Poly Bridge is, as of this writing, in Early Access.
Poly Bridge by Dry Cactus is a bridge builder game. You build bridges in it. Thank you all for reading, goodbye, roll credits.
But yes, there is not much left to say in the Year of our Lord 2015 AD about this particular genre of game. It started as a civil engineer’s wet dream back in 2000 with the creatively titled Bridge Builder by Chronic Logic. Then, over the course of thirteen years continued under their watchful eye with titles such as Pontifex, Bridge Construction Set, Bridge It, Bridge Project, Bridge It Plus and The Bridge It Jones Diaries. A special mention goes to the wonderful World of Goo that broke the mold with it’s cute little personified goo balls, but still relied on the same basic formula.
The formula, as most of you are probably aware or can deduce from context, is simple: build a bridge and build it well. You are given a limited budget (and sometimes limited materials) to build your construction and after you’re done you have to run a simulation in which a vehicle (its weight and size varying from level to level) tries to cross the river or gorge and needs to make it safely to the other side. Unluckily for me, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to physics in school. Luckily for me, there’s nothing in the rules about the bridge not collapsing immediately after the vehicle has made it safely across.
Each level comes with its own set of challenges and restrictions. The most apparent of these are the fixed anchor points which are quite literally the foundation of your construction and its entire structural integrity quite literally hinges on them. And I’m just getting started with these puns, just you wait.
You have access to a decent amount of materials: wood and steel being the most common for the bridge’s backbone, but you are also sometimes given cabling, or suspension wires, which can’t support anything from below, but do a terrific job of holding stuff up from above. Some levels also require you to build a drawbridge that uses a piston mechanism to allow a boat to pass underneath your bridge at some point during the level. I must say, it’s quite the treat to have several cars passing safely across my glorious work and then the moment the hydraulics kick in to see it crumble to pieces along with my hopes, dreams and every shred of happiness left in the world.
Poly Bridge particularities
Now, everything I’ve said above could be said about most recent bridge builder games, so let’s talk a bit about what sets Poly Bridge apart.
First off, the art direction. As you can see from the screenshots, unlike most other pure bridge builder games (I am excluding World of Goo from this comparison) that have ranged from simplistic/minimalist design during the genre’s infancy and went on to high production values, a la Sim City 4 or Cities Skyline in later installments Poly Bridge, as its name indicates, opts for a colourful, cartoony low-polygon style that makes it pleasant to look at while not being visually over or underwhelming.
Secondly, the game plays mellow upbeat acoustic guitar tunes throughout your play session making for a relaxing experience and most importantly preventing you from destroying something or someone in your vicinity when your bridge collapses for the 10th time.
Another particularity of the game is that some levels in the campaign give you a break from building structurally sound bridges and require you to build ramps and landing pads for various vehicle stunts, for me often making for events that would look gruesome and tragic were the art style any different.
There are toggles available for you if you want to turn on the view that shows you how much stress each of your beams is sustaining (telling you where your bridge is at its weakest) and turn off the snap to grid feature, if you desire more freedom. The speed of the simulation is also adjustable, if you want to”skip” some parts that don’t interest you or watch in ultra slow motion the moment where your entire work, like Carthage, Babylon or Alexandria before it, is obliterated by fates most cruel.
Of stifled creativity
Poly Bridge also comes with a Sandbox mode (still in early beta) that allows you to unleash your imagination and construct interesting structures or challenging puzzles and then share them with the community. Now, I haven’t played with this feature a whole lot, because it seemed to me like it was not 100% intuitive and user friendly, but I’ve seen some great stuff made by others on the Internet so I have the unverified certainty that it works. My short experience with it…not so much great, as abominable.
The game is still in Early Access and while I am generally put off by the idea, Poly Bridge seems to have most of its affairs in order. I’ve had very few problems with it and the ones I’ve had were minor (for example, it sometimes crashes if you play in windowed mode and the window is not in focus) so I think the game deserves a lot credit.
And I think I deserve a lot of credit for having refrained from referring to “structures” as “erections” during the course of this review. It’s a grand day for all of us.
Disclosure: Game copy was provided by developer/publisher
Further disclosure: I am very bad at building bridges