Reviewed: June 2, 2003
Released: August 29, 2003
Tetris, Solitaire, and Minesweeper - all background noise for the brain that people are obsessed with but that are completely lost on me. However, Garage Games and Chronic Logic have delivered a little gem that taps into the “this-really-shouldn’t-be-fun” addictiveness of SimCity and The Sims. Best of all, they’ve wrapped it in a package that happily runs in windowed mode and doesn’t demand your constant attention. A challenging distraction from the daily computer drudgery; a game bristling with all of the intensity and exhilaration that you’d expect from bridge building; ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Bridge Construction Set.
There are two facet’s to gaming that seem to contradictory to actually having fun that somehow create insanely addictive games. The first is a focus on the mundane. Be it matching shapes, setting up sewage systems, spelling, or attending to an AI character’s hygienic needs, we just cannot seem to get enough of the stuff. The second facet is to ensure that the gamer will curse often when playing the harder levels. Bridge Construction Set has both of these “features” and, considering that BCS now keeps Outlook Expresses company 24/7 in my task tray, I’d say the formula has worked again.
The concept behind Bridge Construction Set is simply enough - build bridges that can withstand a few, brief tests. The construction process is straightforward - you are given a river, some building materials, a budget, and a brief description of what this bridge will be used for. You are then taken to the area where the bridge is to be built and - with the aid of a grid system - start plotting out your construct in Erector Set-fashion. Once you’re comfortable with your design, it’s time to test it out.
The testing screen is virtually the same as the construction screen except without the grid and some added visual effects. Here you will see your new bridge and, via a color-coding system, see how much strain each beam is under. You then test the bridge out under daily-use conditions and hope that everything works out.
Starting off, BCS is easy enough and your missions give you ample building materials and narrow rivers to cross. However, the difficulty ramps up quickly and soon a single bridge can take hours to create. The challenge and depth come from a number of factors. Firstly, the bridges you build cover the gamut of possibilities with suspension and drawbridges being the two most pleasant surprises. The widths of the rivers you need to cross are naturally a huge factor, and if the available materials are lacking or if the bridge is being funded by a cheapskate, some very creative thinking is in order.
That is what Bridge Construction Set is all about: creative thinking. You’ll often be charged with seemingly impossible tasks and will spend hours slowly tweaking your designs so that they can withstand not only their own weight, but the weight of passing trains or the unique strains to which a drawbridge is subject. Your results can be as impressive as they are outlandish since there are so many different approaches the player can take. Some of my bridges looked quite standard while other looked like high-power towers gone horribly wrong.
It’s this diversity that gives Bridge Construction Set immediate replay value. Even after a bridge has been successfully tested, you start to wonder if you could have done a better job. “Could I have completed it under budget?” “Could I redesign it to show less strain?” “What if [insert unconventional inspiration here] could actually work?” If these questions sound like something you’d ask yourself, then BCS is most certainly for you.
Of course, those “hours of tweaking” I mentioned are very real, very frustrating hours. If patience is not one of your strong suits, then BCS may not be for you. However, even in failure there is fun (albeit, twisted fun). Watching a failed design slowly collapse in on itself is mildly entertaining; watching an apparently solid design crumble under the weight of a train is morbidly entertaining.
Better still, Bridge Construction Set lets you see the “stress tests” from the viewpoint of the hapless test vehicles. Looking through the eyes of a train’s engineer as he crosses an untested suspension bridge can quickly become a nerve-wracking situation. Fingers crossed and teeth clenched, you slowly progress across the bridge. The rails beneath you begin to sway and you’re left hoping that the sway is not enough to tear the bridge in two, giving you an up-close look at the bottom of a river.
Unfortunately, BCS’s user interface continues the game’s engineering motif - I get the feeling that no one without a strictly “if-it-works-then-our-job-is-done” mindset has touched it. Everything from its odd little “X” cursor, to its drab camera system is 100% function and 0% form. This is not the case when making your own map since here both form and function take a backseat to frustration. This is a real shame since, if done right, this mode could add plenty of replay value and feed a great online community of map-swappers.
Staying on the matter of replay value, it’s almost unforgivable that BCS does not include a random mission generator. Aside from the industrial-style controls, Bridge Construction Set is a brilliant game but at some point, the player will run out of levels to play. With the presence of a random mission generator, BSC would have almost infinite replay value and, in my eyes, topple the micro-games mentioned at the beginning of this review (at least for the more technically-minded of you out there).
BCS’s graphics are crisp and have some nice shading and reflection effects but are otherwise are purely a means to an end. In fact, the reflection effect makes it more difficult to gauge the stress underwater beams are subject to, so you’ll likely keep it off. Overall, BCS is easy on the eyes but nothing more.
If there was any music then I somehow missed it. Sound effects are also used sparingly - a train whistle will sound and a breaking bridge will creak until splashing into the river below. Normally, I am a stickler for a game’s audio presentation but for a $20 game that will likely spend most of its time in your task tray, the general lack of sound is probably a good thing.
Generic graphics and sound aside, the endless tweaking and redesigning one can do on each and ever bridge gives BCS far more replay value than the majority of games on the market. With five difficulty settings, each including eight unique levels, and many bridges taking hours to complete, BCS will keep you occupied for months to come. Throw in the game's $20 price tag and BCS puts most regularly priced games to shame.
Despite its handful of shortcomings, Bridge Construction Set is a highly addictive, incredibly fun game that will inspire much temple rubbing. A Tetris for the engineer in you, BSC is one of those quick-to-pick-up, hard-to-master games that epitomize everything that your hobby of choice is all about.
With a lot more polish and a random mission generator, BSC could very easily be the perfect game for those looking for a small game with more challenge than the Minesweeper-line of micro-games. Still, something tells me BCS is a love-it or hate-it affair. Thankfully, there is a demo available on Garage Games’ website, which - if the game I described sounds at all like something you’d enjoy - should be your next stop.