Bridge Constructor: Walking Dead. Come Again?

This has to be one of the most unlikely partnerships in the history of video games: mixing zombies (sorry, walkers was it?) with bridge construction mechanics. The idea sounds so crazy on its own that I had to try it out.

At first, I was not sure what the game was trying to be. It recounts the story of survivors trying to make it through the zombie/walker apocalypse. By the way, you do not need to be familiar with the series to enjoy the game, while you will recognize some famous characters (modeled after the TV show characters) throughout the story. Walking Dead the show is all about following the destinies of small groups of people as they try to restart their lives in a land infested with walkers (aka zombies). It takes place in good old contemporary America.

The first few missions are about building bridges or structures to make folks or vehicles reach a specific point on the map. To build structures, you start working with wooden planks, and as you move on, wires and steel pillars become available. While materials are not restricted in any way, they cost resources and each stage encourages you to build with less by awarding you a badge if you complete a stage with few resources. But who cares? I’m a pragmatist. As long as it works, I’m good.

There’s a catch though: you can only build stuff in specific zones. Usually where it matters only. In more complex stages this acts as a cue as to what elements are needed in which place, or worse, as constraints to make your life a lot harder than it should be.

In such construction zones you find a few attachments (marked as yellow dots) you can use to start building your structures – without such points your construction would fall apart for lack of support.

Just like in the Bridge Constructor series, building structures is instant: a couple of mouse movements and clicks and voila! They appear. As if they were built ahead of the action. By default the action is paused and you can spend as much time as you want to think about your plans and revise your designs. Once you unpause the game the action starts automatically with characters and vehicles moving where they are supposed to go. And then, all that’s left is to rejoice or lament your lack of planning.

And so I thought this was pretty much what the game was about. Building stuff to make people or vehicles reach places. I was almost going to let a yawn escape my mouth when the game suddenly took me by surprise. It took a very different turn. Now some stages let you control characters moving on the map between several checkpoints and assigning actions to them. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Where did this come from?

This simple addition changed everything, turning what was pretty much a “plan ahead, run it, and you are done, go grab a cigar” kind of game to a “you probably have no idea what you are doing at first, you suck and you don’t know it yet, go practice” experience.

Now on top of building stuff, you need to plan what the different characters should do when they reach point A or point B and what will be their next move as well: go left? go up a ladder? go down? press a button on a machine? And so on. We moved from checkers to 3D chess, figuratively speaking.

And this turns BCWD into a puzzle game. Unlike Bridge Constructor where you can achieve your goal using dozens of different designs, BCWD lets you gravitate towards a few right approaches that will work the best to solve the present problem. The fact that it makes heavy use of physics is the fun part. How many times did I think that “moving this stuff will make it fall on the walkers” only to find out that I ended up killing my characters in the process, because I sucked?

Here’s the game mechanics for ya:

  1. Plan carefully your character’s movements and minute actions
  2. Build some stuff where it’s needed
  3. Be amazed at your grand plan
  4. Let the assumptions play out
  5. Facepalm
  6. Swallow your pride, go back to planning
  7. Hopefully you suck less next time

And the game quickly gets very hard. I walked through the first two chapters, thinking I’ll be done with this game in a few hours before I faced very tough levels in the middle of chapter 3. One of them required extreme coordination (so much that I think I just lucked out). Another one started by looking easy: you just need to make a car jump from one side of the bridge to the other. Until you realize you are not allowed to build a whole structure on each side, and your only strong attachments are tied to moving boxes which will make your bridge fall in a matter of seconds.

Diabolical.

I made it, but I had to tweak the exact position of several nodes in my construction to make it just work right. Many times it looked completely impossible until I had a new idea.

And I find that this is what works well in BCWD: you can isolate the issue, but you can’t really see the solution right away. Through experimentation and failures, you start to build a model in your mind that gets more and more robust at every try. And it’s carefully designed not to discourage you completely.

Just like I was able to make my way through Portal 1 and 2, here things are not so hard that they are intimidating. The levels are short enough that you do not pull your hair out for an hour to find the solution. They do a really good job to progressively introduce new mechanics and new elements as you go, piece by piece.

On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that BCWD is a budget game, made with few means. Graphics are simple, animations are very basic (and funny but probably not on purpose), there is no voice over and no impressive cinematics. Yet it’s a very pleasant surprise.

What’s missing is more character freedom. In the game your characters are pretty much forced to go through predefined checkpoints while it would be great for the end user to be able to define by themselves such checkpoints. At the end of the day, I think it’s a design decision. They could have done that, but it would have turned the game into a sandbox more than anything else. Instead they went and set constraints and asked you to work with them. It’s a fair approach.

I have to say, I am positively impressed. I had no expectations for BCWD. Turns out it’s fun and punishing at the same time. I’m looking forward to completing it… if I can.

A final note about the Linux Version: my guess is that this game uses Unity (I could be wrong), and it works very well on Linux even on the slowest laptop you can find. So take it from me, this game will run everywhere.


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