Compound is the most fun I ever had in a VR shooter
Compound has brought the old-school FPS experience to virtual reality. And me, too. Over and over again.
Compound is inspired by the art style and gameplay of early first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996). Solo developer Bevan McKechnie's VR game brings the aesthetics and action of such classics to virtual reality, combining them with Rogue-Lite elements.
Compound: Review in a nutshell
Compound is the quintessential virtual reality first-person shooter. Nothing is superfluous or complicated, and everything is designed for a quick adrenaline rush. Enter this garish pixel realm and leave it with a big grin on your face. The excellent flow of the game, the beautiful pixel art, the driving synthwave music: it all adds up to a shooter formula that is unparalleled in VR.
Primarily tested with: Meta Quest 2
You'll like Compound if you …
- want to experience a first-person shooter in VR,
- are looking for action-packed gameplay in short bursts,
- love pixel art and synthwave music.
You won't like Compound as much if you …
- prefer less hectic gameplay,
- play mainly seated,
- and don't like artificial movement (smooth locomotion or teleportation).
Kick the CEO's ass
In Compound, you step into the boots of an unnamed anti-hero who takes the law into his own hands and sets out to bring down the CEO of a powerful and corrupt mega-corporation.
You start in a rundown flat, choose the difficulty level by eating a cake (Easy), a medium rare steak (Medium) or a bottle of liquor (Hard), and get on the elevator.
There are no cutscenes, no intro. You learn the story of this dystopian world casually and in bits and pieces through your surroundings as you shoot your way up the floors to the villain's headquarters.
You'll start in a sewer, sweep warehouses, search offices and research areas, and eventually reach the luxurious executive floors. It will take you between 30 and 40 minutes to get to the final boss.
Play the way you like it
This is a Rogue-Lite, which means you'll die and start over many times, especially on the higher difficulty levels where the enemies increase in number and strength.
Over time, you'll unlock new weapons and so-called mutators. These are syringes, that allow for genetic manipulation. Once administered, they change the rules of the game.
For example, you can activate an "Oldschooler mode" that brings the gameplay even closer to that of classic shooters like Doom. You can then carry up to 16 weapons and move much faster, but there are more enemies and their projectiles are faster.
The levels are randomized rather than handcrafted and look very similar. Variety comes mainly from the different appearances and combinations of the numerous enemy types, as well as the weapons and mutators you choose. Compound is a title that gives you some freedom in how to play it.
A superb gameplay flow
Compound has a great feel to it. The arsenal of weapons is broad, yet clearly defined by the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon. The blasters, rifles, and explosive weapons feel and sound excellent.
The individual floors are rather small, and you can move through them quickly enough that there is always something going on. Once you've cleared them of the henchmen, you can teleport right back to the elevator, catch your breath, and move on to the next floor.
In later levels and higher difficulties, you'll have to duck, dodge, and spin to avoid all the pixel projectiles. With the tetherless Meta Quest 2, this kinetic style of play is especially enjoyable, as there is less risk of tripping. Of course, you can also play Compound seated, but that's only half the fun.
I'd like to make a special mention of the brilliant soundtrack by synthwave artist Speedblack, which complements perfectly the pixel aesthetics and adds an incredible amount to the atmosphere and impact of this game. I just wish I could turn up the volume in the settings. You can listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or below.
Tedious reloading, silly AI
Something that sets Compound apart is the reloading mechanic and its role in the gameplay. Each weapon is manually reloaded differently, and internalizing the individual moves into muscle memory is a basic requirement for mastering the game.
Manual reloading feels great, but it can get tedious after a while and disrupt the flow of the game, especially if you have to reload all your weapons in turn every time you enter a new room. If you want, you can use a mutator that allows for automatic reloading.
A clear weakness of the game is the almost non-existent enemy AI, especially the humanoid enemies that just run around corners, so you just have to wait and pull the trigger. The enemies are more dangerous because of their weapons and sheer mass than because of their cunning.
Verdict: An explosive cocktail of VR, FPS, and pixel aesthetics
The retro graphics, the synthwave soundtrack, the pacing, the gunplay: the last time I experienced something like that was in Hotline Miami. Compound is a VR game, and it plays very differently, but it has the same audiovisual vibe and punch.
Because I'm in the game in seconds, I've been putting on my VR headset and firing up Compound over and over again for the past few weeks and days. Few VR games do that to me.
A trophy case in the anti-hero's apartment shows my achievements: How often I used which weapons, how many of which enemy type I killed, and which mutator game modes I mastered. This motivates me to take on new challenges and try out new weapons.
Compound thrives on trying new combinations of weapons and mutators. It celebrates the journey, not the destination. If all you want to do is beat the final boss, you'll probably put the game down soon.
In terms of content, Compound has room for improvement. I would like to see more levels, more weapons, more enemies, more mutators. Unfortunately, none of that is coming: McKechnie has made it clear that he has finished his work on Compound and has moved on to a new project.
That's a shame because the VR game feels like the foundation of something big that could go far beyond itself. I hope we don't have to wait years for McKechnie's next game to release.