Alright, that’s enough retrospective videos. A wise man once told me, he who dwell on the past have eyeballs glued to his bum cheeks. Actually he wasn’t THAT wise. Time to move on and return our gaze to gaming’s future, all two or three years of it that remain before we all die in wars and climate disasters. And to do that I’m going to review a game that came out a month ago: Boneworks. Because it’s VR, which stands for Very Ruturistic. I’ve been getting back into VR, lately, I still like it as a fundamentally more immersive way to play games, but that’s all very well for me to say from atop my throne of rare Funko pops.
As much as I like playing in VR, I still don’t think it will become relevant to the mainstream until (A) it doesn’t cost so much, (B) the computer you need to run it on doesn’t cost so much and no longer requires a cooling system bought second-hand from the Soviet nuclear program, (C) it can be set up without taking up nine USB ports and a day off, and (D) enough time has passed for everyone to get their sea legs and our futuristic robot vacuum cleaners have mopped up all the sick. Oh yes and (E) a couple of hot apps to make it worth the bother, and Boneworks might be a right step in that direction.
VR is still largely in its youthful phase which will inevitably come back to embarrass it after it leaves high school, meaning that most of its games are still a bit too enamoured with the technology itself and based around short experiences, because they assume the audience is like the ones in the very early days of film who screamed when they thought the big train was about to smash through the wall, and they’re afraid of overloading the robot vacuums. Boneworks’ story campaign is largely about being in a VR world and ooh future technology is humanity ready blah de blah, disappointingly, but it’s still a step forward for VR largely because it fucking has a story campaign of decent length that isn’t just six rooms in which we stand poking bananas on a tray until we jizz ourselves.
Also, I can play it sitting down. VR and motion control games have long had trouble grasping that comfort is a big part of immersion, and I don’t like standing around for long periods, especially not with two pounds of electronics strapped to me bonce. ‘Roomscale’ my seated comfortable arse – do you think we all live in the studio apartments from 90’s sitcoms? I was enjoying Superhot VR for a while but then I couldn’t get through a certain level because they spawned all the guns under me fucking couch.
But none of that for Boneworks, sit down all you want you lazy cunt. The next notable thing is that you move freely around with the analog stick rather than teleport place to place, and somehow it doesn’t make me throw up. So it must be doing something revolutionary, ‘cos it’s the kind of game that seems like it should. It’s a physics-based game where your in-game body is one of the physics objects, and you can use your in-game hands to climb all over the environment, but if you try to get your in-game hands or head to pass through a solid object then they won’t, and will judder violently as the rules of the virtual world try to meet whatever flappy hands bollocks you’re doing in reality halfway, and that’s precisely the kind of shit that overworks the robot vacuum cleaner, but no, I seem to be fine.
Maybe it’s less the game and more me being used to VR now, but I hadn’t used my Oculus for like a year before I started Boneworks, mainly because I couldn’t be arsed to set the cameras up again and needed the USB ports for my powered amphibious bellend scraper. But when I said the game is physics based you pictured many things. Hanging ropes and stacking crates and cabbages and kings. Boneworks does have a lot of physics puzzling, i.e. if in doubt, stack a crate,
But it’s physics based in the sense that Half-Life 2 was physics based. In that once you get bored of all the pulleys and seesaws you can unwind by admiring the physics with which a goon’s head bounces off the pavement after you shoot them with your big gun, and it’s the combat where Boneworks shines. It’s going for realism – well, as realistic as you can get when you’re desperately miming the act of jerking off a spectacularly well-endowed man in the hopes that it will make the intangible fireaxe you’re holding connect with nearby enemies. And you know, I didn’t think this could ever work.
Swing a melee weapon with motion controls, the melee weapon bounces off thing in the game, hands in real life do not bounce off anything, Oculus Touch controllers make intimate contact with testicles. But somehow it works here. Things do get a bit Jurassic Park Trespasser-y when you’re trying to heft something the game says is heavy which in reality weighs the same as everything else, i.e. bugger all. But it’s the guns that really do it for me. You have to realistically load and unload your magazines, realistically pull back on the slides with your actual hands, pop the gun under your real actual armpit to holster it and then listen to it clatter to the real actual ground half the time because the holster didn’t register, but it doesn’t matter.
When your rifle runs dry as you’re holding off attackers so you fling it aside to pull two pistols out of your armpits and John Woo your way to safety – well, it’d be hard to explain how satisfying it feels without getting placed on a watchlist. I just wish there was more of it. It takes ages to get to the combat-heavy parts of the campaign, there’s only one kind of enemy that also has guns and it’s got the AI of a startled fish, and thinks the best approach after you disappear behind cover is to all cluster around a nearby wall and examine it for clues.
And I hope you like semi-automatic pistols and submachine guns ‘cos that’s your lot. No shotguns, no explosives, no Ghostbusters laser. I mean, if you’re going to take influence from Half-Life, I’d have made the Ghostbusters laser chapter one, personally. Or possibly even the subtitle. Boneworks even has its own version of Half-life headcrabs, incidentally. You can catch them out of the air as they pounce, then pull out a sidearm and execute it like you’re spritzing a potplant, that was also fun, just to add another bullet point to my watch list entry.
I know only a small percentage of you use VR and to everyone else I might as well by telling you how spiffy the handrails are up in this ivory tower, but for what it’s worth, Boneworks is the first game in a while to make me think VR might be getting somewhere. It’s not there yet. The physics is full of little niggles as you might expect from a game trying to juggle so much. The major issue with the climbing is only your hands and head can be moved and your in-game legs just flop around getting in the way of things like two stubborn trails of cum dangling off your mum’s chin, but forget all that.
Valve announced that new VR Half-Life Alyx game and immediately the expectations sprang almost as high as the stiffies, but on the off-chance that anyone working on that gives a half-cup of sifted shit for what I’d like to see, then I point to Boneworks and say, “Do you see this? Take this, give it a more coherent plot that doesn’t just boil down to “It is a VR game” and methinks doth not protest so much about whether or not it’s a tech demo, ease off the contrived physics puzzles and improve the monster and weapon variety, and that’ll do for me.” “Oh is that all, Yahtzee? Anything else your expensive ivory tower escapism device can do to help you literally blind and deafen yourself to the ongoing horrors of reality that more and more of us are forced to live with to the utter indifference of the openly corrupt liars and plutocrats that govern our lives, your imperial bloody majesty? Er. Ghostbusters laser?