ambitious). Prices are based on supply and demand, with goods actively traded and built. You can buy hangars and open a shop, and manipulate markets by messing with traders. Moths can be customised with different guns, utilities, and software (the latter can get corrupted by damage and specialised weapons). Carry a valuable cargo and a pirate may target you, but will leave you alone if you drop the cargo (even if you fought back first).
Its flaws are more obvious than ever (e.g. moths in tunnels, and those recharging their batteries at a lightwell will sit there and die rather than defend themselves), but that’s all the more reason there should be another one of it.