I feel like I need to write about Boneworks before I do my Half Life: Alyx review. Partly because I haven’t finished Alyx yet, and partly because There is a slew of people coming through into VR at the moment who probably aren’t too aware of what else there even is to play on VR other than Alyx. So after you’ve stopped wetting your pants over being able to use a pen in VR go ahead and wishlist/buy Boneworks.
It’s going to be difficult to review Boneworks properly in a post Alyx world, mostly because Boneworks itself feels more like a Half Life 2 sequel than Alyx does. It’s got headcrabs, crowbars (unlike Alyx!) physics puzzles, a dreary believable setting, and an immersive experience that reminds me of the first time I had to escape the Carbine in HL2.
Boneworks sets you as a rogue admin within a virtual OS environment, in an alternate future in 1997. It appears that the major difference is that tape technology somehow became super cutting edge. Your goal is to thwart the idiot AI’s bumbling around and reset the system clock, somehow bust outside mythOS and send your consciousness into immortality.
The story is a little vague for the most part, but serves well enough as a driver for you to fight your way through physics puzzles and equally physical enemies. Unlike other VR games your body has a physical presence within the world. That means you cant move your controllers through an object without your ingame arms getting jammed and bouncing around trying to sync up. Objects have heft, and pretty much everything is a weapon you can use for clobbering enemies, so you can get quite creative. For instance hiding up in the ceiling and dropping cinder blocks on the heads of your foe is something you’re encouraged to do at one point. You have both single and two handed weapons you need to reload manually, and if you’ve already had some practice in Pavlov, this will be a sinch for the most part. Generally for slower enemies I relied on a good old fashioned hatchet to the head to dispatch them and save ammo, but shootouts with the faster moving ones were always a thrill and felt quite fast paced.
Physical combat felt bizarrely real when the enemies got too close for a swing, ending up in a grappling match with us both crouched on the floor, with me ending the fight, crouched and panting over their bashed in AI corpse waiting to see if they start moving again.
Boneworks dedicated to physicality to a fault. I think that’s how you use that phrase. Climbing off a ladder is a skill you need to develop, as is the old jump of faith with your arms flung out to catch your fall on the end of a ledge, and then gingerly lifting yourself up and over the ledge while pressing the “tuck knees” button.
Jumping feels just right, but climbing can occasionally end up with you punching yourself in the face, something I did a lot during this game, much to my audiences amusement.
Grabbing items is done in a force suck sort of fashion, aiming and holding for the item to come zooming at you. Similiar to Alyx’s Russels, without the classy wrist flick.
Puzzles are great as well, with there being no wrong answers to the way you solve them. I was unsure how to get past a turret at one point and decided putting a garbage can over myself would act as the perfect shield. I had a little trouble getting it on so I ended up using the lid as a shield instead and fuck, it worked!
Throughout the game there are collectibles you can tuck away and chuck into a reclamation bin at the end of a level. This bins will then let you use these items in sandbox maps after you’re done with the story mode. Similiar modules are hidden around the levels in optional puzzles, which open up all sorts of sandbox modes which keep the game interesting long after the 12 hour story is finished.
Honestly I want more of this game, which is spurring me on to go back and figure out the optional puzzles and probably unlock as much as I can.
The soundtrack has some great killer tracks that would fit happily in anyone’s synthwave playlists.
Complaints I have for this game include a shonky equip system. You have two shoulder slots (one on either side), two chest slots, and a hip slot. In seated mode there’s about a 70% chance trying to stick an item to your hip slot ends up with you just biffing the item away entirely, leading to a panicked little search, hoping that your prized machine gun hasn’t fallen down a hole somewhere.
There was one time I managed to force the majority of my body through a train window I wasn’t supposed to go through. I ended up being caught there and needing to reset the level, which tbh didn’t make me lose too much time, but it’s just something to be aware of. If you force it, you can bust the geometry, but I guess that’s part of the fun.
Also I wish holding a weapon didn’t require a death grip on the shoulder(?) button. Sometime’s I needed to give my hands a rest from squeezing the shit out of my poor WMR controllers. If I could trigger gripping with a click and then do it again for certain things like guns that would be nice. I understand for throwing thing this could be a real issue needing to click again to release, so maybe there could be a way to map it? I dunno…
All in all, there’s a lot of lessons people can learn from Boneworks which I hope we’ll see in future titles. On the other hand I wish Boneworks inventory management was as intuitive as Alyx’s.
Either way, for people who wished for a little more freedom, or are just looking for a sweet action title with cool music and nooks to explore Boneworks is a must recommend.