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Boneworks looks like the next step for VR interactivity

Working out in the bone zone

Climbing a ladder seems like such a mundane thing to be excited about, but think about how complex it really is. You need both hands, feet, coordination, balance and power - something that seemed nigh impossible to simulate in VR with limited head and hand tracking until Boneworks surfaced today. As a game, I'm not sure what to make of it, but as a showcase of how solid a VR world can appear, developers Stress Level Zero have me impressed. Below, a trailer plus a longer video putting the game through its paces and demonstrating Valve's upcoming 'Knuckles' controllers.

So much of what Boneworks is doing is clever smoke and mirrors done through animation. Inverse kinematics out the wazoo, with your arms, legs and torso trying to do their best to keep up with the motions of your hands. Up until now, most games try their level best to never move your virtual hands, relative to where you feel they should be in space. Understandable, but without that willingness to anchor your virtual body in the virtual space, there's no sense of weight. Boneworks does it differently - pick up a greatsword in one hand and you become slow and clumsy with it.

Cover image for YouTube video

Developers Stress Level Zero reckon that the illusion only works when you have a fully solid body within the VR space, even if it doesn't map one-to-one to your real physical self. This virtual body has limits, and so do other objects. If you thrust a spear into a punching bag, it'll get stuck in there and only a certain degree of force in pulling it out will recover it. The fact that several of the Node YouTube crew were trying all this for the first time in the video below but took to it like ducks to water suggests that it's actually working. Maybe not for everyone, but it looks mostly right.

Cover image for YouTube video

As for Boneworks itself, it's apparently a narrative driven bit of action weirdness set within a virtual world. There's sassy headless clones, killer spider-bots (which you can grab out of the air and even headbutt) and a lot of guns. The developers will be showcasing more of the combat side of the game later, so we've only got the little teaser trailer to go on at this point, but there's a sense of weight that I've not seen before in VR. Even Free Lives's splatteriffic Gorn, while satisfying in its combat, feels a bit like your weapons are weightless and all-powerful at the same time, slicing through foes like they're mist.

This is still early days for VR. We're only a generation and a half into headsets that don't cost as much as a car, and Valve are still figuring out what a VR controller should look like. There's a long way still to go, but this feels like a glimpse of things to come, and I'm excited again for the potential of this new, tangential medium.

Boneworks is due to launch later this year, and will support all standard VR gear, up to and including the Knuckles. You can find it here on Steam.

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Dominic Tarason