Overall Score 92%
So, the first thing I do is to open up the structure creation tool and build a life-sized scale model of the "HOLLYWOOD" sign. Well, except that it's nowhere near the hills outside of Los Angeles. In fact it looks like it's standing in the middle of a field in the English countryside. Oh, and it doesn't say "HOLLYWOOD" it reads: "BYTTEN". OK, yes, it's made out of bricks. But apart from that it looks exactly like the "HOLLYWOOD" sign. I calculate the weak structural points on each letter and carefully position a big load of TNT where I consider that it will do the most damage. The options range from a measly 250g right up to my selection of 50kg. I want to make sure that the sign goes down and 50kg is only just over half my body weight. I procrastinate, then add another 50kg package to a secondary position on each letter for good measure and move out to a safe spot a few hundred metres away. Crank up the volume on my speakers – don't want to miss this. Now let's see if we can take that pesky sign down. I click on detonate and the countdown starts. 3...2...1...
Good god! The resulting explosion did not tear the sign down as much as it vaporised it. Shards of bricks and steel support were sent off at such velocity that some may just have achieved orbit, and according to my "shrapnel-meter", microscopic bits of the famous "BYTTEN" sign turned up in neighbouring counties, the furthest flying 8.8 kilometres. The noise that erupted from my speakers was enough to send the poor dog scurrying out of the room, tail between his legs. I blinked once or twice, closed my mouth and came to the realisation that Detonate is one of the coolest things I've reviewed for Bytten in a long time.
I call it a “thing” for a reason. It's not really a game per se, in that it has no pre-defined goals or missions. It's probably more aptly described as a sandbox application that allows the user to easily build fairly complex 3-D structures using a simple drag and drop interface, and then blow them up. Having said that, it's the freeform nature of Detonate that really appeals to me. After the obligatory half an hour of just disintegrating various structures with multiple 50kg bombs, I began to explore the intricacies of Detonate. Could I take the grandstand down with a destruction level of over 90% using just one well placed 5kg charge? Could I demolish a crane but keep all debris within a 20m radius of the blast zone? Would it be possible to tear down that entire derelict office block using less than £200 worth of explosives? The scenarios seemed limited only by my imagination.
Well, imagination and CPU cycles that is. With all the complex calculations involved in determining the strengths of various materials and joints as well as the forces involved in explosions and collisions, Detonate will apparently give your CPU a bit of a workout. On my multi-core desktop machine though, the slowdowns were minimal on the highest resolution and highest detail level; the action remained fairly fluid throughout. Users with older PCs might want to check out the generous demo before shelling out for the registered version (which unlocks the structure creation tools). Detonate offers several display and debris scaling options as well so it should run on a fairly wide array of PC configurations.
These tiny screenshots here are really not doing Detonate justice. The tiles used to construct buildings come in over 250 varieties and these can be placed on any plane in a fully 3-D evironment as well as on angles to create some awesome looking buildings and landmarks. Each tile has various inherent structural properties that see materials behave fairly realistically. Metal girders have more tolerance to stress but seem heavier and carry more momentum than say, a wall made out of wood panelling which will easily shatter or a corrugated iron roof that reacts in a light and flexible way. The physics model is certainly not perfect, and very occasionally you might see behaviour that is not quite what you might expect, but generally it's pretty solid. Explosive effects look realistic, and tons of debris and puffs of smoke add to the immersion. The viewpoint is fully user selectable from just about anywhere on the 3-D field, and this allows for some very dramatic and even cinematic sequences. Especially with multiple small charges placed at strategic points and set to explode on various time delay settings, watching a building crumple into a smoldering pile of rubble, neatly and efficiently is somehow very satisfying. Almost as fun as blowing a crane into the next postcode.
The only sounds you'll hear are the brilliant explosions, impacts, breaks, crushes and smashes. Sorry, there's no cheesy background music. I am a fan of cheesy background tracks in some games, but Detonate does well to stay clear of them, with the silence of the construction and demolition planning modes juxtaposing perfectly with the chaos that the TNT brings.
The interface is very familiar in both the creator and destructor modes. In the demolition mode WASD pans the camera around smoothly (although quite slowly), and the mousewheel zooms the view. In the editor, panel buttons take the place of this control method, and this makes moving the camera perspective a little more cumbersome. When placing detonation charges, a right click menu is activated where the player can set variables like timer delay, and weight of the actual explosive device before confirming the selection. Settings are saved in memory so that multiple identical charges can be set with relative ease. After 10 minutes of playing with the sim, users will be building their own architectural wonders of the world and blasting them into thousands of pieces.
Just a couple of features that I think are lacking. Detonate really needs a slow-motion option. Sometimes the mayhem happens so quickly that you're left wondering exactly what went on, and how that chimney ended up in the river 100 meters away. Also, a feature to export to a video format, or a replay file would be handy to archive all of those awesome “Oooohhh!” moments. Interestingly, every time you demolish a building, it never collapses in exactly the same way. Even though an option exists to save deployments, the action is always slightly different each time. The only bug I have been able to find is one that happens very frequently. Resetting a structure often makes it slightly unstable and this can cause tiny bits and pieces to fall off or stress cracks to appear. One workaround is to simply exit to the menu and then reload the building.
None of that is going to stop me from awarding Detonate my first Bytten Gold Star in 2010, although I do feel that some players might not share my enthusiasm for it given the fact that it really does eschew conventional objective based gameplay for sheer freeform playability. If you're the type of gamer who enjoys unlocking achievements, clearing missions and developing characters then it's possible that Detonate might not be your cup of tea. For everyone else though it's going to be the best $6 you spend on your PC for quite some time! Whether you've only got 5 minutes to do a quick demolition job, or an hour or two to painstakingly recreate your office block and then raze it to the ground, Detonate has got you covered.
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