Huge modding potential, underwhelming main content

Reviewed by Griffin on 8th October 2022

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BONELAB is the latest game from VR Developers Stress Level Zero and pseudo-sequel to their last game BONEWORK, BONELAB cost 45.99 in my local currency, a $12 increase over the last entry.

(for the duration of the review I will refer to BONELAB and BONEWORK in the proper case instead of the way they are listed on steam which is all upper case)

Before I go on my review will contain mild spoilers for levels in Bonelab but I will avoid mentioning any specific story beats in the game.

To give some context behind my review I first need to talk a little bit about Boneworks which I played around launch and enjoyed a lot. I consider it one of the best VR games Boneworks released in late 2019 and what I think really set the game apart at the time was not just the full physics sandbox elements as there were plenty of sandbox games already at the time, no I think Boneworks was good because it had a campaign of fully strung together levels and a plot. The plot was vague and cryptic but it was there. The levels themselves were not amazing but they were open and allowed you to approach a challenge from many different angles, not quite to the complexity of a full immersive sim but close to that feeling. The game had its issue with a lack of enemy variety, bugs, general jank caused by the physics, some weaker work building and lack of checkpoints (patched in later) but the campaign took me about 9.5 hours and it was a good foundation for Stress Level Zero to develop and polish and improve in areas they lacked.

Come late 2022 and Bonelab is released and it seems instead of improving on the areas Boneworks lacked, they decided to double down and just do it again with a few more experimental concepts but very few actual improvements, pretty much just two new major mechanics, no new enemies, worse level design and a weaker storyline that before.

Bonelabs Campaign took me about 4.8 hours to complete from start to finish.

Before I dive in, and since it does not fit into the other categories I will mention load time here. This could have been an issue specific only to my system so I will not say this will be universal. You might be fine but for me, I had terrible load times in-game which wouldn't be so bad if there weren't so many to get to any given level or mode. I think my mistake might have been only playing on an SSD instead of my faster M.2 boot drive.

My system:

Intel I7 7700k

GTX 1080 ti

16 GB DDR4 RAM @ 3200mhz

Samsung Evo SSD

HP Reverb G2

Graphics & Presentation

The graphics in the game are probably a mild improvement over the previous game. I didn't do any extensive comparisons, however in-game while playing it felt the same. There are a number of low polygon models and low res textures some of the more open levels like the moon level make this very apparent.

The presentation in this game is weird. You start the game with a little intro level that acts as a basic tutorial, side note having a tutorial so basic that it explains to you how to crouch, seems a little unnecessary in a game that is supposedly marketed to the more experienced VR players. You are then dropped into the hub world and given no indication what you are supposed to do exactly (this is a running theme in the game) now the hub is really no more than a menu and should have just been one but what you are supposed to do is go and try all the other modes first which seems silly if you are like me (which I am) then you don't want to play the sandbox mode you want to play the campaign, why force me to try it out? Some of these straight up don't make sense to try and play, yet without the new body swap mechanic which you have not unlocked yet of course. Now you don't actually need to play these just enter each one which is of course two loading screens one to get in and one to get back.

Once you have completed that, you need to operate a crane to move these orbs to a new location. This crane reveals a few things to me one bad level design and two a lack of play testing and polish. See the crane has these controls 1, A magnet activation button to pick up the orbs which is pointless as you can just always leave it on the orbs auto drop when you put them in place. The only time I activated it was when my in game elbow bumped it by accident. 2, a lever which moves the crane up and down. 3 a joy stick which moves the crane in the X and Y axis. Not the problem when holding the two controls at the same time my avatar spontaniously decided that I am not trying to mantle the control panel and would pull myself around instead of the controls, why how I can only assume a lack of testing but work around this only control one at a time.

Moving beyond that the rest of the levels are much shorter and linear than in Boneworks. The first 7 or so levels just act as mini tutorials to the new mechanics really and do little to progress the story. they are short, and simple, and often lack objective goals.

The two worst examples of this are the moon level which has literally nothing to do in it except find the orb to exit the level. Its an open sandbox area that only gives you a new gun with no explanation on how to use it. You could say this level is meant to explore, but to that, I say explore what? there is nothing there no door open, no enemies or puzzles or tricks just a few collectible gatcha balls for the sandbox mode - unnecessary if you are just playing the story.

And the Go kart level looks bad. The track is simple, there is no AI to compete against and the new character you are given is not strong enough to flip over the go-kart if you flip it (like I did). On that let's talk about the physics of this game.

The game marks itself as a physics sandbox adventure game but the physics in this game in no way match real life. Everything is too floaty and the only noticeable difference in world objects is weight and breakability. There are safety cones on this level that are as hard as concrete if you drive over them.

Sound FX & Music

The music in this game is good. There is a good variety in the style of tracks but not quite enough of them, as you hear them loop often.

Voice acting Jimmy wong does a great job voice acting in the game no complaints there.

Sound FX is mostly just the same as Boneworks no notable improvement there.

Gameplay & Immersion

I have talked a little bit about gameplay and level design already most of the gameplay is re-used from Boneworks with really no improvement to polish or user feel. Guns are still a little janky, and movement is still a little sluggish and feels like you lurch everywhere instead of walking. Vaulting up objects never works as smoothly as you want, if you are expecting these to have been improved they have not.

New gameplay elements - Vehicles

Technically there was a vehicle in Boneworks, however, this had been explained in Bonelab there is now one on rails minecart section and a go-kart section. They are short - about less than 10 minutes each and are incredibly basic they don't feel all that great to play.

The big addition is the new changing body element. This is great, is fun, and could potentially lead to interesting new ways to tackle levels if the levels weren't so short and small. Because of this there is usually only one way to tackle a problem and changing the body makes it either a little easier or harder.

The bodies are given to you one by one and quite late into the game's campaign. There are also too many (regular, strong, fast, Heavy, light, small, tall) making the pull cord mechanic select them a bit fiddly. If I were to change this I would remove the Strong and Light bodies as they could be the same as Heavy and small.

Immersion I think is greatly decreased in this game over Boneworks as the levels are so much simpler and shorter that they feel much less satisfying to solve what little puzzles there are, and end too quickly to feel you accomplished anything.


Controls were okay as I mentioned the pull cord mechanic to select the body is a bit fiddly on some characters it is harder to access and I often found myself grabbing ammo by accident. it also does not work well at high speeds as the pull cord is physics enabled.

Sprinting on some of the slower characters can be a bit hard to decern and some indicators would have been nice.

Vaulting over an object is often clumsy and slower than it needs to be so a level of automation to this would be nice like if I was pushing my hands down the character should automatically bring their knees up and once vaulted should automatically stand up again.

I played on the HP Reverb G2 and had no issues with controls one oddity was the game has finger tracking but the Reverb does not, so clicking on the thumb stick to move would has your character close his thumb and make odd hand gestures, this should have been disabled for non-finger tracked controllers.

Value & Replayability

As far as value goes at this moment I think the game is a terrible value. It is more expensive than Bonelabs but does very little more to justify the cost. If mod support takes off then there might be value-added but of course, this relies on the hard work of the community and I have a hard time thinking the dev deserves the extra money for that.

The campaign is shorter than the previous one and has less story than before. The one major new mechanic is cool but poorly utilized.

Final Thoughts

Bonelabs is not really the sequel to Boneworks that I had hoped for as it is pretty much the same or worse in most areas, while costing more. I can only assume this game was really more of a cash grab as such to get the Quest market which the previous game had not to be available for. level design, especially to me, screams that it is downgraded to be able to run on the weaker hardware of the quest.

In saying that on my system performance was fine but not amazing it seems the PC version did not receive quite as much of the optimization that went into getting it running on the quest.

If you are like me and played Boneworks for the campaign and hoped that Bonelabs would have improved on this I think you will be very disappointed. If you are a player who just enjoys Boneworks/Bonelabs as a janky physics sandbox then you might be happy with it but even then it offers little more than the previous game.

  • New body changing mechanic is great.
  • Jimmy Wongs voice Performance.
  • Smaller simpler level design.
  • 4.8 hour campaign.
  • Long load times.
  • Weak story telling.

Reviewed by Griffin on 8th October 2022

4 out of 10

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