Unflagging intensity meets mainstream virtual reality in Quest 2

Boneworks introduced an innovative approach to interaction in VR, giving all items a real sense of importance and openly inviting the player to role-play along with the game. The game advised players that “if you physically imagine that you are holding a heavy object, it will be easier for you to move it.”

This is the underlying philosophy behind Stress Level Zero’s Marrow1 interaction engine, developed for Boneworks and currently used at Bonelab. Everything you loved (and maybe hated) about Boneworks interactions moved to Bonelab. This means you’ll have to pantomime while picking up items for best results, but it also means the same level of fun, unpredictability, and experimentation.

New structure

However, Stress Level Zero takes a slightly different approach to the overall structure of the game this time around. By opening the game for the first time, you will start the main campaign. After approximately 15 minutes, you will be introduced to a new area of ​​the center called the Laboratory. This is where you begin to implement the full range of Stress Level Zero’s vision – the campaign is only one aspect of what’s on offer.

The Lab offers a range of mini-games, game modes and activities to discover. There are sandbox environments, wave shooters, time trials, and parkour routes just to name a few. After playing The Lab for a while you will be able to proceed with the campaign, but you can come back at any time during or after it – this becomes a permanent option in the main menu, always available. More modes and levels are added as you progress through the campaign, and leaderboards allow you to compete around the world or with friends.

After your tour through The Lab, the longest and fleshiest section of the Bonelab campaign begins. Like Boneworks, the Bonelab campaign is a mix of platformer and shooter that encourages you to find creative and unique solutions using the variety of tools available. There is a mix of enemies – including faceless digital zombies and headcrab-inspired robots – but they rarely present a real challenge.

The game constantly provides new and varied weapons for you to experiment with. Most of the fun of the campaign comes from these experiments, allowing you to go to Hell in search of skin in a dramatic way as you move through each area. The more creative you are, the more fun you will have. The sandbox system is so open that at a few points I got the job done and wasn’t sure if I did it as intended or if I came up with another solution that just worked. The more likely answer is that it doesn’t matter: Bonelab often doesn’t care how you get from A to B, it just wants you to do it any way you want.

On the other hand, the physical system can be incredibly frustrating at times. Climbing a ladder or jumping onto a ledge is always more difficult than it should be, such as when body parts become stuck or behaving out of place. Likewise, I would often reach for one object on my body, such as a gun, and end up with something else in my hand, such as ammunition. This occasional inaccuracy in interactions can become frustrating and even worse when mugged by enemies at close range.

All of this will sound quite familiar to Boneworks players who share the same assumptions and inherent problems. That being said, Stress Level Zero introduces some new mechanics that are shaking things up. The most visible is the in-game avatar system, where you play as different characters with different physical attributes and stats (speed, weight, strength, etc.). You’ll unlock these avatars in a series of worlds featuring mini-games and obstacles designed around the avatar’s strengths and weaknesses. There is, for example, a parkour track for a quick avatar or a retro-inspired punch-em-up minigame for someone with super strength.

bonelab avatar

Once all avatars are unlocked, you can switch between them at will by using the unit on your shoulder. By the end of the campaign, switching between avatars becomes a new tool for solving environmental puzzles or a creative approach to meetings. There are circumstances where you will need to use a particular avatar to achieve the result, and others where you can just change because you feel like it. In theory, this is certainly an interesting new mechanic, but in practice the campaign does not always use it in many interesting ways. You can also switch freely between avatars in The Lab, which will likely allow players to find more interesting uses for them.

Support for narration, post-game sandbox and mods

As for the narrative, Bonelab’s story is quite thin and useless. The campaign is definitely a continuation of the Boneworks universe and plots, but don’t expect a lot of specific answers or a big narrative closure. You will discover a range of soulless, abandoned corporate environments and research facilities, as well as a mix of more creative MythOS worlds developed by former Monogon Industries employees. The campaign probably took me around six or seven hours in total, but your mileage may vary depending on how fast or slow you play.

As with Boneworks, it sometimes feels as though the campaign and narrative play second fiddle to the wider sandbox toolkit that Stress Level Zero creates at Bonelab. However, post-game offer improvements and game modes could make it more acceptable this time around. As mentioned, The Lab is a fantastic central area with a wide variety of mini-games and game modes to explore. That in itself offers a decent amount for players to get back into the post-campaign, but there’s one other important addition: mods.

At launch, the Bonelab mod section will support importing custom avatars for use in the game and will automatically assign stats (strength, speed, etc.) to the avatar based on its silhouette. Stress Level Zero developer Brandon Laatsch says support for mods will expand over time, and plans include support for custom items, vehicles, and more.

Performance issues

While all of this means a solid foundation, Bonelab has slightly rougher edges in Quest 2.

It’s an achievement that Stress Level Zero managed to get such an ambitious release running on standalone hardware, but also has some notable and persistent performance issues in Quest 2. During my game I encountered frequent stuttering, frame drops, and multiple moments where it was clear that the headset struggled to keep up. The game also crashed repeatedly and there were a few instances where I had to manually exit and restart the game to move on. It’s definitely playable, but it’s not a completely smooth experience.

Bone Lab quest 2

Aside from the performance issues, it’s also clear that significant trade-offs have been made to keep the game running in Quest 2. A dense gray fog appears in many environments at close range, possibly to obscure short draw distances, and the game uses heavy and noticeable solids. foveated rendering. Textures have a fairly low level of detail and often look distorted from a distance, and are only very detailed when the player is very close.

Even so, the game still looks decent on standalone hardware given the circumstances. It remains an impressive feat, but performance is definitely inferior to the Quest 2.

Bonelab Review – Comfort

In terms of comfort, Bonelab is an extremely intense experience. All movement takes place by means of smooth locomotion on a stick. The comfort options are incredibly limited, with some snap and smooth rotation settings, but no vignette or teleportation options. You’ll also often encounter sequences with other forms of fast artificial movement, such as launching from a hydraulic jump, falling from a long hole, or riding a fast-moving mine cart.

Once we have touched on Boneworks, the unpredictability of the physics system (and the pantomime involved in using it) can be exhausting and nauseating in itself. Likewise, the mixed performance in Quest 2 can increase the intensity even more.

All of these elements mean that Bonelab has a high potential to cause nausea and motion sickness, even in people with extensive experience in VR. Players prone to motion sickness should exercise caution when playing Bonelab and it is not recommended for those who are new to VR.

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