I went into Teardown, which is currently dominating Steam's top sellers list, expecting one of those novelty games everyone goes wild for then forgets a week later. But I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that, after spending an afternoon smashing its world into tiny pieces with a sledgehammer, it's actually a pretty great open-ended sandbox puzzle game.
Your first job is a simple one: demolish a house. The flimsy, mostly wooden structure can be torn down with your hammer alone, or rammed with a vehicle. But to deal with the sturdy brick chimney, you may need to use some explosives. Luckily, someone has left a load of fragile gas canisters nearby. Toss them at the chimney and great chunks are blown out of it.
Everything in Teardown is made up of voxels, which are basically three-dimensional pixels. Delivery sim Cloudpunk recently used them to great effect to build its Blade Runner-inspired future city. These combine with realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections to make Teardown's blocky world look fantastic—and feel really solid too. However, as a result, it's pretty demanding hardware-wise.
When you bring your hammer down on the house's walls, they crumble into a pile of shattered voxels. Hurl an explosive canister at the chimney stack and it causes a tremendous explosion, sending cubes of brick flying everywhere. It's immensely satisfying to watch and feels amazingly tactile. It's probably the best simulated destruction I've seen in a game since Volition's Red Faction: Guerrilla was released way back when, if not wholly realistic.
Later, jobs get more complicated—and more fun. Desperate for money, you start taking on jobs that are, uh, let's say legally dubious. It's here where Teardown suddenly, surprisingly, becomes a heist game where you break into buildings and compounds to steal or destroy stuff, and try to escape without tripping an alarm or accidentally setting the place on fire.
Each level is a puzzle, really, but with no set solution. You have to experiment with the sandbox to solve them, whether it's by using the various tools stuffed in your belt (more of which are unlocked as you play), vehicles including trucks, cranes, diggers, and other construction vehicles, or the environment itself. It's a game about breaking stuff, yes, but also being clever about it. Of course, if you'd rather just smash things, a sandbox mode lets you do just that.
In one job you have to steal three items scattered around a fairly large map. The trick is, when you grab one of them, an alarm sounds and a timer starts. If it dips to 0, the cops show up and bust you. So to get all three items safely to your getaway van, you have to plan ahead, smashing an escape route through the level, or using planks to build pathways across rooftops.
The game takes this idea and runs with it, with increasingly complex puzzles that require extensive planning to efficiently complete. You can quick save, thankfully, otherwise I could imagine the game being really frustrating. The simulated, physics-heavy nature of the world means mission-ending mistakes are a frequent occurrence, especially where cars are involved. Snag the bumper on a chunk of voxels during an escape and you're screwed.
Teardown is out now on Steam Early Access, and is quite reasonably priced. It's also in good shape technically, with a decent amount of content for this initial release. Although I did have an issue with my mouse drifting to the right. I checked in other games and it was fine, so I don't know what's happening there. Even with that slight annoyance, I love what I've played so far, and I'm looking forward to having more puzzles to solve in future updates.