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‘Bridge Constructor Portal’ review

It's not the game Portal fans wanted, but 'Bridge Constructor Portal' is a blast

It’s been more than six years since we last visited Aperture Science in Portal 2, and in the ensuing years, Valve has shown a remarkable level of disinterest in continuing the beloved series’ dark and twisted science-fiction tale. Though the series left off on a satisfying note, most of us would be ecstatic to have a little more Portal in our lives.

Bizarre as it is, we now have it, courtesy of ClockStone Software and Headup Games, the developers of the Bridge Constructor franchise. Bridge Constructor Portal, a themed stand-alone expansion of the  2012 bridge-building physics puzzle game, is unlike anything else you’ve played with “Portal” in the title.

You’re the tester now

Bridge Constructor Portal, much like the original Bridge Constructor, is a 2D physics puzzle game. With a supply of metal beams and suspension cables, you – a new volunteer in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center – create increasingly complex pathways for employees to safely drive across the lab.

[It] proves Aperture is about more than first-person puzzles.

Bridge design seems like it would be exponentially more difficult than the basic first-person adventuring in Portal and Portal 2, but the game’s visual cues easily highlight your structure’s faults for quick fixes. Having your bridge collapse under its own weight before a vehicle even goes across? Just hit the “test” button and you’ll spot the metal beams struggling to stay intact. If a suspension cable keeps snapping, adding a few extra can help to distribute the load, and the game allows you to easily do this without dismantling your entire construction first.

It’s addicting and engaging even before you consider its Portal elements. The game’s trial-and-error approach to construction lets you learn on the fly and continue to develop your designs without punishing you for failure. Finally getting a vehicle to safely reach the exit after you create the perfect bridge is immensely satisfying, particularly when you’ve used an unconventional design.

In fact, you’ll rarely create conventional bridges in Bridge Constructor Portal. Almost immediately, GLaDOS – voiced by original actress Ellen McLain – introduces the titular portals into each course, requiring you to design multiple bridges to account for their mandatory detours.

While Portal and Bridge Constructor seem completely different at first glance, the basic logic for solving puzzles is remarkably similar. You still must “think with portals,” judging how to build your bridges in ways that don’t block the non-linear, and often invisible path you’re creating from point A to point B.

Bridge Constructor Portal review people

Many of the scenarios fans saw in the Portal games find their way into Bridge Constructor. Some portals end up spitting vehicles from the ceiling, forcing you to build a new bridge strong enough to withstand their impact. As GLaDOS adds more pairs of portals in later stages, your designs begin to look more like a spider web than an old-fashioned roadway.

You also get access to other Portal tools, such Companion Cubes and Propulsion Gel, to help vehicles with build enough momentum to launch off a ramp to reach a new bridge or portal. Watching a truck fly into the air, waiting to see if your contraption works, can be as exhilarating as the most complex puzzles in Portal 2.

There is almost never just one way to construct a bridge.

The pace of Bridge Constructor — building, then testing — doesn’t lead to the same “eureka” moments you get while actively troubleshooting test rooms in Portal, but that’s also what makes Bridge Constructor Portal’s stages so replayable. There’s almost never just one way to construct a bridge, and you’re rarely punished for relying on a few particular strategies.

Once you’ve managed to move a vehicle safely to the end of a stage, you also have the opportunity to transport an entire convoy of 3-10 vehicles. It’s an opportunity to see if your design is really worthy of commendation, as each car will further strain your construction. Watching the ninth car in a convoy snap a cable and tumble to its doom isn’t disheartening, and the little stick-figure “bendies” in each car are still adorable when they drive to their deaths.

Don’t call it a Portal game

Ease-of-play aside, Bridge Constructor Portal won’t be what every Portal fan is looking for. It’s hilarious, with GLaDOS and the Aperture supervisor causing us to laugh out loud, but it doesn’t really a story, and lacks the mystery and intrigue of the first-person games. You are merely a nameless slave for GLaDOS, completing her puzzles because she told you to, and because the last person to refuse was dropped into a fiery pit of doom. With the series’ signature mechanics translating so well to the Bridge Constructor framework, there’s real potential for the strong world-building and narrative to make the jump, as well.

Bridge Constructor Portal is not Portal 3. It is, however, a neat use of its gameplay ideas, and a neat glimpse into how the Portal franchise could expand beyond its original, first-person form. You don’t need a love for civil engineering or physics to enjoy Bridge Constructor Portal’s clever stages — just a love of silly, clever brain-teasers.

Bridge Constructor Portal was reviewed on Mac with a review code provided by the publisher.

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