Review: Bridge Constructor Portal18 Jan 2018 0
Review: Bridge Constructor Portal
Released 20 Dec 2017
There are few franchises nowadays that get me as excited as Portal. XCOM, Batman: Arkham, and Total War are three I can list off the top of my mind, but you can’t just slap the name on a product and call it a day -- that’s how you transform a loved franchise into just another disappointing brand, like Star Wars and Assassin’s Creed both done in recent years. In order to use its full potential, you gotta embrace its core, understand its heart, embody its soul -- in other words, you need to make it right.
When I first opened Bridge Constructor Portal, the stakes were high. The announcement and subsequent trailer featuring Ellen McLain’s GladOS got the hype train blowing in a way that only loved franchises can, which works against games just as much as it works for them. Luckily, Bridge Constructor Portal is not just a Bridge Constructor game: it is a Portal game.
The game’s premise -- as if it needed one -- is that you are an Aperture Science employee, responsible for overseeing the construction of test chambers and the execution of experiments. With the use of a couple of multi-use pieces, you are supposed to safely guide test forklift vehicles from one end of chamber to the exit.
As soon as you press “Start”, you are thrust into a recruitment cutscene consisting of a couple of dialogue choices that act as a Litmus test for Portal fans. The questions and answers are unapologetically cliche and replete of fan-service, setting the stage for a game about a franchise that doesn’t take itself seriously.
Once the first test chamber starts, you realise the Bridge Constructor part of the game takes itself quite seriously, indeed. Bridge Constructor Portal has a fully featured physics system, with girders and cables possessed of resistance values and responding accurately to the environment around it. The game revolves around building pathways using specific construction points in the chamber, but the system is so comprehensive that supporting a platform onto a floor with no connection points actually keeps it upright.
The constructions itself can get awfully complex, with simple truss bridges soon giving way to supporting and sister struts, shallow angles and redirected cables, and even angles of incidence and reflection that must be tailor-made from scratch in every situation. Each chamber is a self-contained puzzle that may take anything from a minute to a dozen to complete, most introduced by GladOS and all featuring the classic intro “Level Number” panel. During each puzzle, you can freely change between Test, Build, and Drives modes, for simulation, construction, and completion of levels, respectively.
At the start, puzzles are relatively simple, but the difficulty spike soon becomes extremely pronounced. I sailed through the first 15 tests, but by level 20 the amount of planning and adjustments necessary meant I would usually go a whole 30-minute Tube journey completing only a couple of tests, if that. As the game progresses through its quite sizeable 60-odd levels, the tests got extremely complex and time-consuming -- later ones took me the better part of an hour to figure out.
Of course, that is not necessarily a bad thing, merely a consideration. While you can try to brute force your way into completion by haphazardly delivering a test vehicle to the exit and progress to the next one, full completion of each test chamber requires the passage of a convoy -- multiple forklifts that must weave their way at the same time through the maze you constructed.
Given Bridge Constructor Portal’s detailed physics system, that means you need to worry about weight support, vehicle sway, drop impact, and speed, which all considerably change as you have a dozen vehicles flying around each other’s paths. And if you think that’s bad, add to it all the myriad of testing apparatus that litter each level, such as portals, high energy pellets, lasers, turrets, Aperture Science Emancipation Grills, Weighted Companion Cubes, pressure switches, and the ubiquitous acid chamber floor. It’s a puzzle game, alright.
Technically, Bridge Constructor Portal graphics are top-notch, alternating between a 2D render in build mode to a 3D sideways perspective when the science gets underway. Both game and main menu environments and vehicles are modelled in 3D and populated with small black stick-figure sprites, which give adorable life to the game. Sound effects and music are spot-on, using the same SFX from Valve’s entries and sporting a synth-heavy soundtrack that is surprisingly well composed. The only problem with it is that levels always use the same uninspired filler track instead of the fantastic main menu music.
Being a game developed for PC and mobiles at the same time, controls are a bit of a compromise. You build structures by clicking on a connection point and clicking somewhere else, and modify them by pressing and holding on a point. Removing structures involves double-clicking on a part, and the right click button is completely useless -- in fact, holding right click moves the camera around, which is the exact same thing holding down left click or the middle button does. It comes off as lazy port that a single button pulls triple duty when at least four different actions are available on a mouse.
Luckily, I had no bugs with the title aside from a few instances where the forklift wheels phased through the platform and got stuck underneath it, forcing me to change the layout of the level. Otherwise, the whole experience came off as surprisingly polished, and clearly made by fans of the series -- jokes are wonderfully absurd, there’s an obsession with testing and science in every corner, and the game has several little nods for fans, such as achievements named “For science!” and “You monster.” after quotes of the games. Even better, there is no mention of “The Cake Is A Lie”, which proves just how well the team understands the franchise.
In the end, Bridge Constructor Portal is a fantastic puzzle game, and a thoroughly Portal title. I fully recommend it to anyone with a passing interest either in the genre or the franchises, even at full price. Now excuse me, while I go build more testing chambers and wholly endanger test subjects' lives. You know, for science.