Teardown starts slow, with a few jobs that introduce you individually to the concepts of smashing and grabbing: making way for a shopping mall by knocking down an old eyesore that turns out to be a historical center (oops), and "sneaking" into a chemical plant to steal a bunch of computers, respectively. There's joy to be had in the simple act of circling a blocky building, working out which spots to hit with your sledgehammer to bring it down in as few swings as possible - then just beating the hell out of whatever's still standing. The calming release of mindless destruction was especially welcome this week.
But it's when you put the "smash" and the "grab" together that Teardown goes from self-justified exercise in mayhem to one-person heist simulator. Another mission sent me back to the same plant. This time I needed to grab keycard readers, but the owner got wise from last time; grabbing any reader would summon the cops in 60 seconds, and I needed to snag three readers before fleeing in my escape van. Thus began roughly a dozen minutes of casing the joint to find a speedy route past all three targets, lobbing propane tanks to knock down walls that were blocking the said route, and hastily spray painting a path so - once I started the score - I could focus exclusively on legging it.
No, I don't know what kind of two-bit security company installs an alarm that only goes off if you disconnect a keycard reader and not if you blow up half the facility around it. Then again, I guess most burglar alarms are only made to keep you from breaking in through windows and doors? We all just assume that, as part of the social contract, nobody's going to drive a forklift through your living room wall. A risky assumption in hindsight.
As soon as I grabbed the first keycard, Teardown went into full-on professional mode: alarms blaring in the background, slick heist music that wordlessly sang "You know what you're doing" even as I got tripped up on jagged pieces of scaffolding. As much as I associate interesting heist stories with Coens-style plans gone wrong, everything went perfectly and my van was speeding off down the road with just under half a minute to go. Twenty-seven seconds before the police would arrive to the scream of klaxons and the smell of fresh spray paint, with no suspects in sight.
If you do your legwork, you might never even fail a mission in Teardown. Don't get me wrong, I probably restarted that job a half dozen times because I kept blowing up or knocking down things I shouldn't have (usually on purpose, because it's so fun to watch those physics-driven voxels crumble). But that isn't failure. Even on my rickety old PC, it only ever took a few seconds to load the map fresh and start all over. The challenge isn't in the run itself, it's in using the environment and materials on hand to set up an effective and doable route.
Teardown just hit Steam Early Access (opens in new tab) on October 29, and it only contains a fraction of what the developers at Tuxedo Labs eventually plan to do with it. They're hoping to turn the direction of the game's environments, tools, vehicles, and more toward what players most enjoy. But even if the developers dropped off the face of the earth right now and Teardown remained frozen in time, I'd still be very happy with my $19.99 purchase. Sometimes I'm in the mood to just break things. I'm always in the mood to break things very deliberately.