As you might have guessed from the title, Bridge Project is a physics game where the player attempts to construct a bridge across a gap, and then test that construction by way of sending vehicles over it, ships under it, and natural disasters to play havoc with it. If your bridge is not a mangled pile of twisted metal and splintered wood at the end of the level – congratulations, you've passed the level. It's fair to say that I haven't had this much fun reviewing a game since last year's Ernies. Bridge Project is a quality title that is provoking, entertaining and even though it pains me to admit it; perhaps for some, even slightly educational. Yes, there may be learning afoot, but don't panic. First and foremost, the game is simply fun to play.
There are two phases to a level in Bridge Project. Initially, the player is presented with a challenge in the form of a narrow ditch or a gaping chasm that needs to be bridged. They select from a variety of materials and design a construction that they feel happy with. Once the player is satisfied, or simply curious, a series of tests are applied to the construction. These are different from level to level. If the bridge withstands the tests, the level is won and the player progresses onto a new map, or attempts to build a better or more cost effective bridge as they like. There's no real rush, the sandbox element prevails, but players that enjoy more structured gameplay will also enjoy unlocking new scenarios.
This all probably sounds quite mundane, but the way that the game is presented makes it a real joy to play. I've lost a good few hours on it today as I write this review. I think it would have been very easy for the developers to have focussed on the physics alone and used abstract scenery and sounds, but Bridge Project is quite the opposite of that. Each level has been designed beautifully with maps that vary from desert canyons to mountain passes to farmland river crossings to urban freeway overpasses. Each map is visually unique and stimulating. In effect the player is attempting the same feat on every map, but the game never feels stale. Each new map unlocked feels fresh, with slightly differing materials available, terrain features and anchor points to use, and scenery to take in. There is never only one way to bridge a gap. The player could support the road from below, use intricate arches and triangles, use suspension cables, cross-struts, and on some maps is required to facilitate a hinged opening to allow boats to pass underneath the bridge.
Whether you are building a wooden trestle over a creek in the forest, or a steel highway bypass in the heart of the city, Bridge Project just looks fantastic. Water reflections, shadows, particle effects and quality 3-d models and animations are complimented by awesome sound effects that provide additional feedback to the player about how their bridge is holding up. Generally, the less you hear the better, but rivets popping, timber creaking and steel groaning are all signs that some thing's about to give. There are a few vehicles used to test the player's bridges. Cars, buses, tanks, boats and trains all have great sound effects as do the earthquakes and typhoons that can be part of the testing phase as well. Want a cinematic experience? Just hit the action camera button at the start of the test phase and let the computer handle the camera for you for some amazing scenes of engineering brilliance or total disaster. There are at least 48 maps that ship with the game of which I am still only about halfway though after many hours playing. Partly because I'm enjoying replaying some maps using different strategies, and partly because some maps have me somewhat stymied as to a valid strategy to employ.
The user interface keeps the action front and centre. A simple drag and drop method for placing materials is implemented, and sections are snapped together automatically at vertices. It's easy to align and produce symmetrical designs thanks to an overlayed grid during the construction phase. A simple mode allows for a quick template to be easily laid out, before switching into advanced mode for fine tuning segments and removing unnecessary material from the bridge. It's easy to create a design that you have planned, but not always easy to design a bridge to win the map. The player will at times struggle with the challenges that the game presents but never struggle with the game itself, which I think is a very important and welcomed aspect for a game such as this.
The physics are not outstandingly realistic (I've seen a few weird occurrences that would have the late Mr Newton scratching his head), but in most cases, collisions and inertia work as expected. There is an option during the testing phase to colour code segments of the bridge that are under stress of varying levels, but it's all a bit cryptic for me. Generally if a design fails one of the tests, the player knows why from the way that the bridge collapses more than anything else, and that's a good thing from a gameplay perspective.
It's noteworthy to point out that the game also ships with a level editor that can be used to make some decent looking maps to share with other players. It would seem that not all elements that are in the shipped levels are available in the editor (perhaps they are unlockable?), and it will take some time to create a map that comes close to anything like the default levels. There also seems to be no way to share levels with other users in-game. Presumably, you'd have to challenge players using another profile on your PC, or email the map file to them.
All the bells and whistles are present out-of-game too. Options to scale graphics, run at multitudes of screen resolutions, fullscreen or windowed and audio settings as well. While there's no in-game tutorial, the game is fairly self explanatory, and there's no real way to lose. Most players will get the hang of things in a couple of levels. There's always a nice pdf manual to fall back on if you're missing any of the finer points later on.
I'm giving Bridge Project a gold star for two reasons. Primarily, the game is just fun and addictive to play. But it seems to be at its best when the player is being challenged fairly. In other words, while it's fun to watch a horrid mess of twisted concrete and steel collapse under a goods train and it's extremely satisfying to clear a level without even a popped rivet, by far the most memorable moments in Bridge Project happen when a couple of tanks are negotiating your bridge after a cyclone has weakened its main support beam and half the guard rail has disappeared down into the canyon floor 40 metres below. As they heave their way off your splintering and precariously balanced construction you heave a giant sigh of relief. The moments when you wonder if the bridge will hold out for those few seconds between the end of the tests and the “Level Completed” button popping up on your monitor. Bridge Project keeps you in the sweet spot better than similar games with more abstract presentation.
At $25 the price point will scare more than a few prospective players away. But if you enjoy physics games and or sandbox style experiences, then I'd very heartily recommend this game. It'd be a brilliant game to play with kids but the experience wouldn't be wasted on gamers of any age.
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