The name of the game holds its truth. Published by Headup Games, “Bridge Constructor Portal” is a collaborative merging of two franchises, from two different developers, that creates a certain chemistry (for science!) easy to be absorbed into. They say third time’s a charm, but ask any fan of Valve‘s and they’ll tell you the running joke that “3” is a curse. Bridge Constructor and Portal meet somewhere around the middle giving me something that I didn’t know I wanted. While many Bridge Constructor fans may think this is the best game in its series upon completion, the Portal players will be reminded of exactly what they’ve been missing; for better or worse. “BCPortal” uses more than blue & orange gateways. It gives us most of every mechanic we know and love from the Portal series and incorporates them in interesting ways. Developer ClockStone delivers a good puzzler.
My hands tell me to get to work on constructing bridges, but my eyes and ears tell me Portal. Aesthetically as a whole, this is Aperture through and through. The title screen basically greets you with what could be the quickest & last job interview you’ve ever had, but if all went well then congratulations! You, a Bendie, have just been hired to be a test subject at the Enrichment Center; effective immediately and no take-backs. You should have been able to catch one of the throwbacks/easter eggs by this point. You will be entered into a test chamber, which is your first out of 60, only to be greeted by the overseer of your entire challenges, GLaDOS. The one and only Ellen McLain reprises her role for BCPortal and she maintains the same robotic tone to go along with the cunning jabs in her passive-aggressive attitude towards you. GLaDOS is there plenty in the beginning of your early test chambers and pops up again for each new element introduced. There are moments of isolation between test chambers where no dialogue is spoken reminiscent of the Portal series, but she’s back. The humor found in the writing carries the same weight as known previously, but the lack of reason being there’s no central device to dangle in front of you the entire time makes it feel less intimidating since a plot is lacking, but the charm is still present.
The animations of Bendies – the flat employees whose design represents an example of a person – aren’t anything spectacular, but their bit of posing does add a little comedic vibe. Cute grunts come out when they drive over a bump or into a wall. When doing unexpected backflips as members surfing on the rear and front of your vehicle suddenly fall off and wave their hands up, it’s hilarious at times. Apparently Bendies don’t understand the concept of “safety first”, but you should. Your goal is to make sure, at the minimum, that one vehicle makes it to their end goal. A lot of trial & error, observing and creativity comes into play when creating the proper roadways and bridges. Bulk of the fun is seeing your creation play out before you and then be rewarded with the sense of satisfaction for reaching the goal. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Bridge Constructor series, you’re given a basic set of tools to use to most efficiently by building bridges which distributes the weight evenly as possible. Designed around realistic physics, players will putting two tools to use any way they see fit.
Likewise, anyone not familiar with the Portal series; you have one foot in and one foot out, except they’re both in and both out simultaneously. It’s essentially dimensional hokey-pokey and BCPortal dances to the rhythm quite well. As you progress through each test chamber, they tend to gradually increase in difficulty, save for a few bringing the notch down just a tad during an introduction of a new element. Once you reach about halfway through the game, you will feel your skills tested as test chambers can create a crazy scenario possibly turning hairs white from not only intensive thinking, but some test chambers could even take an hour. Thankfully, you are immediately able to access the “Best Practices” in the pause menu at any time for some helpful tips.
Sometimes construction can get frustrating, but BCPortal’s snappy interface and tight controls help the experience. Shown on the left side of the screen, players can make a selection of which tool to use by using Up and Down on the d-pad. Each strut placed has a limit in its length, but can connect to more in any direction. These provide all of the support you need, but don’t provide a path. Hovering over a strut and pressing A will transform it into a road and vice-versa. The other tool is an extension cable which has no limit to how far it can stretch and provides resistive capabilities in elastic form which is helpful in pulling weight towards specific directions. Pressing B will delete any object that the cursor currently has selected and if that was a mistake on your part you can undo that action by pressing L. I’ve tested this out to the most of what I’ve worked with and I could undo every action that I took, which factors in movement and objects added. I’m not sure how much history it keeps track of, but if an earlier method worked backtracking is allowed. Keep in mind, however, there is no redo button.
Dotted lines make it easier to determine how far a strut is in reach with others, making placement less guesswork on the player’s part. When building a few pieces that work, but realizing one of them may have a wrong angle to it, pressing and holding X on any of the joints allows the player to move the desired piece instead of destroying it. Indications of objects turning red means the placement just won’t work and will cause that object to delete. The cursor always locks onto joints making interaction with your construction precise and to the point, quite literally. To be even more precise, holding R allows for a precision mode where the cursor moves slightly slower. This is convenient when the view is zoomed out and you don’t want to snap onto the wrong objects, but players are able to zoom in and out with both ZL and ZR respectively and pan the screen with the right analog stick.
You are always allowed to test how your construction holds up by press Y to enter the test mode. Here, no drivers take their turn and instead it’s to see how everything in the scene behaves as it would naturally. When you are confident in your handiwork and want to get on with the program, it’s time to Drive (Left on d-pad). If successful, it’s onto the next level or if you truly want to test how well your construction went, an option to Convoy (Right on d-pad) is given. Here, it’s more than a passing grade of 1 vehicle making it to the finish line. A certain number of drivers will deploy one after another challenging you to get the perfect score, though not necessary. Once a number of portals and roadways enter the mix in later chambers, drivers will even cross paths and it’s your goal to make sure they don’t get in each others way.
How good you are at building bridges with GLaDOS instead of burning them is only half of it. Portal fans will experience a share of familiar elements from the series that not only keeps it interesting, but make good use of them, too. Sentry turrets will attack on sight when you come into their vision and they come packing with the same shooting sound and voice. Energy pellets make a return needing to be guided and that familiar sound of a floating electrical orb will certainly tickle the ear. The Companion Cube, laser beams, both propulsive & repulsive gels for speed and bouncing respectively, etc all make an appearance. Players will also get to experience more than 2 differently colored portals for the first time in the series. The 60 test chambers feel well-designed and fun to figure out. I did experience two minor bugs which both happened once on separate occasions. Music stopped playing every time I tried to loop it again and another where the game chugged in single digit framerate caused by a driver’s entry/re-entry calculation in a portal.
Not all of it makes me feel GLaD, however. The mechanics in Bridge Constructor Portal make for so much potential in a creation mode, which both the Bridge Constructor and Portal series are no stranger to. Being able to create a level for a friend just seems so perfect for this game and now it seems DLC is the only hope for it which is something I’d happily pay for. The game also keeps track of how much money is spent on construction per test chamber. This would make sense if there was a limit to how much you could spend, which then makes you rethink your methods of construction, but it’s limitless. A perfect Convoy run and the least amount of money wasted on construction would be cool bragging rights if there were leaderboards, but there isn’t and there should at least be one for friends. Despite that, no limit on spending does make for freedom in creativity and I like that quite a bit. I’ve known multiple methods to any test chamber. The largest stress given wasn’t on any bridge, but the fact that in the later test chambers, the quantity of colored portals reaches even higher and a few of the colors look extremely similar that it was difficult for me to determine which portal led to another. While it made for a few giggles here and there, the time it spent constructing a failure is also something to consider. Why not a colorblind mode? Puzzle games have been doing this for a very long time. At the very least, create a new design or match them by numbers. Even with those shortcomings, the challenge, Portal charm and bridge simulation offered me a fun time for sure. It could be argued that this game is the next best thing in the Bridge Constructor series. It is in Portal’s by default.