Considering your game a Top Ten contender right out of the gate can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it shows confidence in your abilities and in the finished product, which is nothing that should be discouraged. Tempered maybe, as the alternative, making such a claim (with your first XBLIG, no less), leaves you out there hanging and open to a torrent of criticism should your title fall short of the expectation. So when the Super Soul fellas stepped up and threw the Developer Challenge flag onto the field, a definite hush went over the crowd. When that crowd assembled outside my window, and why, I do not know.
Compromised (240 MSP) is a twin-stick shooter, but really the banal comparisons to that overstuffed genre end with that statement. In terms of what’s available on the indie channel, and featuring brilliant visuals and a storyline that takes place in actual levels (not just arenas), it’s already above what most offer. And if you’ve watched the trailer below, let’s just get the Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet similarities out of our systems now. Consider this the indie version if you must. That would be high praise (the tone and idea of isolation are present), though the two games play differently, and the Metroid link here is mostly negligible (the first stage has a Mother Brain vibe near its end, and the doors are alike, I suppose).
Placed in the shoes… ah, okay, cockpit, of Aero, you’re originally sent to scout for a disturbance in a wasteland known as Se-Da by your hive-minded, totalitarian leadership brain, Stem. In typical videogame fashion, however, you’re soon embroiled in a much bigger invasion story, on the run from and fighting the physical manifestation of a virus, BIOC, while trying to reestablish communication with the hierarchy. After some initial setup on each level, occasional cutscenes will wordlessly explain the effects of major events. There’s nothing revolutionary in the story itself, though it maintains your interest, and the game’s engine is used impressively to make a point when needed. There’s also flashes of a Bullet Hell in spots, but mostly the game will try to overwhelm you with numbers.
To that end, pacing is well-done throughout. Stages (a total of 10) take you through narrow corridors clogged with debris and fighting stragglers one moment, to large open areas where wave after wave of enemies attempt to wear you down, with plenty of variety in the terrain and enemy types to keep things interesting and evolving.
These in turn lead you to face off against some truly epic bosses (yes, I still have the authority to drop a ‘truly epic’ where applicable) that will switch forms and tactics liberally.
Like this guy.
Defeated enemies will drop two types of cubes. Arguably the more important, especially for the long haul, are the red upgrade cubes, as accessorizing all the shooting is a rather integral leveling system. Besides the obvious nods to health, weapon capacity and damage (you have your normal shot, as well as missiles and bombs), there’s increases to cube drops, determining how much, and how often, you’ll receive them from enemies. This will factor into your later successes, as the second type (and much more common), blue cubes, are converted into energy, which make additional special attacks, mapped to the face buttons, usable once you’ve gathered the required energy. It makes sense to gather as much as you can, as the extra firepower becomes invaluable during multiple, extended waves.
I myself was sustained almost entirely on shields and the occasional gravity bomb (you gotta love its scale and destructive power!), and did pretty well for it. In fact, the only downside to the game was my over-reliance on those shields and revisiting previous levels, to gather upgrade cubes and make it easier at the end. Difficulty in games is tough to balance, and shooters perhaps have it the worst. You need to make it challenging, otherwise the reward (i.e. completion) is lessened by the lack of a hard-fought victory. I never felt that it got too out of hand, and checkpoints / timely health-drops helped tremendously, though be forewarned, the later levels (I’m looking at you ‘Run’, with your trial and error escapes) and specifically the last two bosses, may test your mettle if you’re under-powered. It’s a bit of a cliffhanger ending as well, but perseverance is its own reward, as they say. The trip is worth it.
Compromised joins an expanding list of games that helps to redefine what XBLIGs are capable of, and what we can expect from them. With a gorgeous style, attention given to the little details and involving gameplay, a lengthy campaign (4-5 hours), and free DLC in the coming months (Survival and Hoard modes, with what sounds like local co-op added), it fully deserves a spot on our Top Ten roster and others’ lists as well. It’s a pretty complicated process (involves a bottle of Jameson, darts, and cats dressed as characters from the leaderboard contenders), but a ranking is never as important as an unconditional recommendation. Absolutely buy it.