There's no shortage of retro-aesthetic games today. It's a genre that's become exceedingly popular as millennials like myself — who grew up in the age when pixel art was the technological ceiling — grow up and have families. Nostalgia is a huge driving factor for many markets, including media, so it's no surprise to see this trend continue.
But, while many retro-style games often stick to tried-and-true gameplay mechanics that go along with the retro visual style, Compound for the Oculus Quest 2 mostly only uses the visual portion of this retro aesthetic and overlays it onto a modern roguelike shooter format.
Compound executes this impressive modern-and-retro-fusion in a way that few games do, particularly indie VR games that likely don't have a large budget (or any budget at all). It's incredibly fun, doesn't cost a lot, and its roguelike nature means it's nearly infinitely replayable so long as the theme and flow of the gameplay appeal to you. In essence, it's Until You Fall — one of our favorite Quest 2 games — with guns and a very different theme.
Live. Die. Repeat.
Compound doesn't stray too far from the typical roguelike formula. You'll start out at home, a dingy apartment set in an alternate universe that takes place in a pseudo-80s-style dystopian future. Scattered around the apartment are shelves of trophies you'll earn throughout your time playing the game, dirty dishes and pans on the stove, cleverly designed food items you can eat to change the difficulty of the levels, and a room dedicated to helping you practice with each gun in the game.
Before moving to the elevator to being a mission, you can stop by the vending machine to dispense a syringe filled with some mysterious liquid of your choosing. Don't worry, if needles are a problem you can always toggle them off in the menu. Compound's developer seems to have thought of all the odds and ends like this to ensure you have a fairly pleasant gameplay experience.
Each syringe adds a modifier to the mission you're about to embark on — one adds more enemies but each one takes fewer shots to dispense, while another allows you to carry up to 16 weapons at a time instead of the default 2. You can always shower off to erase the effects of the modifier if you made a mistake.
Each mission begins and progresses in the same fashion. You'll start in the sewers and work your way up the megacorp building, dispatching enemies that appear along the way. Much like the original Doom, there's not a massive amount of story here. The game is entirely focused on gameplay and uses the theme as a delivery method instead of the reason you're playing it.
As is the case in any roguelike, Compound's levels are randomly generated and will be different each time you play the game. While the progression up the tower doesn't change, you'll never play the same level twice.
Enemies, likewise, are randomized. Each floor has certain types of enemies that spawn — you won't run into the roving drones with turrets until the 3rd floor, for instance — but the amount and varietal makeup of those enemies is entirely random. It changes further when you add in a modifier syringe.
If you can make it far enough to face a boss, you're really in for a treat.
Regardless of how far you make it, dying results in you being returned to your home to start all over again. As you progress, you'll unlock new modifiers and weapons that help change the game up so you don't feel like you're actually playing the same thing over and over again.
Those modifiers and other skills will help you continue to progress further and further until you feel you've truly mastered Compound and all its hidden wonders. once that happens, you'll unlock the minigun to unleash all fury upon thine enemies.
Sharp visuals, tight mechanics
Compound is an incredibly visually-striking game. Yes, it uses pixel art and voxels to visually tell its dystopian tale but I'm not sure I've ever seen a game on Quest 2 that looks this crisp. It's even crisper on Quest Pro with its pancake lenses.
While all of the game's textures are as pixel art as they can be, that doesn't mean they look simple or sterile. Quite the opposite, actually. While traversing through the game's sewer levels it was hard not to stop and admire the impressive texture work on the game's disgusting metal walls.
Likewise, posters and other signs littered around each floor and area are downright hilarious in a sarcastic sort of way. "BACTERIA EVERYWHERE" adorns sewer walls while posters of "public executions every Tuesday" encourage employees to bring their friends and families for the festivities. One particularly depressing sign reads "Profit before safety," which certainly feels not too far removed from reality at times.
And be sure not to "plead for your life" on company property. It's apparently against policy.
Every time an enemy assaults you with an array of bullets, you'll have a brief moment to dodge them because of how projectiles in Compound work. Much like a classic top-down bullethell game from the arcade days — think 1941 or Ikaruga — bullets in Compound aren't instant vectors, giving you a moment to attempt to dodge or weave around them.
Enemies will occasionally drop ammo, health pick-ups, or armor upon death, all of which have to be picked up quickly before they expire. Some power-ups are particularly rewarding like the "free reloads" ones that give you a few seconds to quickly reload all your guns without incurring an ammo cost.
One gun can be stored for quick recalling at any time by tapping the B or Y button letting you instantly switch between weapons on the fly. Likewise, a wrist-mounted map of the area lets you instantly teleport between any rooms you've already visited, helping you quickly traverse the map or get out of danger. It's also nice to quickly get to the elevator at the end of the level once you've cleared all enemies.
A few things irritated me about the game, but the reloading mechanic drove me nuts for at least two full hours before I got used to the mechanics. There's nothing inherently complicated about them, oddly enough. You summon a clip with your offhand trigger, slap it in place on the gun, and tap the A or X button to load the clip depending on which hand the gun is in.
The issue lies completely in how precisely you need to place the clip on the gun for it to accept a new clip or bullet. I died more than once just trying to frantically reload but eventually got a lot better at the mechanic and died less often. Still, I'd love for this mechanic to be slightly more forgiving so I didn't feel like my own gun was a more formidable enemy than the ones around me.
Even still, given how tight the rest of the game's mechanics are, there's truly very little that could be improved. If you're in the mood for a retro-style shooter with some more modern mechanics, you won't find a game that does it better than Compound on the Quest 2.
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