Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane runs around with his wrecking balls out in Instruments of Destruction.
The last few years have provided a bountiful crop of games centred around wrecking things (by which I mean more than one). In 2020, Besiege smashed through the bastion of the games industry with its quirky take on manufacturing medieval siege weapons. That same year, Teardown smashed through the ceiling to steal Besiege‘s thunder, offering a range of wonderfully creative heists all themed around its voxel-based demolition system.
Now Instruments of Destruction is spooling up like a circular saw, and in its current Early Access form, is simultaneously the strongest and weakest of the three games. Its destruction system is both spectacular and wonderfully intricate, featuring perhaps the best representation of concrete since the Tom Hardy film ‘Locke‘. However, its early access debut is heavily weighted toward ‘early’, with a slight amount of content and some rough edges.
Broadly speaking, Instruments of Destruction resembles a contemporary take on Besiege, offering a series of diorama-like destruction challenges where you must devise a vehicular contraption suited to a particular objective, such as destroying a building or reaching a checkpoint (which naturally involves wrecking stuff in the process). You can achieve these goals either by creating a vehicle yourself, or through selecting from a range of prebuilt models that unlock as you progress through the campaign.
Initially, I found Instruments of Destruction a bit overwhelming. When launched, it wallops you in the face with its incredibly bloopy electronic soundtrack and one of the loudest UIs I’ve ever seen. All the menu options are written in MASSIVE BOLD IMPACT and there’s more hazard orange on screen than at an actual construction site. There are buttons everywhere and tooltips popping up whenever I click something and oh God I think I need to have a lie down.
I might have got lost in the UI entirely, were it not for the fact that the building system is basically identical to Besiege. Vehicles are constructed out of a mixture of cabins, wheels, and destructive implements like saws and wrecking balls, with ‘connectors’ linking all the bits together, and various types of joint letting you create mechanisms like articulated crane-arms and fully simulated suspension systems. The main difference is that the vehicles you create in IoD seem considerably more robust than Besiege. You still need to consider factors like weight distribution to stop your machine toppling over like one of those fainting goats, but you don’t need to think about reinforcing joints to them shearing apart under their own g-forces.
Once you’ve built (or selected) your machine, pressing ‘Play’ will put that machine under your direct control. Driving is done with WASD, while controlling other parts of the machine is assigned to the arrow keys. And I have to say, the moment you drive your hulking mass of diamond-edged teeth into a building is nothing short of magical. The way structures collapse, kicking up soupy clouds of dust with chunks of rubble floating in them like the world’s toughest croutons, is truly stunning. As is the fact that the framerate remains steady throughout. These types of simulations can be tricky to optimise, and developer Radiangames deserves full credit for how it has handled that.
The campaign currently provides ten missions to play through, which will likely take you between two and four hours depending on whether you build your own vehicles or use the ones provided (I mostly did the latter, as the prebuilt machines were far more effective and imaginative than anything I could produce). There are also challenge modes for each level, and a wide range of vehicles to unlock. Nonetheless, the game certainly requires more levels and more vehicle components to expand your building opportunities.
Beyond that, my main concern with Instruments of Destruction is that it lacks the character of Besiege. IoD’s destruction system might be more impressive, but Besiege had style, offering ingeniously constructed scenarios and liberal servings of slapstick humour, as you carved through armies of squeaky little soldiers with giant weaponised windmills.
Instruments of Destruction, by comparison, is thematically less compelling. The giant vehicles you can create are cool, but beyond that the game is fairly abstract. Levels don’t have any sense of place or context, and the game’s whole personality can be summed up as “BIG MACHINES GO BRRRRRR”. Which is fine to a degree, but right now I don’t feel like I’m getting more out of IoD than what I got from Besiege.
Then again, Besiege was itself in Early Access for five years, so perhaps it’s unfair to judge Instruments of Destruction by the same metric. Given similar dedication, Instruments of Destruction has definitely got potential to be as good, and I can’t wait to see how this smashing little title fares in the coming years.
Instruments of Destruction is available in Early Access via Steam.