Teardown’s central contradiction should be infuriating. True to its name, you can tear down basically any structure in a level, up to and including the ground beneath your feet. But you shouldn’t! I repeat: You, functionally all-powerful to an extent few video games have ever allowed, should not destroy everything the first chance you get. If you start rampaging, you might break an item you’re supposed to steal or trip an alarm, effectively ending your run. So instead, you have to plot exceedingly careful routes through clockwork levels that you possess the power to shatter like so many Fabergé eggs. It owns.
In Teardown, you play as an initially reluctant though increasingly prolific thief whose toolbelt consists not of lockpicks and glass cutters but sledgehammers, shotguns, and explosives. There are no enemies; the environment is your only obstacle. Sketchy characters ask you to steal stuff from (typically locked-down) buildings in vast, open levels, and you can do so however you see fit. Sometimes they’ll just ask you to straight-up knock buildings clean off their foundations, and that, dear reader, is a good time. But in any case, it’s all destructible. In Teardown as in life, eventually, all will fall.
The twist is that most mission objectives are tied to security systems of some sort. Often, this means that if you swipe an item, a 60-second timer will begin to count down, signifying how long you have until security arrives. When the timer hits zero, it’s game over. Levels contain multiple objectives, so you can’t just grab one crucial file or, er, entire car and book it to your getaway vehicle. Instead, you have to survey the area on foot and plot the perfect escape route. Then, once you have an idea in mind, you can get to smashing.
Running from one building’s exit to another’s entrance taking up too many of your precious escape seconds? Use a truck to knock down a pipe hanging overhead and turn it into a makeshift bridge to a building’s second floor. Or just bulldoze a hole in the first-floor wall. Or knock down the whole building. It is entirely up to you, and not just in that way where game developers say you have infinite choices, but really only a couple are viable. If you can imagine it, it’s probably possible — and therefore at least worth attempting. But again, the key is to do all of this before you steal anything. Once the timer starts, it’s too late for any additional prep.
As a result, much of your time in any given Teardown level is spent observing and theorizing. You might come up with one way to get from point A to point B, only to do a practice run and realise that it takes a few seconds too long. Or it will lead you to accidentally light everything you’re supposed to steal on fire. So then it’s back to the drawing board. But this is a game in which trial and error might actually be the best part.
Case in point: Last night I was trying to steal two cars from a large marina level. One was on a boat, and the other was on the back of a tow truck. If I removed either, the alarm would start ticking down. I realised pretty quickly that if I wanted to steal both cars and also swipe a couple smaller items separated by an entire body of water, I’d have to ensure that the vehicles containing the cars were as close to my getaway truck as possible. For the car on the back of the tow truck, this was easy; I just drove a bulldozer through the garage where it was parked (nearly obliterating the car in the process), and then drove the tow truck with the car on it to the getaway location. I never actually got in the car or severed its connection to the security trap on the tow truck, but I positioned it such that all I’d need to do to “steal” it was back it a few feet off the tow truck.
The second car was more of a challenge. It was affixed to a shipping container on a boat, so I needed to both bring the boat closer to my destination and figure out how to get the whole shipping container — not just the car — off the boat. This resulted in a comedy of errors that, I think, exemplifies exactly why Teardown is so good.
My initial plan was, I admit, deranged. I decided to hop in the boat and crash it into the land next to my escape vehicle at full speed. Yes, this would obliterate most of the boat, but I figured that a) it would propel the shipping container to a point reasonably close to my escape vehicle, and b) it would be fun. Regrettably, my plan — a feat of on-the-fly engineering that few 6 year-olds playing with toy trucks in a sandbox could match — did not work out as I had envisioned. Trouble reared its head when the boat’s entire bow broke off, which was immediately.
But! I realised I could still salvage this very literal sinking ship by using a nearby crane to lift the (now partially submerged) shipping crate off the boat.
This also did not go according to plan.
Turns out, the bridge I’d driven the crane onto was not the sturdiest. As I tugged on the shipping container with all of my machine-given might, a chunk of the bridge broke, and the crane — with me inside it — fell into the water. Then the crane, the boat, and the shipping container sank. Only then did I realise that, next to the bridge, there was a button I could have pressed…to raise the bridge. So there was actually no reason for me to run the boat aground in the first place. I laughed for a solid 10 seconds before I resumed playing.
Eventually, I beat the level and completed all of its bonus objectives. I plotted a circuitous route that involved multiple boat rides and using a forklift as a makeshift staircase to a second-floor room that, coincidentally, lost all of its walls in a forklift-related accident a few minutes prior. Oh, and I still crashed the boat with the car on it into the shore — just not as hard this time. I finished my escape with three seconds left on the clock. It felt amazing. Were there easier ways to beat the level? Almost certainly. Actually, let’s go with “definitely.” But, to quote Frank Sinatra — a man who was once a riveter at a shipyard but, to my knowledge, never drove any construction vehicles into the sea — I did it my way.