Like a well-trained hunting dog, our senses were on full alert with news of a newly-released game with the word 'Portal' in it. Is it finally happening, is Valve finally ready to make up for several years of decay? Unfortunately not, because in front of the word 'Portal' were two other words - Bridge Constructor. Not necessarily a bad thing, but nonetheless a disappointment. The world record holders for procrastination have done it again, and now that we know that Half-Life 3 will almost certainly never see the light of day, it seems like the hope for a Portal trilogy is just as remote.
The premise of the game is thoroughly explained by its title - you must construct bridges exactly like in previous releases, but with the added element of interdimensional portals. These bridges must be firm enough to ensure that all test subjects get from the starting area to the end without any vehicles, in the form of forklift trucks, taking damage. In keeping with the Portal ethos, the drivers, flying from left to right, are a non-issue. Their deaths have no influence on the budget, the rating or the snide comments from GLaDOS whatsoever - human life isn't very important when you are an ironically-inclined artificial intelligence with unlimited resources and unlimited power. Bridge Constructor Portal at least manages to bring players back into the humorous, sarcastic, and deeply entertaining world of Portal, and it does so in such an accomplished way that it almost feels like a real Valve game. Valve has provided the IP, the content, Ellen McLain, and everything belonging to the Portal-universe, but hasn't touched the development side at all.
That has been "outsourced" to Clockwork Games who has excelled in making a game that holds very true to the original series' mood and aesthetics. Valve wouldn't have accepted a finished product if it was lacklustre, but everything about the design is very precise. We were immediately taken back to the cold laboratory environment at Aperture Science, with GLaDOS' sarcastic comments and jabs at reality's big business policies acting as a background hum to us trying to figure out the next puzzle. The satirical edge that is a hallmark of Valve's Half-Life spin-off is maintained to a tee, even if the characterisation of GLaDOS doesn't have quite the depth it had in the original series.
The game design also has pride of place, as the game is as good as faultless and very accurate when it comes to physics and the architecture of bridge building. You have two appurtenances to work with - steel beams and wires. The steel beams can take the form of either support beams or steel plates with a firm surface, simple and straightforward, and there's also a short manual on about to best construct functioning bridges, how best to stabilise a suspension bridge, and so on. You can really immerse yourself in the art of engineering, so if that's your thing, Bridge Constructor Portal is a real hoot to sit and potter with - especially when the aforementioned portals, or the blue bouncy-slime, or the orange speed-slime, comes into play.
When dealing with such a fixed concept as Bridge Constructor Portal, it's unavoidable that it ends up becoming a rather monotonous affair. The game has 60 boards with the difficulty slowly rising as you progress through them, but after the first 20 boards, we began to grow tired just a little. As we reached 30, we really had to push ourselves to move forward. But wait, what about the comic contributions from everyone's favourite artificial intelligence? Well, they become more and more sporadic as the game goes on, before finally disappearing. This is sorely missed because Bridge Constructor Portal then ends up being just another Bridge Constructor game with a worthless gimmick slapped on. It begins so well but ends so poorly, and Clockstone Games could have easily rectified the tedious atmosphere that appears after 20-30 boards by rewarding the player with some more shrewd remarks from GLaDOS. Instead, it's silent as the grave, except for the warm and cosy background music, which was the only thing keeping our sanity in check.
We were also baffled as to why the portals are always stationary and must be worked around and adjusted for, instead of being worked with. That might be because the environment in which you build and test is two-dimensional, whereas the environment in which you run the board - and thus give up control - is three-dimensional, which then begs the question: what in the world was the point of this collaboration?
As noted, the game functions optimally, it's thoroughly researched, and the physics are very precise. There's even a neat little mathematical formula for angles and how to apply them properly, so whatever hits bounces off in the direction you want. It's still an altogether weird and laissez-faire handling of one's own IP though, because Bridge Constructor Portal is a completely trivial event - unlike Portal 1 and Portal 2.
You can crush out some hours on Bridge Constructor Portal before it grows stale in an afternoon, as it's a conceptual curiosity without much in the way of replay value and without an actual raison d'etre. There's barely any story to the game either. This is a niche game that you can squeeze a few hours of fun out of, before putting it away and moving onto something new.