This was…ALMOST a triumph.
When Bridge Constructor Portal was announced a few weeks ago, reactions ranged from the indifferent (“huh, so I guess that’s a thing that’s happening”) to the excited (“Yay, more Portal!”) to the absolutely insane (“HALF LIFE 3 CONFIRMED! IT’S AN ARG!”). It’s a lot of buzz for what’s turned out to be something that’s…fine. It’s fin!. It’s not definitive proof that Valve will never make another mainline Portal game. It’s not the next epic chapter in the saga of Gordon Freeman. It’s a goofy little Portal-themed physics game that you can play on your phone.
But hey, as goofy physics games go, at least it’s a pretty good one.
Bridge Constructor Portal takes place sometime before the first game in the legendary Portal series, when the Aperture Science Laboratories were still fully operational and the mad intelligence GLaDOS hadn’t yet gone full HAL. Your first task is to interview for a job at the lab in one of the game’s more inventive sequences – after answering the questions correctly (or being thrown into the incinerator) you’re taken on as an architect and forced to solve 60 bridge-centric puzzles. You’re armed only with your wits, a seemingly endless supply of construction materials, and the “comforting” voice of GLaDOS herself, played to perfection as always by Ellen McLain.
The humor won’t land for everyone – no humor does – but personally I found the occasional interjections of GLaDOS and the even more occasional interjections of the Aperture Science managerial staff quite enjoyable. These scenes have nowhere near the quality of writing of the original Portal games, of course – but then, nothing does. At least the fact that GLaDOS still has to pretend to be the subservient AI at this points lends the jokes a slightly different texture than they had in the original duology (or in her appearances in LEGO Dimensions and Poker Night At The Inventory 2.) Just accept the story for what it is – a thin coat of paint over an otherwise pretty standard mobile game – and I think you’ll find yourself taken in by the game’s considerable charms.
Gameplay consists of pretty much what you’d expect. Each level consists of a truck at one end and an exit at another. Between the two you’ll encounter portals, gels, Companion Cubes, and switches the truck needs to travel above, below, through, or around. Your only method of interaction with the world is by placing bridges, which must be connected to certain orange key points and consist of just two types of pieces: rods and cables. You can use as many as you like, and once you’ve solved the puzzle with one truck, you’re challenged to solve it with a convoy of trucks (usually around 7-10) that will put your half-assed bridge-adjacent construction-like apparatus to the test.
This is all well and good, but it’s clear that the game only had about 25 levels’ worth of ideas spread across more than twice that many challenges. It seems like the developers of this spinoff, ClockStone, were hesitant to introduce any elements into the Portal universe that weren’t already there, and unfortunately there’s only so many ways you can combine gels, portals, switches, and those lightning ball thingies, especially when the portals themselves are completely static. The result is that, ironically, this game is a really good addition to the Portal license and a pretty “meh” addition to Bridge Constructor.
Figuring out the solution is usually pretty easy, with the actual challenge lying in constructing a bridge that won’t fall to pieces as soon as the truck drives over it. And once you’ve mastered the basics of architecture (or at least of BCP’s reasonable approximation of it) it’s all over but the shouting and the obligation to finish the game in time to produce a review. Hell, even GLaDOS barely bothers to show up after the halfway point. If they weren’t able to get that many lines out of McLain, they could have at least done a better job of spacing out the goofs.
And yet…I still found myself coming back to Bridge Constructor Portal over and over again. It has that ephemeral, addictive quality of the best of the arcades or early 2000s Flash games – simple, repetitive, yet somehow endlessly enjoyable. Part of it might be the comedy – not the intentional stuff, the jokes that are written and read, but the tragic ramp miscalculation that sends a truck flying into your most important structural support, bringing the whole bridge down. After awhile, I made my own fun by becoming the master of the “this shouldn’t work but it does” school of architecture – ignoring the obvious solutions in favor of horrible, swinging, built-to-fail constructions that technically worked but only at a massive cost of materials. Oh, god. I…I think I, personally, might be the reason Cave Johnson tells you Aperture Science ran out of money in Portal 2.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, I played the game on a four-year-old Droid Maxx, and it ran beautifully well in a way Android ports of games almost never do. But there’s a lot to keep track of on such a small screen – for those who don’t mind paying a little extra, I might suggest getting the PC release over the phone version. Better yet, wait for the 2018 Switch port for the best of both worlds.
And that’s Bridge Constructor Portal. For all the brouhaha surrounding its surprise announcement, it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. But at least it does it well, and with an impeccable sense of humor and style.
Now for the love of Cave Johnson, can we stop assuming that every tangentially-Valve-related announcement is somehow a soft reveal for Half-Life 3? Please? Please?
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Android (reviewed), iOS, PC; Publisher: Headup Games; Developer: ClockStone; Players: 1; Released: December 20, 2017 ; MSRP: $9.99 (PC), $4.99 (Mobile)
Full disclosure: This review is based on an Android copy of Bridge Constructor Portal purchased by the reviewer, although HeyPoorPlayer was given a PC code by the publisher.