By John Walker on September 19th, 2011 at 5:30 pm.
German developers Zeroscale arguably aren’t famous for anything yet, although they did bring us Fantastic Football Fan Party and Germany’s Next Top Model. Of perhaps more interest is Demolition Inc., a cute puzzle action game due to appear on Steam this evening. Having demolished many cities from the safety of my UFO I’m entirely qualified to tell you Wot I Think.
One of the most noble uses of gaming technology is unquestionably blowing stuff up. Blowing stuff up in real life is almost always considered bad form, and quite significantly frowned upon. But if we’re all honest, no matter how tragic, how terrible the incident, watching the thing blowing up is cool.
So Demolition Inc. is immediately off to a good start by being about destroying everything with explosions. Everything being buildings, and the explosions mostly provided by cars. However, it rather cunningly avoids the whole terrorism angle by having this mayhem be caused by an intergalactic demo-man, called in to clear away a few Earth cities. Which is still terrorism, I guess. In fact – wait for it – it’s extraterrestorism.
Viewed top-down, although with the option to zoom to street level, Demolition Inc. manages to at once be a very satisfying destruction-based puzzle game, and a frustratingly clumsy trial-and-error-athon. It’s testament to the game’s successes that I’ve found myself wanting to stick with it through the frustrations, although it’s hard to judge how much that is biased by my delight in watching buildings collapse.
(As if anyone’s different. As if there’s anyone who doesn’t love watching those videos of a tower block demolishing, the puffs of smoke around the base as it begins collapsing into itself.)
It most strongly reminded me of a Flashbang Blurst game (hey, remember them?), both in terms of its crude by affable graphics, and its simple core idea proving unendingly interesting.
Here you’re tasked with destroying all the buildings in a small area, in a limited amount of time, with a restricted number of tools to interact with the world. As an alien hovering in a ship, you can’t directly interact, but rather use tokens to interfere with traffic. For instance, you can put down a pool of slime, causing a car’s steering to veer in either direction, perhaps crashing it into the base of a nearby skyscraper and bringing it down on top of itself.
A strange addition is the need to vacuum up the rubble of your urban renewal, done via the right mouse, which clears the city and allows vegetation to grow through. Any debris that lands in the road will cause the traffic to stop and back up until you clear it, and all that’s gathered up significantly adds to your score for the level.
However, where it very strongly deviates from a Blurst-style game comes in realising that there’s a lot more puzzle involved in successfully completing a level. Rather than being asked to reach a minimum score, instead you’re tasked with making sure every building is destroyed, before the army shows up and shoots down your spaceship. And with the limited number of tokens available, it’s likely to be a few goes before you fathom out a technique that will let you.
Perhaps you only have a couple of the tokens that let you take direct control of a vehicle (well, I say control – you can steer them left and right as they accelerate on their own), and one oil cloud to encourage skidding. That’s not going to be enough to take out every building with individual hits. But you may also have (or indeed gain – bringing down marked buildings will score you extra tokens) some farting exploding cows. Naturally. Line them up between the building you’re next going for, and the exploding container at the foot of another nearby, and you can trigger a chain reaction.
It’s in figuring out methods to do this (and by no means the only method – the game always leaves room for you to improvise these routes) that the game surprises, and becomes much more interesting.
However, it’s also here that the game’s clunkiness becomes troubling. There’s a glitchy feel to the whole thing, and oftentimes a building you’ve wedged a car under, which has then blown up its engine shortly after impact, stays upright for no identifiable reason. If that square hit was via your last token with which to interact with the level, then you have to start the level over and try again. When it’s seemingly not your fault, that’s a pain. Especially in a larger level when so much has previously gone your way.
Because luck can play a part too. You never need to rely on it, which is a big tick for the game, but it’s only ever a good thing if a fragment of building clips a barrel near another triggering another demolishing. It’s magnificent, in fact.
Also magnificent are the larger weapons you can unlock in a few of the levels, once a high enough score has been reached. Giant earthquake bombs, or most fun a rolling wrecking ball that gets larger with every building destroyed, make for splendid ways to finish a scene. But again, like the entire game, they too can feel glitchy.
Everything does. Sucking up the rubble never seems to quite work, some objects inexplicably refusing to be beamed up, or getting stuck in a crack in the engine. Controlling a car, while deliberately difficult, sometimes unfairly jerks you left or right. The whole game feels like going for a good walk, but with an itch deep inside your shoe.
The desire to stop and scratch it means you’re never quite enjoying yourself as much as you should be. I think another pass of polish is pretty needed here, and that’s not including the peculiar graphical madness I was experiencing of black lines flickering all over the screen.
But as I said at the start, the itch is not nearly bad enough that I stopped playing. Completing a level is incredibly rewarding, and that’s perfectly reflected by the brilliant idea to have the words “MISSION COMPLETED” fall out of the sky in massive block letters, hitting cars below it, while vans veer into it and explode. Just that makes me forgive it much else.
On top of the campaign you’ve also got a Rampage mode that lets you go back to earlier levels, equipped with every special item you’ve unlocked. And both modes quietly include an online ranking that lets you know how you did with both your score and time for each level against the global leaderboards. The result isn’t an enormous game, but certainly a fun one.
Because blowing stuff up is fun, and especially when you’re a hard-hatted alien called Mike. And sure, people are dying, but hey, they’re rising up to heaven on little cartoon angel wings! So that’s okay too. Demo Inc. is a fun, distracting contribution to the trend for games letting you destroy stuff.
Demolition Inc. is out this evening on Steam.