COMPOUND is a roguelite shooter fresh out of Steam Early Access that unabashedly owes a lot of its DNA to classic first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Doom (1993). Far from being just a version of those old school games translated to VR, Compound brings its own stylish take to the genre and integrates VR-native mechanics at its core, which makes it feel right at home in the 21st century.

COMPOUND Details:

Available On: SteamVR, Quest 2 coming “soon”
Release Date: July 19th, 2022
Price: $20
Developer: Bevan McKechnie
Publisher: notdead
Reviewed On: Quest 2 via Link

Gameplay

You’re not fighting the Nazi regime or demons escaped from Hell in Compound; the enemy du jour hits much closer to home, especially now. It’s not clear what leads you to attacking the evil corporation that, like many, has unimaginable wealth and power while you’re living in a one-room apartment in a dingy flophouse, but you’re on your way up John McClane-style guns a’blazing just the same.

The corporation sells the disease and the cure. It makes zombie-like creatures in vats of goo. Everything is out to get you. The CEO is a rich dickhead who flies around in a helicopter. Enough said.

Image courtesy notdead

Starting out in the sewers, your objective is to rid each level of enemies before moving upwards. The further up the corporate ladder you go—or rather, corporate elevator—the larger and more difficult the levels become. It’s a tried and true theme that also does a good job of making you feel like you’re actually moving up a large tower instead of just going through random rooms and ganking random dudes.

There’s a good range of enemies too, which go from standard foot soldier with slow shooting bullets, to one-off baddies that have shields, high HP, and guns that can put you back to your dingy apartment in just a few quick blasts. There are flying drones, some of which explode on contact, little tiny guys that have strong shields, and a few types of tank-style mechs that will easily end your run. Anyway, here’s me forgetting that my shotgun pistol isn’t great at ranged attacks:

Dodging bullets and taking cover is a big part of how you survive, as enemy bullet blasts are telegraphed clearly and are generally slow enough to either physically dodge or backtrack to appropriate cover. Simply put, you can’t just bust into a room and hope for the best either since you only have 5 health points. Getting that critical headshot and having the right tool for the job is important.

Compound can be played seated, although you’ll get most of your fun on your feet for full effect. Oh, here’s an early attempt at me shooting the submachine gun and doing a bit of the ol’ tactical retreat, wild snap-turning included since I played this bit from my office chair.

Level layouts are randomized, although replay value really comes down to the three difficulty levels available and smorgasbord of unique guns that you’ll unlock throughout your continuous attempts at conquering the tower.

There are some modifier syringes to choose at the start that rebalances the action in specific ways before you go in for a run, like lowering enemy HP while upping the number of enemies. Many players will probably opt to skip these until they get a much stronger grip on the game and its various enemies/guns though.

Image courtesy Bevan McKechnie

The game includes three comic-book style story endings, and a BFG-inspired super weapon that unlocks once you’ve beaten the game. You can run through as quickly as 40 minutes for one complete loop, start to finish, although you can save and quit as soon as you’re done with a level if you need a break from the action.

In the end, Compound is one of those games that, although probably more appealing to VR veterans, is actually easy enough for most anyone to pick up thanks to its inclusion of an easy difficulty level and straight forward objective. Ok, there may be one caveat there for newcomers, which I talk about in the Immersion section below.

Immersion

I may only have one gripe with Compound, and it’s the reloading scheme. I was conflicted on whether to include this in the Gameplay section, but it just makes more sense in Immersion since it’s such a big part of the game’s overall feel. Reloading in Compound is unique and it may be a bit too fiddly for most at first. I love-hate it, and here’s why:

You don’t have an on-body holstering system like in other games, but rather a gun-cycling system that allows you a maximum of four weapons—two bound to each hand. Press a button and you toggle to your secondary gun. That’s well and good, but the big pain point here is you need a free hand to grab ammo and physically reload the weapon, which is basically all the time. If you’re looking to pack the maximum four-weapon limit, this forces you to let go of a gun so you can feed it. You can solve this by juggling less weapons, always leaving a hand open for those tasks, but it will definitely leave you with less options down the road.

YouTuber ‘VR Trooper’ does a great job of showing this in action in their 40-minute full playthrough video (spoilers). Here’s a slice of the reloading juggle most people will do before it becomes second nature.

The reloading process in a nutshell: once your gun goes dry, you need to summon a magazine or munition by pulling the trigger on your empty, non-firing hand. You stick the thing into the gun’s receptacle, and then click a button on your firing hand to charge a round or close the breech. Because it’s relying on multiple button presses and not a more direct holstering system (i.e. grab it and use it), it comes off as a bit too abstracted and confusing at first.

The bottleneck is there for a couple of good reasons though. You can see VR Trooper fiddling with ammo above, accidentally selecting the shotgun and firing it, and then properly summoning the ammo again. That happens a lot at first. And while other games might heavily abstract that reloading mechanic to a much quicker and “easier” action, like letting you reload just by flicking your wrist, Compound’s method forces you to build muscle memory, which is in itself another skill to master. So while not terribly realistic, it might make sense from a pacing perspective.

The core reason to juggling a number of temptingly powerful guns—each with their own uses and power levels—is it forces you to think harder about how much ammo you have in the weapon before heading into a room. The core reason for multi-step reloading is it forces you to engage with the guns more directly and know each of their loading mechanics by heart. I like that, even if I hated fiddling with buttons that maybe ought to be replaced with an on-body holster.

Note: The game sidestep manual reloading by allowing you to select a mode from the vending machines called ‘Extra Arms’which adds a slower auto-reload function to the game. If none of the above sounds like a plus, you can always go for the free-to-use, no penalty mode to reload.

As for level design, Compound feels highly varied, even if each level is almost always built around a single floor with a central elevator. Your trusty MapMan 9000 will help you traverse the level, and even return to the elevator by teleporting so you can bypass all of the inevitable backtracking.

Image captured by Road to VR

Although inspired by the classics, Compound thankfully offloads a lot of the UI you’d expect to occupy your POV to an arm-mounted screens that you can look at when there’s downtime. One arm has a level map with progressively unlockable teleport nodes while another has your ammo and health stats.

The game does however float some text at you for key moments, like when your health is critical or you’ve achieved a critical hit on a baddie. Something that can’t be understated about enemies in Compound is how they react to bullets. Baddies satisfyingly fly away when you blast them with a shotgun, and tanks crumble to smoldering wreckage after a choice grenade. There’s never a doubt if you hit something, and whether the hit was classified as critical or not.

Image courtesy Bevan McKechnie

Colors pop and do a great job of naturally differentiating the various enemies and handful of environmental hazards strewn about the levels too. Positional audio is also a big component since it cues you into what may be lurking behind a door, or whether a baddies is flying towards your position.

Comfort

The game is a labyrinth full of moving enemies with gads of bullets to dodge, which means you’ll be strafing and turning around like crazy during fire fights if you don’t carefully plan your next move. There are a few comfort modes that help with this, namely teleport and snap-turn, both of which really take the edge off the game’s expectation for frenetic motion.

Since a majority of the game’s levels are placed on a single floor (no stairs) and there’s no jumping involved, Compound proves to be one of the most comfortable examples VR shooter.

COMPOUND Comfort Settings – July 27th, 2022

Turning
Artificial turning
Smooth-turn
Adjustable speed
Snap-turn
Adjustable increments
Movement
Artificial movement
Smooth-move
Adjustable speed
Teleport-move
Blinders
Adjustable strength
Head-based
Controller-based
Swappable movement hand
Posture
Standing mode
Seated mode
Artificial crouch
Real crouch
Accessibility
Subtitles
Languages
Alternate audio
Languages
Adjustable difficulty
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
9

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  • Ben Lang

    Thanks for reading our review! Please note the following before commenting so that we can have a thoughtful discussion:

    • We scored this game 9/10 – ‘Great’ by our linear scale.

    • Even if the text of the review focuses more on critique than praise, or vice versa, the score aims to boil down the reviewer’s overall opinion of the experience.

    • If you haven’t played the game, understand the limits of your knowledge.

    • If you have played part of the game, your experience may differ from those who have completed it in its entirety.

    • Road to VR does not ever accept payment for reviews or any editorial content.

  • NL_VR

    Must buy

    • ViRGiN

      when it’s out on quest.
      no way in hell i’m ever running this on pcvr ever again.

      • NL_VR

        I have not decided yet

    • Charles

      Definitely at the top of my list of games to try.

      Looks like it’s great in the same ways as one of my top go-to VR games, “4089: Ghost Within”.

  • Brian

    Fast paced first person shooter genres are literally the worst use case for VR games. Simply horrible on so many levels.

    • VR5

      I first played the itch demo of this game years ago, then bought its early access release on Steam. I do have VR legs but that doesn’t mean I don’t get nauseous from some bad artificial locomotion (especially extreme artificial turning, but also bad frame pacing or bumpy physic based movement). Compound was very comfortable for me.

      • XRC

        Yes played the compound demo on Monday. Very comfortable free locomotion experience

      • rjia

        I agree. I have played this game now and it’s been great and comfortable to play. I played a different game called Quell 4D, which is sort of trying to be a similar type of shooter and it’s almost unplayable because of how you turn and move. I feel sick basically immediately in that game and there’s no deadzone on the sticks for some reason so I’m sometimes drifting in a direction or turning when I don’t mean to by trying to click a stick in.

        • VR5

          Stick drift is definitely a problem with Touch controllers after a few years of usage, my Q1 left stick drifts and so does my Q2 right stick. Makes using the browser difficult (random scrolling) as well as selecting apps to start. It’s especially bad when it happens in games as you describe because it can result in shaking which is very nauseating.

          Meta should (and I think they did for a while) implement a system wide dead zone to prevent this but it’s a good idea for devs as well to implement their own dead zone.

    • david vincent

      Well if you still didn’t get acclimated to VR at this point, you will never.

    • Raphael

      Thanks for your expert opinion that is literally the worst on so many levels. Simply horrible.

    • Jistuce

      I’d say the worst use case is probably to project a 2D game out in front of you into a TV in VR space.
      Personally, I’ve found first-person shooters actually developed for VR headsets(or ones involving piloting a vehicle) to be a quite enjoyable experience.

      Compound is fun as heck, and remarkably intuitive(aside from the “carrying 4 guns” problem mentioned in the review). I’m not sure what makes it horrible.

    • philingreat

      Simply horrible on so many levels. please let us know all of them

    • pasfish111

      FPS are beside flight/car simulations one of the best use cases for VR :D. But you are right, the speed has to be slower than on a flat screen game, this has something to do with the physical interaction in 3D Space.
      I don’t understand why so less VR games use bullet time Effects? This Effect is made for VR shooter ;-)

  • MeowMix

    This or ‘Shock Troop’ ?

    • Jonathan Winters III

      both. meow.

  • Wow, a 9!

  • It’s not clear what leads you to attacking the evil corporation that, like many, has unimaginable wealth and power while you’re living in a one-room apartment in a dingy flophouse, but you’re on your way up John McClane-style guns a’blazing just the same.

    Thanks for the heavy handed communist propaganda laced into a review of a simple shooter. Are you 15 by any chance?

    BTW, John McClane KILLED the thieves that were robbing the Nakatomi Plaza. It was Hans Gruber that was “sticking it to the man”. That’s your hero, plummeting to his death, after a POLICE OFFICER outsmarted his anti-corporate azz.

    • Will

      1. Criticism of corporate greed does not equal communism

      2. Some corporations are in fact actually evil

      3. Regardless this review offers neither of those views that’s on you

    • rjia

      That’s literally just a description of what’s going on in the game. Your base of operations appears to be a really crappy, dirty apartment. You’re trying to escape from a secret compound underneath the office building of some sort of shadowy corporation that is keeping vats of some sort of virus and has strange zombie-like creatures floating in containers in stasis and for some reason has a whole bunch of weird crazy messages about working at the company and framed pictures of their executives and framed money up on the walls. It’s not really something the reviewer is injecting. It’s just the strange conceit of the game. We don’t really get much of a description of what is happening or why, but you can infer “something something, evil corporation, dangerous secrets, blah blah blah” or something similar.

  • pasfish111

    I love retro shooter …but 9 Points for Compound is way too much!. It’s too generic (needs more variety in levels, enemies and features), the animations are not polished enough, and it needs way more exaggeration and self-mockery to be a really great game.

    • pasfish111

      A retro game should not be 1:1 like in the 90s … it should have that pixel art style combined with dynamic/modern physics and fluid motions – Broforce is a very good example how it works

      • Jistuce

        It kinda ISN’T 1:1 like in the 90s. I mean, as someone who played Wolfenstein 3D when it was new, Compound isn’t that.
        For one, pretty much nothing is hitscan in Compound instead of pretty much everything being hitscan in Wolf3D.

        Also, exaggeration and self-mockery are not necessary for an homage.
        Where you go to Broforce, I would go to Blazing Chrome or Oniken for examples of flatscreen homages of 90s games… wait, Oniken is late 80s. Or Amid Evil as a mid-90s first-person shooter. They are all earnest and affectionate love letters to the past, not scant parodies, and if you told someone these were real games from the past, they’d probably believe you. They look the part, they feel the part, they were crafted with love for what came before instead of just wearing the skin of the past for a cheap cash-in effort.

        Hell, Broforce doesn’t even have the style of something from that era, preferring instead to wear the weird super-chunky pixels and high color depth that has become so common in 21st-century indie games for some reason. The only platform it would be at home on is a fictional Super Atari(or would that be Atari 10400?). And this generic “make the pixels chunky and call it retro” approach is a pet peeve of mine. If you’re going to try and cash in on the past, at least make it look like it actually belongs somewhere.
        At least acknowledge the realities of the hardware you’re aping. You don’t have to strictly adhere to them, but… don’t make a Genesis game and call it Nintendo-style, and definitely don’t make generic “chunky pixels and high color” unless it is for a very good reason.

        • pasfish111

          The thing is, Compound tries all things, I mentioned, but not enough/good enough to be a real good/entertaining game (long term).

          • Hector

            Its almost like…….its early access or something.

            :pepega:

          • pasfish111

            It is already final!

  • pasfish111

    the wapons in Compound don’t feel good.The feeling of big wapons are still a problem im VR (no weight)…and without good collission/whight simulation its a pure mess. The wapon handling in Oward is still one of the best.