Friday, March 09, 2012

Bridge Constructor Review

Bridge Constructor, developed by Clockstone Studio and published by HeadUp Games and Meridian4.
The Good: Some challenging missions, straightforward interface
The Not So Good: Not distinctive in the genre, lacks complex components, can’t skip troublesome scenarios, graphical and physics issues when bridges collapse, no online scores or design sharing
What say you? An engineering game that fails to innovate: 5/8

About the craziest video ever is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I mean, look at that thing! They just don’t make them like the used to…thankfully. For those of us not graced with a degree in civil engineering, computer games can let you replicate the experience without the needless loss of human life. Bridge building games have graced the PC in the past (this trifecta comes immediately to mind), but with the recent explosion of off-the-wall simulations, additional entries were bound to appear. Like Bridge Constructor, a fantasy action role-playing game where…oh, wait, no, you construct bridges.

The graphics of Bridge Constructor are not terrible. The bridges are set in several environments (city, snowy mountains, desert) that have some detailed backgrounds and subtle animations like flowing water. The bridge components themselves have simple and easily identifiable textures with color-coded force loads for easier inspection. There is a car and a truck that will cross your creations (they must really like your bridges) and contribute to their impending collapse. When things do go awry, the shortcomings become apparent, as objects commonly clip into each other and/or disappear into the ground. It’s a break of immersion in what otherwise is a solid game graphically. The sound design in Bridge Constructor is very, very basic: some background music, noises when you click (you can tell how few sounds there are when I must comment about clicking), and cars enthusiastically beeping their horns when they successfully cross the bridge. Still, the visuals are up to date enough to make Bridge Constructor at least look competent.

Bridge Constructor gives you thirty levels arranged in a somewhat linear campaign (some scenarios are optional, but most must be completed in order). You cannot skip past designs you can’t beat, so the possibility of getting stuck and not being able to finish the game is high. There are no hints or suggestions to completing each of the designs, so it’s off to the Internet for help if you run into a problem. The game also lacks an editor to create your own situations, so once you are done with the thirty levels, Bridge Constructor has run its course. Overall, the missions are tough without being unfair, and most involve perfecting a general solution based on fixed locations you can attack your bridge to, rather than trying to figure out some “trick” the developer has in mind. The missions are both distinctive and repetitive: you always place a flat bridge, use a couple of supports, and fill in the rest with load-bearing crossbeams. Your limited budget and attachment points restrict your designs, making the game more exigent (thanks for that word, thesaurus!). The appeal of a game like this is the freeform approach: you might not get the exact solution the developers intended, and certainly alternatives are usable.

You are given four materials to use: wood, steel, concrete, and cable. You can make some crazy designs, but you can’t help but feel that with bridges limited to linear, boxy orientations, truly unique creations are beyond the scope of Bridge Constructor. When the road is limited to being completely flat, you can’t really have outlandish or pioneering blueprints, and everything consists of straight lines instead of sweeping curves. The interface is easy to use: point and drag between attachment points. The goal is to allow for two cars to traverse the bridge without collapse, but you can also send two trucks across to obtain a higher score. There is no online high score list for you to compare your feats of engineering, and you also can’t upload and share your designs. The physics are plausible, clearly indicating stressed areas with redder hues. The different materials can withstand varied amounts of forces, and you get some wacky physics when things do break. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it does look weird when you have randomly floating cars and bridge pieces clipping through each other. The physics interactions are calculated in real time (which may be part of the problem), as collapsing the same bridge twice results in slightly different carnage.

With a name like Bridge Constructor, you kind of know what you’re going to get. You’re building bridges with wood, steel, concrete, and cable, trying to stay within budget and conform to the lay of the land. The interface is straightforward and easy to use and the physics are plausible, as long as the bridge doesn’t break (which results in hilariously terrible flying debris). The campaign throws different limitations at you that offer some challenge, although you see about all of the game’s tricks about halfway through the campaign. The mandatory flat road means innovation is at least a little restricted, and you do end up using the same general strategies over and over again. So, why get this instead of any of the previous entries in the genre? Since Bridge Constructor fails to deliver a distinctive hook, there is really no reason. It’s a solid enough game, but not innovative or varied enough to replace already existing titles in the genre.