Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Bridge Constructor Portal (Xbox One)

As someone who enjoyed Portal and Portal 2, the idea of Bridge Constructor Portal intrigued me, particularly the idea of putting Portal's unique brand of puzzle solving into a different genre. When the opportunity presented itself, I bought a physical Xbox One disc, but it wasn't until more recently that I found the time to sit down and play it. Though I enjoyed the few hours I spent with my first real crack at a bridge construction game, I did find my enthusiasm gradually tempered by the game’s idea of challenge.

Storytelling is very minimal for this game, but it feels appropriate for a bridge building game and still feels like part of the Portal universe. The gist of it is that you’ve applied for the role of Chief Custodian for Aperture Science’s Vehicular Hurdling Initiative. To prove that you’re good for the job, however, you have to complete a series of test chambers as part of a battery of custodial proficiency tests.

The simplest way to describe the gameplay of Bridge Constructor Portal is that, in a new twist on bridge construction games, it combines elements of both Bridge Constructor and Portal.

As with other bridge building games like Bridge Constructor, the main goal of each of the 60 test chambers is constructing a bridge that will get a test vehicle(s), and optionally an entire convoy, from the entrance to the exit. In this version, you are given two building materials to work with, struts and cables, which are anchored to pre-determined spots on the test chamber’s walls. With the press of a button, struts can be converted to road pieces and vice-versa. As you progress, you will also have to consider self-supporting bridge models. No matter how you construct your bridge, however, they must support their own weight and the weight of the test vehicle(s) that drive across it. To this end, you soon learn how important triangles are, just like in real life engineering.

Learning proper support is crucial to the game.

Fortunately, the game provides its own mechanics to help you quickly determine problem areas in your design. You can switch between Build, Test and Drive modes on the fly, which each provide their own benefits. Build, naturally, allows you to place struts and cables to your heart’s content. Test simulates the physics or your design, as well as activate certain obstacles to let the player determine their paths and more easily take them into account. Drive then sends a test vehicle(s) through the bridge. During the Test and Drive modes, areas of high stress on the bridge will glow red, highlighting where you should increase stability.

Although this version of Bridge Constructor only has two materials, the addition of Portal game mechanics adds a new layer of challenge to the gameplay. Apart from navigating through portals, players may need to avoid lasers and acid pools, guide trucks across buttons to activate/deactivate various obstacles and incorporate Propulsion Gel, Repulsion Gel and Aerial Faith Plates into solutions. Players may also have to destroy Sentry Turrets, either with the test vehicle or with Energy Pellets and Cubes, or build around Thermal Discouragement Beams (aka lasers) and Material Emancipation Grills. Lasers will destroy anything they touch while Emancipation Grills won’t allow any matter to pass through them except the test vehicles.

The Portal elements add their own level of challenge.

Unlike other iterations of Bridge Constructor, the Portal version also has no budget to work under, which allows more creativity with approaching the solution. That said, there is generally one real solution to each test chamber, though there’s room for janky builds as long as they work. A single degree of placement can still mean a world of a difference, especially when redirecting pellets, so you may end up spending some time messing around to get certain angles just right so you can advance without disrupting other parts of your build. This means that while the solution is easy to figure out, it can be hard to implement. There is a consistent difficulty curve, but the increasingly mind-bending nature of the test chambers was, eventually, almost too much for me. Personally, this got to the point where I looked up solutions during the final stretch, and stopped caring about the optional Convoy Mode solutions, just to finish in a timely manner. I also wasn't a fan of the lack of a Redo button, even though there's a dedicated Undo button.

One aspect that kept me going, however, was the aesthetic. Though Bridge Constructor Portal isn’t a proper installment of the Portal series, it certainly looks like it fits in with the universe. Everything about the minimalist Aperture Science aesthetic is visually appealing, with solid graphics to back it up, and the use of employees as seen in the in-universe training videos adds a small touch of humor when something goes horribly wrong.

Similarly, the game definitely sounds like Portal. The soundtrack is also minimalist, but fits the style of the music from the main games and is pleasing to listen to while messing around with bridges or watching test vehicles go by. As I kept playing, I noticed that the music will go in and out depending on your actions during the Build process, so that’s something to keep in mind. I also liked that GLaDOS’ voice actress, Ellen McLain, reprised her role for this game. While the humor isn’t as sharp as in other Portal games, her delivery helped it stay pretty funny.

As ususal, GLaDOS (Ellen McLain) is pretty snarky.

Before I end this review, I feel the need to address a couple things. For one, the game is noticeably cheaper on mobile platforms, which can matter a bit if you want to play on PC or console. This didn’t matter as much to me since I bought a physical disc that also came with Bridge Constructor and Bridge Constructor Stunts for around the same price as getting just the Portal version digitally, but it’s something to keep in mind going in. The other topic is that although the main menu of the Xbox version has a place for the Portal Proficiency DLC and even gives you the option to buy it, the DLC isn’t available through PSN or the Microsoft Store, however it is available on the Steam version. I also noticed that most of the Xbox Achievements tied to game completion were “Rare”, meaning that, in this case, an increasingly small percentage of people got past Chapter 1. Make of that what you will.

If you like bridge construction games or Portal, or want to try out the genre, Bridge Constructor Portal feels like a solid choice. The freeing accessibility allows more room to have fun and fits in pretty well with the Portal universe. However, it does get grindy towards the end and console players are left in the dust when it comes to the DLC. Whatever system you play it on, however, there’s at least something about it you can enjoy.

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