The core strength of gaming’s appeal is, I think, the fact that a game’s success or failure essentially boils down to one question: is it fun? All the other factors that we judge a game’s quality by are essentially tacked-on items that either increase or decrease the fun contained in the game. There’s a lot of wiggle room as to what constitutes fun or not fun, as well as a few absolutes – particularly in the way that games can fail to be fun – but what really matters as far as a game’s worth is concerned is whether or not you as a player enjoy the experience of playing the game. It doesn’t matter how ambitious a game’s design is or is not, as long as you get a kick out of playing.
Demolition Company, by simulations specialist Giants Software, purveyors of such scintillating genres as farming and forklift simulation games, definitely isn’t reaching for the stars. The graphics are simply detailed polygons with good quality textures, the controls are simple and the game mechanics even simpler. Your goal, as a demolitions contractor, is to take structures and reduce them to as many pieces as possible. You’re limited in what tools you can use at times, and there’s other requirements that some missions tack on, like moving debris about with an earth mover or only demolishing certain parts of a target structure while leaving others intact, but it’s really a very simple game. It’s also not a very expensive game, like most cut-down simulations. It normally goes for $25.99 on Steam, but until August 27th, it’s 15% off at $22.09.
The fun comes from the very competent, sober and straightforward way that the game handles itself. There’s no distractions from the simple job of breaking things. There’s no music, no flashy graphics, no ridiculous sci-fi tools (there is one you can buy at the end, but you can’t get it until you’ve completed all the missions and earned a truckload of money), and no artificial constraints beyond a simple time limit. It’s just some vehicles and a few tools, and you go knock stuff down. Most importantly, the knocking stuff down part is done very, very well. It’s not as showy as Red Faction: Guerilla, but it works just as well, if not a little better. The simple graphics help keep the performance requirements smooth, and the learning curve is very gentle and easy to climb. Some of the finishing requirements can become a bit tedious, particularly using the earth mover to pile debris into train cars or crushers, but it’s not a frequent occurrence, and usually all you’re asked to do is take a perfectly innocent building and blow it to pieces.
There’s a seed of an amazing bigger-budget game in here. More complex missions, bigger and better buildings, a more detailed physics engine and better planning tools would make a killer AA-title game. I want to have a fully-engineered building, with steel I-beams encased in realistically modeled concrete, and be told to knock it down. I want to precisely choose where to knock out walls and place and time the different kinds of explosive charges I would need to bring the building down safely and on target. Something that teaches me how buildings fall and what kinds of charges and timing are best for what kind of building materials. Or failing that, a high-res version of Blast Corps would be fun, too.
But like I said before, Demolition Company isn’t trying to be either of those. It’s a simple $20 sim game about using jackhammers, wrecking balls, and multi-colored packages of explosives to knock simply modeled buildings over. It’s cheap, dead-simple fun, and a hidden gem that will appeal to everyone who gets a kick out of knocking over big things.