Engineers must have it pretty rough. Sure, the paychecks are fine and the bragging rights aren't bad, but what about all those lives that hang in the balance? Imagine building a bridge, and messing up one thing. Just one little thing. Suddenly, the whole structure collapses, and with it, every vehicle on board goes tumbling into the drink! If Poly Bridge has taught me anything, it's that I should never get into engineering. I don't think my conscience could handle it.
Poly Bridge is a bridge-building simulation game, with a tight focus on physics. Players are tasked with constructing a wide variety of bridges using a selection of basic materials. Objects are placed onto a grid and attached to one another in order to form frames and anchors that are strong enough to support vehicles.
The user interface is attractive and easy to understand, and the controls are intuitive. Most actions, such as selecting, dragging, and moving objects are performed with the mouse, while the keyboard is reserved for shortcut commands. An on-screen grid gives players a lot of control in building the precise, symmetrical structures that are necessary to succeed. For large projects, players can copy and paste sections of their bridge to save time.
There's a tutorial that teaches players how to build basic structures. Hydraulics, arches, cable and ropes are discussed, but only in the most basic of terms. The tutorial will teach you how to place and manipulate objects, but it won't inform you much about strategy. Hydraulics, for example, are a complicated process that can tear your bridge apart or fail to do anything if not attached correctly. The tutorial barely scratches the surface on how to use them, giving you one simple exercise. The game doesn't ease players into the physics, expecting them to research, understand, and think through solutions on their own.
On one hand, the lack of hand-holding is refreshing. It trusts players to intelligently and creatively invent their own solutions, while relying on their own preexisting knowledge of math and physics. Not many games are as technical as Poly Bridge, and it appeals to a methodical, patient segment of gamers. For its audience, Poly Bridge is a great game, with lots of scenarios that provide an intense challenge. But for the unprepared, it can be an impenetrable fog of confusing failures and trial and error.
Some of these issues could be alleviated by a gentler learning curve. Even the earliest missions are tangibly harder than the tutorials, and the in-game manual provides only vague insight into how construction works. Many games will repeat the same mechanics a few times in order to gradually teach the player how to perform certain tasks, but Poly Bridge jumps around too much to be a good teacher. It won't tell you why your drawbridge failed, or why your frame crumbled. You'll have to figure these details out for yourself, and doing so can be difficult.
If a harsh learning curve doesn't deter you, Poly Bridge will reward your patience and effort. Each of its 105 stages offers a fresh challenge that forces you to think in different ways. Level objectives vary, but generally require you to build a structure that will allow one or more vehicles to cross a body of water. This seemingly simple task is subject to a surprising amount of variance. Your materials and budget change from level to level, as does the environment itself, the obstacles in your path, and the presence of static joints where you can build your anchor. Sometimes you'll need to guide vehicles through multiple checkpoints, resulting in crazy jumps, hills, and loops. Other times, there are ships and planes that cross your path, requiring you to create drawbridges to let them pass above or underneath. If you prefer, you can make bizarrely shaped bridges with big gaps in the middle.
And perhaps that's the best part of Poly Bridge. There's never just one way to solve a given level. There are tons of ways to get from one side of the river to the other, and it's fun to compare your own accomplishments to those of others.
Poly Bridge maintains a great online presence. Sandbox mode allows players to build levels, complete with custom objectives, hazards, and maps. These creations can be uploaded to the Workshop and shared with the community. During the campaign, each level keeps scores and Leaderboards, helping to promote replay and competition. Players are also free to share videos of their creations in the gallery. All of the online features go a long way in fleshing out Poly Bridge and enhancing its presentation.
Graphically, Poly Bridge is bright and simple, without a lot of bells and whistles. Shapes are basic and textures are minimal, but the visuals are pleasant with an almost whimsical aesthetic. Acoustic guitars play a peaceful, contemplative soundtrack that is only betrayed by its relatively short playlist. The atmosphere is relaxing, fitting the game's methodical pace.
Playing Poly Bridge is like building a model ship or painting a picture. It's not fast or pulse-pounding, nor even exciting in any traditional sense. Its value comes from what you put into it. As you play, you will become better, smarter, and more instinctual. You will have an easier time predicting how your bridges will perform, and how best to improve them. You will grow from your failures and celebrate your successes. Poly Bridge isn't for everybody, but for the right audience, it's exactly on point. It's a cerebral game, best for those who don't mind putting in the extra time to learn its nuances. Happy building!