I’m ten years old again. And I’m an architectural mastermind. In a world where at-once-fiendishly-accurate-but-just-as-often-ridiculous physics are king, It’s your job to show the world that civil engineering is just as fun outside of the workplace. Feeling doubtful? Then you really need to play Poly Bridge.
Pop quiz: does the below image look familiar to you? If the garish lines and ominous river-filled canyon bring back tense yet joyous memories then I’m glad to have found an audience who were also exposed to the aptly-named Bridge Builder series, first published back in December 2000. Bridge Builder was a breath of fresh air – the sort of game that even your teachers couldn’t disapprove of you playing. It was a game that managed to be simultaneously simple and intuitive, whilst drawing in real-world concepts to create a game that was truly challenging and wildly addictive.
It might be no surprise then, that when I caught wind of the release of Dry Cactus’s 2015 release, Poly Bridge, I was suitably excited. At its heart, Poly Bridge is exactly what I hoped it would be: a true spiritual successor to the Bridge Builder legacy. The blueprint-style side-view remains, along with a simple control scheme that makes it easy to indulge in long, tranquil sessions, as the impeccably chilled music plays on its beautiful acoustic accompaniment.
Bridge-building – still the core of the game, of course – is made up of a small but versatile array of materials: road (the only commutable surface), wood (the core of your art), steel (stronger and available in long girders), suspension and cables (for tensile strength) and hydraulics (allowing you to create moving parts – think Tower Bridge, fellow Londoners). Gameplay is effectively grid-based, allowing you to assemble your bridge by interlinking nodes and test the simulation at any time to see how close you are to success, switching up the speed if you’re keen to simply crash-test the latest iteration. It was great to see the stress view carried over too – which, is as stressful as its name suggests, as you watch in poised tension, as the various segments of your more challenging structures turn from green to orange to red as they risk buckling under the pressure of their humble loads.
But, much as I’m a fan of nostalgia, Poly Bridge wouldn’t be so much to shout about if it didn’t build on its inspiration and create something new. Fortunately, it does. When I fired up the game, the first thing I was struck by was its visual impact. It’s an art style that most definitely rings of indie in terms of its cartoony feel, but it’s a really elegant simplicity. The ‘Poly’ of the title rings true in the cell-shaded, almost voxel-esque quality displayed in everything from the jagged mountains to the human characters themselves, and I found myself immediately a fan. Aesthetically, it certainly sets itself apart from such other recent titles as 3d Bridges; there’s a charm to it that I find more reminiscent of World Of Goo, with the gameplay diversity of Armadillo Run. This charming world also never keeps you waiting, with minimal load times and incredibly responsive controls, from clicking through the tutorials, to assembling your constructions, to the aforementioned testing of the simulations.
When you combine these elements into a game that already, at its most fundamental level, is based on the idea that there is no single “correct” solution to any one problem, you get a game with huge amounts of replayability – there’s a real satisfaction to going back and re-completing a level with a more efficient design and seeing your stress levels massively reduced, or simply besting your friends with a completely new approach to spanning the latest chasm before you.
As you progress throughout the campaign, moving through the various biomes, you’ll face additional challenges, such as two-tiered bridges, budget restrictions, material limitations, additional crossing vehicles and more, that keep the game constantly fresh. A handful of bugs have been reported by the community, but I was lucky enough not to experience a hitch in my fairly generous playthrough; it’s certainly a much more polished experience than one often finds in the Early Access section of the Steam Store.
To sum up, I find myself rather smitten with Poly Bridge. It’s a perfect pick-up-and-play title but will keep you coming back for more, and delivers a healthy dose of nostalgia, whilst injecting a healthy dose of modern charm into a classic genre. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, head elsewhere; if you’re looking for an accessible title that will challenge the inner engineer in you, you’ve found it. Bravo, Dry Cactus. Bravo, sirs.
Stay tuned to The Midnight Gamer for the latest and greatest from the gaming world! Poly Bridge is developed and published by Dry Cactus. It’s available to buy now on Steam in Early Access, with releases planned (but TBA) for Mac and Linux. Visit the official website for more details or check out their development roadmap.
Review by Nick Whitcroft