Bonelab, the latest title from veteran VR developer Stress Level Zero, brings the core of Boneworks to Quest 2 for the first time, but beyond that does little to improve its foundational gameplay. This time, however, a fully-featured modding system could save the day.

Bonelab Details:

Available On: Quest 2Oculus PC, Steam
Release Date: September 29th, 2022
Price: $40
Developer: Stress Level Zero
Reviewed On: Quest 2

Gameplay

Bonelab’s gameplay is functionally the same as its predecessor, with highly physics-driven gameplay that can be both magical and bothersome. This time around, however, the game more clearly communicates its sandbox intentions and offers up official modding support with the hopes that its community will bring the fun.

Unlike Boneworks—which made players play through some nine hours of campaign before giving them access to sandbox mode—Bonelab walks players through each of its non-campaign mini-modes which include things like time trials with both combat and parkour, a full-blown sandbox for spawning enemies and items, and some experimental mini-games like physics bowling. It’s a good idea as it shows players everything the game has to offer up front.

Bonelab really doesn’t hold your hand, which some may appreciate and some may not. Once you reach ‘The Lab’ part of the game with the various mini-modes, you’ll need to explore and pay attention to your surroundings to figure out how to actually unlock the campaign mode.

After you give each mode a try (and figure out a little puzzle) you’ll unlock access to a 5-6 hour campaign mode which I found to be a largely dull affair which repeated almost all of the same mistakes as Boneworks. Rather than rehash them, let’s go through a quick summary of the critiques:

  • Thin narrative (even more so than Boneworks) delivered through a handful of voice recordings and text logs
  • Bland enemies and lack of variety
  • Boring weapons with little strategic differentiation
  • Weak puzzle & encounter design (and lack of compelling interplay therein)
  • Climbing is usually a frustrating nightmare (but the game loves to make you do it)
  • General jank with holster system and interaction affordances

The one truly new and interesting thing that Bonelab does over Boneworks is the addition of the quick-swap avatar system.

Switching between avatars gives you unique physical advantages & disadvantages, like being fast & weak, strong & slow, or tall & lanky. And you can switch between avatars on the fly with a ‘pull cord’ system where you reach for your arm and pull a little ball longer and longer to cycle through and select your avatar with one quick motion.

I find this particular interface to be very smart—it’s quick, fun, and easy to do. The one tweak I would make is to raise the pitch on each sound effect to further associate a specific pitch with the selection of a specific avatar. I would have loved to see Bonelab push further into this kind of novel interaction design that directly interfaces with gameplay.

And while it’s also a very smart idea to allow players to hop between avatars with meaningfully different capabilities, I didn’t find that the game really plays to this as a core mechanic in its level design. In most cases the avatar you should use for the given task is plainly obvious and there’s not much room for creativity—whether that be in a specific enemy encounter or puzzle. It’s a shame too because you could easily build a whole game around this avatar swapping idea.

So… I didn’t love the game’s campaign portion. But what about its sandbox modes?

Unfortunately they fall prey to the same issues as the campaign. The core issue is that this sandbox is missing truly fun toys.

Yes, you can spawn almost any of the enemies you encountered in the campaign… but they aren’t very fun to fight. And sure, you can spawn any gun… but again they function so similarly that it’s just not that exciting to have the arsenal at your fingertips.

Looking back at my Boneworks review, I find that Bonelab’s core gameplay can unfortunately be summed up in the exact same way:

Boneworks unfortunately doesn’t transcend the sum of its parts; it fails to find any compelling interplay between puzzles and combat, and misses the opportunity to build a set of core concepts which lead to a climax in mechanics, gameplay, and story. Instead it feels like piecemeal gameplay scenarios strung together atop a novel technical foundation with a sprinkle of narrative.

However, there’s a big “but” here. Unlike its predecessor, Bonelab has official modding support on day one. The studio promises that players will be able to import avatars, items, vehicles, and even entire levels. That means there’s potential for the game’s community build new content for the game—to bring new toys to the sandbox.

And it’s this which will make or break Bonelab in the long run. The developers have described their intent to offer the game up as a foundation for VR experimentation. If that catches on, Bonelab could one day be a much different experience than it is today.

Despite the various critiques above, I will say that I’m impressed with how Bonelab looks and performs on Quest 2. It’s not the best looking game on the headset, but the essential look and feel of Boneworks has translated nearly perfectly to the headset, including some neat trippy visual effects. Performance unfortunately isn’t perfect on the headset, with some later scenes slowing the game down here and there. Granted, I didn’t feel the hitching was enough to really impact my gameplay, though occasional crashes were a nuisance.

Oh and the soundtrack is once again a jam.

Immersion

One thing Bonelab definitely does right is create a consistently interactive world. Aside from the walls, ceilings, and floors, pretty much anything that exists in the game world is physics driven and can be interacted with.

That means you can do intuitive things like push open doors with the barrel of your gun, press buttons with your virtual elbow, or toss enemies over a railing to their impending doom. You can slam a door into an enemy to deal damage, catch an ejected bullet casing out of the air, or use a shovel to scoop up items and move them about.

This is often made much more fun with the help of the game’s always-available slow-motion which gives you more time to think about the actions you want to perform. For me most of the game’s fun came from using slow-mo to do cool action stuff like jumping from a platform and shooting enemies on the way down, flipping a gun from one hand to another for a cool reload, or watching my fist connect with an enemy’s face at full force.

But outside of slow-mo, things feel a bit bland. Shooting is a mere point and spray affair and melee often feels like a less satisfying version of Blade & Sorcery. Slo-mo is the key tool to make any of it fun, mostly by directing your own visual spectacle or challenging yourself to do some crazy move.

While the physicality of objects in the game is pretty solid, your body itself often feels like a floppy mess. Basic things like jumping and climbing are much more often frustrating than not, which makes it perplexing that the game loves making you climb and jump. Even straightforward things like climbing ladders and scrambling up a ledge can be inconsistent to a bothersome degree.

And this exemplary of a broader issue with Bonelab. The game is so busy wondering if it could make everything physics-based that it hasn’t stopped to consider whether or not it should. Sometimes the game’s physics approach makes the game more janky and less functional.

Take, for instance, the occasional weapon chest you’ll find in the game. It has a nice red handle so you know where to pull to open it. But when you do, half the time you also move the entire box, sometimes flipping it over and spilling out the contents. Boneworks had this exact same issue when it launched more than two and a half years ago.

And sure, that might be ‘physically correct’ given the game’s understanding of the forces involved, but it’s almost universally not the thing the user intends to do when they grab that red handle.

Bonelab would be a better game if the studio was more strategic about when to use physics to drive interactions and when to make exceptions for the sake of usability.

The red handle on the weapon chest is but one example of an issue that came cleanly from Boneworks to Bonelab—the game’s holster system also remains quite annoying with several obvious design issues that could be addressed with just a little bit of attention.

Comfort

Bonelab is unabashedly an intense game as far as comfort goes. The game warns players up-front that they should have serious VR experience before trying the game—a warning that everyone ought to heed.

The game doesn’t avoid gameplay that commonly results in discomfort: things like launching you through the air, smooth turning on vehicles, dropping you from great heights, or having you slide down long curvy stretches of pipe. Not to mention a literal rollercoaster ride.

Compared to its predecessor—which at launch had an exceptionally springy feeling to its climbing which gave me the worst case of proprioceptive-disconnect that I’ve ever experienced—Bonelab fares a little bit better with its climbing. It’s still shaky but not nearly as bad as the original.

Bonelab has seemingly no limits to its sandbox mode which means you can potentially slow the game to a stuttering mess if you spawn enough items; the choppy framerates can cause discomfort, though the game never forces this situation on you.

If you consider yourself generally sensitive to artificial motion you should think twice about playing Bonelab; do recall that both Meta and Steam have reasonable 14-day return windows if you haven’t played the game for more than two hours, so you can always give it a try to see if it works for you or not.

‘Bonelab’ Comfort Settings – September 29, 2022

Turning
Artificial turning
Snap-turn
Quick-turn
Smooth-turn
Movement
Artificial movement
Teleport-move
Dash-move
Smooth-move
Blinders
Head-based
Controller-based
Swappable movement hand
Posture
Standing mode
Seated mode
Artificial crouch
Real crouch
Accessibility
Subtitles
Dialogue audio
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty In some modes
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height

Update (October 5th, 2022): A prior version of this article listed an incorrect price and release date for the game, both have been corrected.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
5

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  • Alex

    Well, another game that’s not a game but rather a sandbox again. As time passes, to me there’s less and less interest on the Meta/mobile VR headset. I think that my next purchase will be PSVR2, at least the actual list of games, even if not long, is way more interesting than these silly games. Physic in VR is cool, but a game without a good story is boring.

    • gothicvillas

      I’m with you. I have high hopes on psvr2. If Sony fails to deliver meaningful games (I mean real games) then perhaps vr is dead :(

      • ApocalypseShadow

        Pretty much. Without Sony we’ll be stuck with limited games held back by mobile chips, indie games for casuals and tech demos like the game just reviewed.

        Notice how it’s easy for Sony to get games announced like RE8, RE4 Remake support that will blow away the mobile version and Hitman 3 for their headsets. But you barely see their competition get the same. Because no big 3rd party have been announcing games for the other two platforms.

        It’s the side effect of having a game company with connections.

    • kontis

      Sony has another problem: often making wanna be movies or theme park rides instead of actually immersive games.

      Although they were most guilty of that during PS3 era, and started improving on PS4 it’s still a well known issue. I remember when the Order 1886 director even admitted he didn’t want to make a game and preferred movies and it killed the game.

      It’s not true, generally speaking, that games need stories to not be boring. Statistically, the opposite it true. Most of the user time spent, even in games that have story campaigns, is not related to the stories and is purely gameplay based.

      “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not important.” — john Carmack.
      Not universally true quote (plenty of amazing story focused games and he said it 30 years ago), but for majority of this industry’s revenue(!) it’s actually true.

      Funnily, Sony is now also partially diverting from expensive story driven games to GaaS online games to increase profits. Although that theoretically doesn’t exclude storytelling (GaaS can have evolving stories, like Destiny or Genshin Impact), the writing is on the wall.

      • Alex

        I ear you and you’re right. I’m simply speaking for myself as I really prefer story based game in general. And it seems to me Sony has some to offer on that aspect in the years to come. Soon to come is RE4 remake, again another great title to revisit in VR.

        And btw, I did enjoy The Order 1886, and that’s my kind of games ;)

        • ApocalypseShadow

          We have a better chance of getting great games across the board with Sony than relying on these unfinished early access indie games where the developer is hoping the community finishes it for them with something interesting. I’m guessing he thinks above that Valve is going to start churning out games like HL Alyx consistently when we know they won’t. Or rely on Facebook who seems gung ho on metaverse features in a headset but not make any games.

          Blood and Truth may have been held back by Move Controllers. But being a part of an action movie with detailed characters, great voice acting and a story, is a whole lot better than this game. Iron Man’s flight controls is more fun than this. Astrobot and Wipeout VR aren’t even movie games. But we’re led to believe that that is the only thing Sony makes or publishes. Or that RE8, No Man’s Sky and Horizon Call of the Mountain are movie games.

          Do we rely on a social media company to improve VR games? Do we rely on an early access platform that is filled with unfinished games and mods. Or do we rely on an actual game company that’s been around for over 25 years to improve VR game output?

          • Alex

            My thoughts exactly. When I bought the first version of Oculus Quest, I had great hopes for great and big VR titles to pop, but with Meta now owning Oculus, I see now that it does not take the direction I was hoping for.

            Sony will prevail.

          • NL_VR

            Didnt you know that Facebook/Meta owned Oculus before the time you bought you first Quest ?

          • Alex

            I didn’t. Was not obvious enough back them. ahahah

      • ApocalypseShadow

        Just because Sony is diverting to making live service games on the side because the gaming community asked Sony on why they can’t create multiplayer games too, doesn’t mean they are leaving single player. Herman himself said they still thrive on single player. I’d rather have high impact games like Spider-Man, GOW and Horizon than this thrown together early access garbage.

        Bone Lab is a tech demo with physics. And they are hoping the community finishes their average game with mods. Sony has support from 1st, 2nd and 3rd party developers. GT 7 when it gets announced isn’t a movie game. Getting games like RE8 from 3rd party doesn’t make it a movie game. Getting indie developers like Hello Games to do No Man’s Sky doesn’t make it a movie game.

        Not every game needs a story but this one needs one as the reviews are saying the sandbox gameplay is boring with nothing to tie it together. We have a better chance of games because of Sony than waiting on Valve or waiting on Facebook who haven’t made any games recently to keep up momentum. Just DLC for hitting blocks.

    • Raphael

      I guess neither you nor gamespot understand there’s significant single player campaign in addition to the sandbox and replayable game elements.

  • Ad

    OOOF.

    I wish more games had the marrow system but this was a very confusing game. Maybe mods will hugely improve the package, but there’s a lot of games that focus on modding and they usually have social/multiplayer to drive it, or the content can be transitioned both in and out.

  • Its sad when a fullprice game mostly relies on the help of modders (who didn’t get paid) to expand it in a meaningful way. I wonder if the Quest version gets mods too…

    • ApocalypseShadow

      That’s exactly right.

  • Tummie

    Okay, that’s it. The last time I’m visiting this website.

    First you rate Into the Radius as Mediocre. Which holds a 4.8 out of 5 from thousands of user reviews on Oculus platform. That a 9.6 in your scale.
    Now you rate BoneLab as “Bad”, which also holds a 4.7 average from 4500 thousands reviews. That’s a 9.4 (I feel the need to explain this too you since you come across as mind-blowing stupid).

    Nobody like overly critic “journalists”. But the reason you guys put up this website, was also to bring VR into the spotlight. And now that it’s on the verge of real mass adaptation, you’re doing the exact opposite by being outrageously over the top critics. First time vr adopters might even find your website, and decide to pass on BoneLab and Into the radius because of your scandalous reviews. I understand you want more from VR since “you’re a VR senior”, but you have to get you’re expectations in the right place. For your punishment and lesson, I want you too read 100 reviews of the Into The Radius and BoneLab in the Quest app. Thats where youll read what quality masses the masses we’re expecting. That’s where you read how far off you’ve drifted from the vr audience.

    P.s. If you’re genuinely depressed, like your reviews seem to suggest, I will take my comments down a notch. But only if officially diagnosed by a psychologist.

    • Tommy

      To be fair, Oculus/Meta reviews are way higher than they should be for most games.

    • Piggy

      Somewhere in the middle I guess? The reviews on Steam are a bit more balanced. ITR is amazing, but I haven’t played the quest port. You do need to spend a lot of time with it to get the best results though, perhaps they didn’t for the review? I think my main play through was about 30hrs. For Bonelab, I was actually a bit disappointed as well but still really enjoying it. It seems like the world scaling system that is used for the avatar changes messes up collisions, I am finding it more buggy than Boneworks, and came straight off the back replaying that. Hands getting stuck in stuff, fingers clipping through the back of clip boards in the intro, worse weapon storage etc. But yeah, their score was a bit rough

    • Engorged

      Don’t forget that they rated Lone Echo 2 as 7.5 and Compound as 9 lol. I generally like roadtovr, but with these big games they are almost always overly harsh. Sometimes this site is a joke.

      • Zantetsu

        Why is it a joke? Because the reviewer has his own opinion instead of just spewing the groupthink?

        It’s like people don’t even want to read different viewpoints. They just want the same viewpoint regurgitated over and over again. I guess so that they then can be certain what the groupthink they’re supposed to be agreeing with is?

    • ZeePee

      I have to agree.

      Thing is, I agree with the criticism in this review. For most of it, it’s correct.

      But, 5/10 is way off the mark. That’s an absolute joke.

      For me, despite all the valid criticism, having never played Boneworks before, this game is ground-breaking in immersion and in turn, fun. For me, I find this absolutely amazing to play.

      But, at the same time, it’s greatly flawed and undercooked, and most of the criticism is correct.

      At the very least, they should have rated this a 7.5/10 if it is a true reflection of the value of this game taking into account it’s flaws.

      If you truly feel this is a bad, or shall we say just “ok” 5/10 game, then damn, how do you even enjoy VR at all? Wierd.

      • Sofian

        But, 5/10 is way off the mark. That’s an absolute joke.
        …having never played Boneworks before

        Have you read the review?

        • ZeePee

          Yes.

          5/10 for this game is way off the mark. That does not reflect how good this game is in reality.

          The reviewer can list criticisms galore if he likes, most of which I agree. But I also find the game amazing to play – fancy that, ey?

          This game is at least a 7.5, at least.

          • Ben Lang

            I encourage. you to take a look at our review scale. 5 out of 10 is not a “bad” game in our book: https://www.roadtovr.com/road-vr-review-rating-scale/

          • silvaring

            My advice would be to use use ‘Mixed’, Good and Great (and Poor reserved for truly tragic cases), because numbers are too hard to balance, for readers and for reviewers.

          • david vincent

            That’s why it’s better to not give a note at the end of the reviews because there are always whiners complaining about it.

          • Alex

            how about “Overwhelmingly OK” ?!

    • Ben Lang

      I appreciate you taking the time to articulate this feedback. I know there’s some hyperbole in there, but I can see that your concerns are genuine. Here’s my perspective:

      Game ratings are not objective—in that there is no ‘right’ score for a game. People value different things out of their games and so they reach different conclusions as to what they find fun or valuable in a game. If you find my ratings don’t align with what you find fun or valuable in a game, then we’re probably looking for different things.

      I didn’t rate Bonelab “Bad,” I rated it “OK,” as clearly spelled out by our linear review scale.

      From you I would like to know, specifically, what did you disagree with in my review? Have you beaten the game yourself, and on what platform?

      I really like what they’re trying to achieve with Bonelab, I just didn’t find it particularly fun given the issues I mentioned. If someone asked me, ‘hey what did you think of Bonelab’, I would say ‘It was ok’… hence the OK rating. For me it doesn’t quite meets the bar for to say ‘It was good’.

      There’s no doubt Bonelab has a lot of potential, if only the pieces were arranged in the right ways. I did my best to clearly say that mods could be the key here, but until they have time to mature we can only assess what’s in front of us at launch.

      The reason I created Road to VR is to inform, not to promote. These are two very different things. Trying to prop up or hype up VR is counterproductive in the long run. I don’t like giving any game a low score, but I do my best to assess them without bias and regardless of hype.

      • Rupert Jung

        Hi Ben, I really appreciate this honest, subjective review (didn’t play it yet but hat the same feelings while watching some videos).

        But maybe, just maybe you should think about your linear review scale. I know it makes sense, sure. But it just produces numbers which are misunderstood by most players because the usual scales are somewhat logarithmic. I think, this is also reflected in real life where you see waaay more “good” movies than “great” one while the difference between “good” and “great” may not be 1 or 2 10ths but way more. The difference between, say, “great” and “phenomenal” is even larger.

    • John

      How could they rate into the radius as mediocre? Are they even playing the games they review?

    • david vincent

      Why don’t you go elsewhere instead of whining ? They won’t change the note for you, you know…

  • NL_VR

    i think its a fun game. Maybe not that i was hoping but its more of the same from Boneworks.
    i hope they add more stuff and then of course mods. There is already mods out there

  • Tommy

    Thanks for an actual honest review. Hopefully, the game picks up the modding community.

  • Ben Lang

    Thanks for reading our review! Please note the following before commenting so that we can have a thoughtful discussion:

    • We scored this game 5/10 – ‘OK’ by our linear scale.

    • Even if the text of the review focuses more on critique than praise, or vice versa, the score aims to boil down the reviewer’s overall opinion of the experience.

    • If you haven’t played the game, understand the limits of your knowledge.

    • If you have played part of the game, your experience may differ from those who have completed it in its entirety.

    • Road to VR does not ever accept payment for reviews or any editorial content.

  • Octogod

    This happens to every game. It’s an Oculus/Meta issue as they handle delivery.

    You need to contact Meta to resolve, who will tell you to fix your headset by factory reseting your HMD.

    There is not a peep out of Stress Level Zero because it is Meta’s issue and has been for years. They don’t care. This is the second biggest issue with the store, as it murders small apps.

    The first is the rampant faked reviews, which bigger publishers pay for in mass quantities and Meta looks the other way. Then these are reported on (by blogs like this) as news of quality of a game. It works.

  • Octogod

    I still don’t understand how MOHAB exists on the Quest.

    One thing to keep in mind: Meta initiates the download, to the Meta servers, which then installs on the Meta OS, which then allows the game to launch. This error is about 1 in 1,000, so it is quite possible you could have every download in the store and never see it. My guess is that it is a bug with license check.

    All of this said, you have every right to be super peeved. SL0 should have some support to respond to your challenges and point you in the right direction. Even a templated one would help a great deal.

    But they made $25m on Quest alone since launch, so they’re likely buying their yachts this week.

  • Sven Viking

    How would SLZ go about breaking or fixing the Oculus Store’s digital download system? I don’t think they have access to that.

  • Wow, I didn’t expect the final 5. But I understand your concerns… even I have to say that games like this and Blade and Sorcery have proven that there is a good amount of people that like crazy sandboxes

  • Yup, for me, the sheer jankiness of the controls and interaction drag down anything else that may be good or at least have some future potential in this game.

  • Rupert Jung

    Hi Ben, I really appreciate this honest, subjective review (didn’t play it yet but hat the same feelings while watching some videos).

    But maybe, just maybe you should think about your linear review scale. I know it makes sense, sure. But it just produces numbers which are misunderstood by most players because the usual scales are somewhat logarithmic. I think, this is also reflected in real life where you see waaay more “good” movies than “great” one while the difference between “good” and “great” may not be 1 or 2 10ths but way more. The difference between, say, “great” and “phenomenal” is even larger.

    • Marc Bollinger

      1) All reviews are subjective. But maybe chill out on that condescension, given you haven’t played that game in question.

      2) They HAVE thought about their linear review scale, hence they adopted it as a distinct and explicit feature. My understanding is that it is literally designed to redress the compression of review scores into the dominant low resolution 7-10 framework prevalent over the last 15-20 years of critical games journalism, which has rendered such metrics meaninglessly homogeneous.

      Despite being a number, this type of review scale is still symbolic of a qualitative analysis; a piece of media cannot meaningfully be judged to be X% better than another; even a raw comparison of a video’s technical specifications would need to account for the underlying purpose and motives behind those specs, which are fundamentally incompatible with pure quantitative evaluation.

      • Ben Lang

        You’re right, and we don’t score games in an effort to say one game is better than another (and as you say, you really can’t do that with art/media). The scores are largely an analysis of the execution of the specific project in question.

  • Joe S.

    Thanks for the honest review. I was wondering what’s all the hype about what seems a pretty bland sandbox game. That confirms my fears about it. Guess I will boneworks on sale and later on maybe bonelabs

  • Talking about mods, there is now a APPLAB way to install mods, no need for a PC/Phone, stay in headset, download the mods, then use an app to install it.