|Published by:||Headup Games|
|Format played:||PC – Steam|
Fun fact for you – in 2007, on the lookout for some games to put my new build PC through its paces, I picked up the Orange Box. I had heard of Half Life 2, although never played it, and the graphics looked sensational. And hey, five games in one bundle? Who could argue with that?
The Orange Box would in turn introduce me to Steam, the digital platform that now forms the basis of most, if not all, my PC gaming. In truth it would be many years until I would actually play even the first Half Life, completing it a couple of years ago. Half Life 2 will get the review treatment when I finally get round to finishing it, after which I’ll take on Episode Two.
Also in the pack was multiplayer shooter Team Fortress and a little game called Portal. Appalling as it is to admit, I’ve never played either.
And so here we sit, one sequel and countless awards later, I finally get to experience my own little slice of Portal.
Bridge Constructor is a long running construction series that began life back in 2011. The basic concept is fairly straightforward; build a set of bridges to get a vehicle from point A to point B, utilising geometry, physics and good old fashioned brain power to construct a design sturdy enough to hold the vehicle’s weight.
This latest incarnation, as the name suggests, also incorporates elements from Valve’s Portal series. And what a delightful addition it is. Despite not having played the thing, I’m broadly aware of the concept of Portal, as well as GLaDOS, the AI program at the heart of the game. And both of these elements come into play in Bridge Constructor.
Things start off gently enough. GLaDOS guides you through a tutorial, teaching you how to build simple, interconnecting bridges with the right level of support to keep them in place. Your confidence swells as the test vehicle goes flying safely through the exit and you eagerly dispatch the full convoy. Complications soon arise with the introduction of obstacles and traps, such as pools of death and switches that need to be activated. And then the portals come into play.
Go through a portal and you magically appear through another, somewhere else in the level. This is no problem at first, you simply build bridge one to get you to the first portal and then bridge two from portal to exit. But then more portals are introduced, each a colour coded pair, dotted throughout the level. Their paths criss-cross too and so not only do you have to try and build bridges that don’t fall over with a strong gust but you have to be careful not to block the pathway from the next portal, plus avoid sending cars on multiple paths from piling into each other. Some portals come out onto flat surfaces, others end in mighty great leaps and your bridge constructions have to reflect the differing trajectories and adjust accordingly. And that’s before we get to the turrets that try to blast your vehicles to oblivion.
It reminds me of Elefunk, an early PSN game I bought after playing the demo. Thinking the wife would like it, I bought the full game, only for her to turn round after her first frustrated play and say, ‘why did you think I’d enjoy that?’
Unlike that game though, Bridge Constructor removes a lot of the more frustrating elements of design whilst the Portal crossover introduces some fun and ingenious mechanics. The tutorial is a solid introduction to the core elements of the game, leaving you feeling suitably schooled in bridge design by the time the difficulty ramps up. That said it isn’t long before the levels become absolute fiends, making that moment of success all the more joyous as the last car in your convoy makes it safely through the exit before the weakening strut in your crumbling bridge finally gives way.
Control is simple. The left stick moves your cursor round the screen, snapping into place when it sees a support to latch on to, making getting into position a fluid experience. Switching between beams and support wires is a simple stab of a button whilst other controls are mapped to d-pad and face buttons, meaning that there is no wrestling with the controller when in the midst of a complex construction, you’re simply able to get on. As the levels become more convoluted they can at first seem overwhelming. I spent a good twenty minutes on one level, struggling to understand how I could support the bridge I was making whilst at the same time leaving space for the crossing of vehicles coming vertically through a portal above. The solution when it came was immensely satisfying.
Potential frustration is also eased by the game’s approach. There is a lovely undercurrent of humour throughout, not least in the animated sections at the start of the game and at certain milestones. You get unlimited attempts too, an unsuccessful run giving you the chance to go back and try again whilst a test function enables you to see your construction come to life without vehicles, just to gauge its tensile strength. As a minimum, you need to get one vehicle to safety, perhaps more feasible than the weight and added complication of multiple cars, so if you are struggling, you can focus on that to help progression.
It looks terrific. Sure, the simplicity of its core design betrays its mobile gaming roots but the layout is crisp and clear, the joypad allowing you to zoom in and around the level. It has bags of character too, including the little blokes in the car, especially as your plans go awry and they go crashing to their doom in a pile up that would make the Blues Brothers blush.
As someone not naturally inclined towards puzzle games, Bridge Constructor Portal is an unexpected delight. Easy to grasp but with a devil of sting in its tail, it avoids the pitfalls of potential frustration through clever design and bags of character. And with 60 levels to tackle, this will take some beating.