Last week, the next game in the acclaimed Portal series was announced — but it wasn’t exactly what fans were expecting. Instead of a third entry in the acclaimed first-person puzzle series, it was… a Portal-themed bridge building game. It sounds weird, but it also works, as it turns out that the confounding physics of Portal and the more serious strategy of the Bridge Constructor series are a great match.
If you haven’t played before, the Bridge Constructor series is pretty self-explanatory. In each level your goal is to build a bridge that will allow a vehicle to get from one point to another. The games use a fairly realistic-feeling physics system, and you have to deal with all kinds of terrain and obstacles as the difficulty ramps up. Most stages require precision, forcing you to carefully place struts and cables to make a structure strong to support the payload, while sticking to a budget the whole time.
The Portal version goes in a slightly different direction. In the new game, you play as a recently hired recruit at the Aperture Laboratories who has been tasked with testing out some of the company’s new gadgets. Naturally, this involves building a whole lot of bridges under the watchful eye of the robot GLaDOS.
At its core, Bridge Constructor Portal is the same as past games. You have the same tools at your disposal — struts and cables — and the ultimate goal of each stage is still to get safely to the end. But the new Portal theme means the level designs are a lot more interesting, and frequently much more challenging. There are the portals, of course, which let you zip vehicles from one area of a level to the next. But you’ll also have to deal with gel that speeds up cars or makes them bounce, turrets that will blow you away if within range, giant vats of corrosive acid, and weighted companion cubes that will help you trigger pressure-sensitive switches.
Each stage is essentially a puzzle. You need to construct a structurally-sound bridge, but more importantly you have to figure out how to use that bridge to navigate the strange science experiments within the lab. Sometimes that means dropping a car straight down a portal in order to make it jump a massive gap on the other side. Other times you’ll need to suspend a bridge from the ceiling in order to avoid bright red laser beams. It’s about precision and creativity. Across the game’s 60 stages it’s constantly tossing new ideas at you — all while maintaining Portal’s trademark sense of humor. In one level, GLaDOS tries to comfort you by saying that if you die, at least you won’t have to worry about your wages being garnished in the afterlife.
So yeah, it’s not exactly the Portal experience fans have been longing for, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. It has all of the hallmarks of the series — dark humor, mind-bending puzzles, and unsettling robotic voices — but grafts them on to a very different but surprisingly adaptive game. You may be building bridges instead of shooting guns, but this is still Portal.