Compound preview: A retro VR shooter that's already incredibly fun

The sinister Corporation has taken the freedom of the people, and it's up to you to take it back. From your humble Rebel HQ you embark on a journey that begins in the sewers, moves into the warehouses, reaches the low-level offices, and will eventually take you all the way up to the real Boss of the company. Though I keep dying in a blaze of bullets — which does drop you right back at the bottom sewer level — I'm having more fun from this Steam Early Access VR shooter than any recent others that come to mind.

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Compound gameplay: Return to a simpler time

One of the first games I played on PC was Wolfenstein 3D, which was one of the first 3D first-person shooters (FPS) ever developed. Looking back with nostalgic goggles, the pixelated graphics and the simplistic enemy AI are heartwarming, which is no doubt a reason why I can't get enough of Compound.

Though its textures aren't nearly as grainy as those of Wolfenstein 3D, Compound is certainly a throwback to those old FPS games. From the moment you arrive in the Rebel HQ, you'll find yourself looking around at the small details that help make this world stand out. There are sinister signs posted for employees to look at, electrical boxes burst when you punch or shoot them, and once you reach the first office spaces, you can start to get pretty ruthless with property destruction.

Compound is set up as a one-run-and-done game; if you die during an outing, you're sent back to Rebel HQ to start all over again. While this might frustrate some that make it to the final level only to return to the start, this is reminiscent of these classic games. To keep the game from getting stale, each level is randomized. You'll always have a map and HUD on either arm — you twist your arm as though you're reading a wristwatch to display it — to help navigate, something that I don't remember having while I searched endlessly through the corridors of Wolfenstein 3D.

There are currently four weapons in the game, including an infinite-ammo plasma pistol, an SMG, a shotgun, and a railgun, with more on the way. You can only carry two weapons at once, and ammunition is limited. You'll find more from the various enemies you down who also drop hamburgers to boost your health, which is maxed out at five units.

Enemies are varied and can use all the same weapons you do, which does even the playing field. You can usually dispatch a few at once if you manage to hit their weak spots, but a room of shotgun-toting baddies coupled with a couple of small robotic battle droids will cause you to turn and find cover. It's a lot of fun peeking around corners and squeezing off a couple of shots, but it's also fun to do your best impression of Neo from The Matrix and bob and weave your way through bullets. In any case, if you get hit five times in a row without eating a hamburger, it's back to the start.

Compound VR controls: Something for everyone

The developer, Bevan McKechnie, seems to understand how important it is to include plenty of customization options. You can select which headset you're using — Vive and Rift are officially supported now, but Windows Mixed Reality ran fine — and which hand you favor, you can choose between head or controller locomotion direction, you can customize buttons for picking up and dropping items, and you can choose between teleport and smooth movement. There's likewise snap turning, with smooth turning on the way. All of these options can be tweaked without even having to pause the game thanks to a pop-up menu on your off-hand.

Gunplay by design feels a bit spongy (not necessarily a bad thing), but the way weapons are handled is quite satisfying. Reloading involves opening the weapon's breach, ejecting the old ammunition, and popping a new clip (or single shotgun shells) into the opening. It takes a bit of getting used to, but you'll soon have it down to a subconscious level.

For those with a 180-degree Rift setup, you can choose between room-scale and front-facing gameplay. I tested out both, and while it's certainly more natural to turn on your own, the snap-turn method worked just as well and my cables were way less twisted at the end of a run.

Compound Early Access preview: Should you buy it?

Compound is still in its infancy — it was only released into Steam's Early Access program May 15, 2018 — but it costs about $20. The developer himself has admitted that this price seems steep, but apparently it won't be going up in price as more content is released. In this case, it's really up to whether or not you trust the developer to bring this game to its full potential, but at least there is transparency. A Trello board outlining the work schedule is available for all to see.

In my own case, I think I've probably already had enough fun to pay back that $20. Compound is easy to jump into, its controls are natural and there are options for a wide swath of players, and it hearkens back to games that I grew up with, especially thanks to the retro soundtrack. There are some bugs, but they're all part of the Early Access experience. My suggestion? Give the free demo a try and see if you're still craving more when it's finished.

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Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.