M. C. Escher was famed for his mathematically inspired art pieces; often featuring impossible geometries and outlandish optical illusions. Following on in his footsteps, The Bridge is a game that not only realises the spirit of Escher’s work in three dimensions; it asks you to solve puzzles within these mind bending landscapes.
The accessibility of the concept, unlock the door in each level and pass through it, as well as the control scheme belies The Bridge’s often fiendish level of difficulty. Ranging from vortexes which hold the player, or any other object that happens to get too close, in place to a gravity altering veil and even parallel dimensions; the various mechanics of The Bridge add a satisfying level of complexity to the puzzles and never feel boring or over used.
The Bridge is odd in that its difficulty doesn’t lie in the skill required to execute the solution to each puzzle: the difficulty is purely within the figuring out of the puzzle, with forethought being particularly valuable.
Whilst The Bridge does reward forethought, trial and error is not punished at all within the game. It is possible to “fail” a mission, or end up in a position where a given puzzle is unsolvable, but a handy rewind time feature allows for most errors, even those made several minutes before the fail-state, to be undone. The rewind time feature, along with a generous hint system, ensures that even puzzle novices should be able to progress through much of the game without having to resort to searching for solutions on the internet. The hard-core puzzle fan need not worry about a drop in difficulty, however, as both those features are highly optional and there is the ability to just restart the level.
Aesthetically, The Bridge is beautiful, although the lack of any sort of colour, whilst in keeping with the lithographic style, does become monotonous. It becomes so tedious, in fact, that the occasional instance of a strong contrast between deep black and pure white actually begins to feel like a novelty. This may, however, be less of an issue for people who don’t play both the normal mode and the harder “new game plus” mode (the complexity of the puzzles increases and there is an alternate ending) through in two days, as I did.
Unfortunately, the extremely limited sound design will never be anything but boring. The soundtrack is limited to one song (I actually muted the music after the fourth chapter, only occasionally re-enabling it to check if it had changed at all) and the varied, but again limited in number, sound effects do nothing to alleviate the monotony.
The Bridge is a game of dichotomies: on one hand it’s a beautiful work of art, and on the other hand it’s a puzzle game with some brilliant puzzle design. Unfortunately, they never really seem to affect one another. The artwork is clearly the inspiration for the level design, but the puzzles themselves don’t feel as if their design was informed by the artwork. To break it down to an analogy: the window dressing is unique, but the window itself is quite plain.
The story of The Bridge is strange: superficially it’s a simple recounting of the meeting of two passionate people and the development of a wonderful friendship based on this passion for, to quote the game, “esoteric mathematics” only for one of them to die. It’s not really surprising that there are hints all the way through the game that things aren’t quite as they seem: is the character you play really the one left alive? Is the progression of the artwork some kind of visual metaphor for the state of your characters psyche over the course of these events? Dear reader, those questions are for you to answer should you decide to play The Bridge.
The Bridge is a game that excels in some areas, but seems to pay for this by poor performance in others. Overall, the incredible visual design and brilliant puzzle design is more than enough to make up for the almost non-existent soundtrack, whilst the narrative does seem to encourage a lot of thought as to the exact nature of the story being told. Fans of very difficult puzzle games will find a lot to like in The Bridge, and those who are new to the genre will also stand a good chance of getting a lot out of the game.