Everything the light touches in Teardown is primed for you to destroy. Whether it’s heavily plastered brick walls or fragile wooden sheds, Teardown gives you a variety of tools to make blowing up each little pixel a delight as you tear your way through its handful of carefully crafted playgrounds. It’s a game filled with inventive ideas and a satisfyingly simple premise–even if it is hampered down by a campaign that suffers from poor pacing. Its premise, thankfully has enough depth to it that makes Teardown a destructive sandbox toy that is enticing to return to frequently.
Acting as a highly sought-after demolitions expert, your journey through Teardown’s campaign takes you across the game’s nine maps and peppers them with a variety of objects that drive its mayhem. You’re mostly going to carry out intricate heists, although the criteria for success does change from mission to mission. One might challenge you to steal several computers that are all hooked up to an alarm system, while another revolves around destroying a variety of expensive cars by finding ways to dump them in water. Mostly, however, the objectives supplement a familiar pattern of play: Create a route through the map using your destructive tools so that you can carry out the heist before the alarms that you will trigger summon security to your position. Your limited movement speed and the labyrinthine maps ensure that you can’t just brute force your way to a solution without carefully thinking about the route you’re making between objectives, while the tools at your disposal methodically limit your options to create engaging environmental puzzles to solve.
Your ability to destroy each stage is limited by the tools you have. You start with just a sledgehammer and fire extinguisher, making it easy to break through wooden doors and put out fires but limiting your ability to charge through brick walls. As you progress, you unlock more powerful tools and weapons, including explosives, rocket launchers, shotguns, and pipe bombs. Each one has a limited number of uses, forcing you to carefully consider how you’re utilizing each one in the context of your objective. It’s consistently entertaining to just blow holes through walls with a shotgun or bring down a small office a few floors with well-placed explosives or map-specific construction vehicles, with Teardown’s superb physics letting you carry out your delicate planning with consistent and repeatable results.
It is disappointing, however, that the pace at which these new tools get handed out is so slow for the first half of the campaign. While it does allow you to learn some of the intricacies of how Teardown’s systems work without being overwhelmed, it does severely limit your ability to tear maps apart in entertaining ways while also preventing campaign objectives from changing too drastically. Despite the underlying objectives being altered slightly between mission, most of the first half of the campaign sticks strictly to its structure of paths between items and building a hasty escape route. There’s only so many times that can stimulate your destructive creativity without enticing you down similar, repetitive paths.
This is even more evident once you start reaching Teardown’s far more interesting campaign objectives, many of which recontextualize the familiar maps in exciting ways. Attack helicopters and offensive, robotic security cards add a stealth twist to the destructive action, turning the formerly flexible planning phase into one with more tension to it. Others, like a mission where you must contend with a growing tornado or another where you need to prevent a lightning storm from igniting buildings and triggering a fire alarm, expand Teardown’s mechanics even further, shifting the focus away from destruction and more towards preservation. It helps the overall pacing immensely, but feels as though it comes so far into the campaign that you might have already grown too bored by the repetition.
Outside of the structured campaign, Teardown becomes more of a sandbox toy that can be just as rewarding as its best missions to tinker with. A free-form Sandbox mode gives you all the tools available in the campaign with unlimited ammunition and all upgrades unlocked, letting you wreak havoc on any unlocked maps. Without strict alarms or objectives in place, Teardown’s meticulous destruction can be admired more closely, letting you enjoy how its systems interact. The way fire propagates through flammable surfaces before being snuffed out with the thick smoke of an extinguisher looks surprisingly detailed given Teardown’s blocky presentation. Light shafts flood into interior environments with convincing detail once you’ve demolished a wall or two to create a new entrance, providing a good example of how handsome Teardown can look when you’ve slowed down to take it all in. It’s fun to have all of Teardown’s restrictions stripped away, but it’s also not something that will likely keep you engrossed for hours on end.
A separate Challenge mode offers additional game mode types that you can play in maps you’ve unlocked through the campaign. These are mostly fun but short-lived distractions, giving Teardown a more arcade-like feel. One mode, called Mayhem, gives you unlimited access to all your tools and gives you just 60 seconds to create as much voxel-based destruction as you can. Another, named Hunted, has an armed helicopter invade a map as you scurry around trying to pick up randomly spawning chests and stars. These challenges can break up the monotony of the campaign early on, even if you’re still confined to the same handful of maps you’ve unlocked there, but there’s not a lot of lasting appeal to them after a few dips in, especially without any cooperative or multiplayer aspect.
What does have the potential to prolong Teardown’s replayability is its already bustling mod scene. The game’s tight integration with Steam Workshop makes importing user-created maps and assets incredibly simple, with some offered as official mods through the game’s main menu directly. There are wholesale recreations of maps from other games to those from pop culture, carefully reconstructed for you to then take apart. Entirely new weapons are available, too (the game’s launch trailer has a glimpse of a lightsaber, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), which also have their own destructive properties that you can apply to each of the game’s different material types. It’s just fun to experiment in these worlds, again emphasizing the Teardown’s strengths as more of a creative and fun toy than that of an engrossing single-player adventure.
Teardown’s greatest strength then lies in its underlying premise. The ability to jump into highly reactive maps with an assortment of fun tools to tear them apart remains as entertaining now as it was when I first started playing, and the chaotic nature of its physics are a consistent source of joy. It’s a pity that the campaign fails to leverage this well in its first half, exacerbated by a slow trickle of new objectives and tools to use. These help expose the smart design that Teardown has from the start, which only really becomes evident much later in its campaign. If you can get past that, or if you dive into the bursting modding scene, there’s a lot of cathartic mayhem in Teardown that will likely keep you coming back for more.