'Bonelab' Review - An ambitious sandbox waiting for the right toys

‘Bonelab’ Review – An ambitious sandbox waiting for the right toys

bonelabthe latest title from veteran VR developer Stress Level Zero, brings the heart of boneworks to Quest 2 for the first time, but beyond that it doesn’t do much to improve its core gameplay. This time, however, a full modding system might save the day.

bonelab Details:

Available on: Quest 2 and Oculus PC, Steam
Release date: September 8, 2022
Price: $30
Developer: Zero stress level
Revised on: Quest 2


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

Contrary to Works—which took players through about nine hours of the campaign before giving them access to sandbox mode—bonelab guides players through each of its off-campaign mini-modes which include things like time trials with combat and parkour, a full sandbox for spawning enemies and items, and a few experimental mini-games like the physical bowling. It’s a good idea because it shows players everything the game has to offer.

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 will need to explore and pay attention to your surroundings to figure out how to actually unlock the campaign mode.

After trying each mode (and finding a small puzzle) you’ll unlock access to a 5-6 hour campaign mode which I found to be a largely boring affair that repeated almost all of the same mistakes as boneworks. Rather than rehash them, let’s quickly review the reviews:

  • Thin narrative (even more than boneworks) delivered via a handful of voice recordings and text logs
  • Bland enemies and lack of variety
  • Boring weapons with little strategic differentiation
  • Weak puzzle and encounter design (and lack of compelling interaction)
  • Climbing is usually a frustrating nightmare (but the game loves making you do it)
  • General joke with holster system and interaction possibilities

The only really new and interesting thing that bonelab make more boneworks is the addition of the quick change avatar system.

Switching between avatars gives you unique physical advantages and disadvantages, such as being fast and weak, strong and slow, or tall and lanky. And you can switch between avatars on the fly thanks to a “pull cord” system where you reach out your arm and fire a small ball for longer and longer to cycle through and select your avatar in one quick motion.

I find this particular interface very smart – it’s quick, fun and easy to do. The only adjustment I would make is to increase the pitch of each sound effect to more closely associate a specific pitch with selecting a specific avatar. I would have liked to see bonelab push further into this type of innovative interaction design that interfaces directly with gameplay.

And while it’s also a really smart idea to allow players to switch between avatars with significantly different abilities, I didn’t find the game really played to that as a core mechanic. in its level design. In most cases, which avatar you should use for the given task is quite obvious, and there’s not much room for creativity, whether in a specific enemy encounter or puzzle. It’s too bad because you could easily build a whole game around this idea of ​​avatar swapping.

So… I didn’t like the campaign part of the game. But what about its sandbox modes?

Unfortunately, they fall prey to the same problems as the campaign. The main problem is that this sandbox lacks really fun toys.

Yes, you can spawn almost any enemy you’ve encountered in the campaign… but they’re not much fun to fight. And sure, you can spawn any weapon… but again, they work so similarly that it’s just not that exciting to have the arsenal at your fingertips.

Looking at my boneworks examination, I find that Bonelab’s the basic gameplay can unfortunately be summed up in exactly the same way:

Boneworks unfortunately does not transcend the sum of its parts; it fails to find a compelling interplay between puzzles and combat, and misses the opportunity to build a set of core concepts that lead to a climax in mechanics, gameplay, and story. Instead, it feels like piecemeal gameplay scenarios strung together on a new technical foundation with a dash of storytelling.

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

And that’s what will make or break bonelab long-term. The developers have described their intention to offer the game as a base for VR experimentation. If it takes bonelab could one day be a very different experience than it is today.

Despite the various criticisms above, I will say that I am impressed with how bonelab looks and works on Quest 2. Not the prettiest game on the headset, but the essential look and feel of boneworks translated almost perfectly into the headset, including some neat trippy visuals. Performance isn’t perfect on the headset, unfortunately, with some later scenes slowing the game down here and there. Admittedly, I didn’t think the hitch was enough to have a real impact on my gameplay, although occasional crashes were a nuisance.

Oh and the soundtrack is once again a jam.


A thing bonelab definitely does good is to create a constantly interactive world. Aside from walls, ceilings, and floors, pretty much everything in the game world is physics-based and can be interacted with.

This means you can do intuitive things like open doors with your gun barrel, press buttons with your virtual elbow, or hurl enemies over a railing to their near doom. You can slam a door on an enemy to deal damage, catch a bullet thrown into the air, or use a shovel to pick up items and move them around.

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 fun of the game came from using slow motion to do cool action stuff like jumping off a platform and shooting enemies on the way down, flipping a gun one hand to another for a cool reload, or watching my fist connect with an enemy’s face at full power.

But aside from slow motion, things seem a little bland. Shooting is a simple point and spray affair and melee often feels like a less satisfying version of Blade and sorcery. Slow motion is the key tool to make it all fun, mostly by directing your own visual spectacle or challenging yourself to do some crazy moves.

While the physics of objects in the game are pretty solid, your body itself often looks like a floppy mess. Basic things like jumping and climbing are much more often frustrating than not, which makes it puzzling that the game likes to have you climbing and jumping. Even simple things like climbing ladders and climbing over a ledge can be inconsistent to an awkward degree.

And this example of a larger problem with bonelab. The game is so busy wondering if it could doing everything based on physics that he didn’t stop to consider whether or not he should. Sometimes the physical approach to the game makes the game more janky and less functional.

Take, for example, the occasional weapons 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’re also moving the entire box, sometimes turning it upside down and spilling the contents. boneworks had the exact same problem when it launched over two and a half years ago.

And sure, that might be “physically correct” given the understanding of the play of forces involved, but that’s almost universally not the thing the user intends to do when grabbing that red handle.

bonelab would be a better game if the studio were more strategic about when to use physics to drive interactions and when to make exceptions for usability.

The red handle on the weapon’s chest is just one example of a problem that came cleanly from boneworks at Bonelab—The game’s holster system also remains quite boring with several obvious design issues that could be fixed with just a little attention.


bonelab is unabashedly an intense game when it comes to comfort. The game warns players upfront that they must have serious VR experience before trying the game, a warning everyone should heed.

The game doesn’t eschew gameplay that typically results in discomfort: things like tossing you through the air, spinning smoothly on vehicles, dropping you from great heights, or sliding down long stretches of winding pipes. Not to mention a real roller coaster ride.

Compared to its predecessor – which at launch had an exceptionally springy feel in its escalation, which gave me the worst case of proprioceptive disconnection I’ve ever experienced –bonelab does a little better with his climbing. It’s still flimsy but not as bad as the original.

bonelab apparently has no limits to its sandbox mode, which means you can potentially slow the game down to a stutter if you spawn enough items; choppy frame rates can cause discomfort, although the game never forces this on you.

If you consider yourself generally susceptible to unnatural movements, you should think twice before playing bonelab; remember that Meta and Steam have reasonable return windows of 14 days 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

Artificial turning
Quick turn
Smooth turn
Artificial movement
Smooth movement
Based on controller
Interchangeable movement hand
Standing mode
Sitting mode
Artificial squat
Really squat
Dialog audio
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty In some modes
Two hands required
True crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height

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