Until I played Boneworks, I never knew how much fun the simple act of gripping and holding something was (get your mind out of the gutter, you!). Holding and gripping things is something we do every day; from this morning's coffee cup to the mobile phone you might be reading this article on. Gripping and holding objects is second nature to most of us and as such it's not really something that the average person would stop their day to think about.
When it comes to VR games though, the act of gripping and holding objects is often simplified compared to real life. Normally, the item will teleport to your hands when you reach out to grab it and then it'll sit there, locked into the exact place the game's designers wants it to be. Not so with Boneworks though. Items will still fly to your hands Force Pull style if you reach at them from a distance but after that? Well things change in a way that makes Boneworks one of the most realistic feeling VR games I've ever played.
You see, Boneworks has this really clever way of using both the grip and trigger buttons on your controller to allow you to hold things either tightly or loosely. This means it's possible to slide your fingers up and down the handle of a sledgehammer to find the optimal swing point to deliver a cracking blow, or to twist a hammer around in your fist so you can use either the blunt end or claw to attack your foes. It's such a simple thing, but it feels like a game-changer in VR.
You can watch me demonstrate the grip mechanics and loads more in this week's episode of Ian's VR Corner, which you'll find in the video player below these words.
As you can tell from the title of this week's Ian's VR Corner, I'm pretty sure I've found my VR game of the year with Boneworks. The way this game recreates real-world physics in a virtual world is just unbelievable and while there are certain ways to solve the game's many puzzles, this realism allows you to play in a free-form, experimental way and it actively encourages you to cheat puzzles if you're able to think outside of the box.
These physics based puzzles have a distinct Half-Life vibe to them and these, combined with a Portal-esq storyline, create an experience that feels so Valve, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is another Half-Life spinoff for VR. The levels are large and open and some of them feel so maze-like in their construction that it's impossible not to want to explore every nook and cranny. Even the smaller levels are littered with secret passages and hidden areas that often require some climbing or building in order to reach them.
I reckon most of these levels could be rushed through in around 30 minutes but I spend triple that at least, just playing with things, hitting things, climbing things and in general, just being thrilled to be there. Honestly, I've not felt this sense of 'being' in a game since my brain tricked me into feeling the G-Force as flew fighter planes in Ace Combat 7 VR.
Boneworks doesn't just replicate real world physics though, it also plays with them. A part of the game I got past recently had me playing around with gravity wells in order to lift a steel platform, while other scenes I've witnessed in the launch trailer seem to suggest magnets and propellants will come into play. Saying that though, I spent about 45 minutes just carefully balancing planks across gaps last night and even that was incredibly absorbing.
So what else can I gush about? Well, the combat is on another level. The shooting mechanics are up there with Pavlov VR in terms of how realistic the guns are. The reloading mechanisms have been simplified a bit in order to make things feel a bit more arcade-like, but all the guns pack a punch and nailing a headshot from a distance is satisfying AF.
Melee weapons are great fun to use too, especially on the 'Nullbody' enemies who have such a great physical presence to them. The way the crumple as you bonk them on the head with a brick is as comical as it is brutal, but I have to admit the realism factor is pretty high here and I did feel a bit weird after one made me jump and I stabbed it to death with a frenzy of blows from a hunting knife...
With all this being said, Boneworks is on the extreme scale of VR and it's not going to go well for someone who tries this as their first VR game. It can be played with all the teleportation and click turning comfort settings turned on if you want, but it's designed for free movement and it plays best that way. It probably plays better stood up too, but due to lack of space, I play it in a seated position and it's absolutely fine - just watch the video if you need proof!
You'll also need to get used to your body being a physical presence that can get caught on or between things as you climb. In most VR games you'll clip through scenery but here, it's very easy to get an arm tangled on something as you climb. Also, it helps to pull down the right thumbstick when you climb, in order to lift your legs and make it easier to hoist yourself onto a platform.
But anyay, I've been away from Boneworks for long enough and all writing this post has made me want to do is play it more. If you own a PC VR headset, I'd say this is definitely an essential purchase, because if you have the stomach for it, you'll want to stay inside this game for a very, very long time. I know I do.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian's VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I've covered Asgard's Wrath, Ghost Giant and Five Nights at Freddy's VR. You can also read our list of the best VR games.