Compromised should have been called No Compromise. For less than the cost of a pint at the pub, you will be getting a game that has benefited from a lot of love and attention to detail. Trying to find the diamonds while sifting through the general sludge of the XLIG service is tough (and soul-destroying at times). Given enough time, you’ll eventually stumble upon all the amazing finds that are in there, but let’s save you some of that time. Compromised is one of the games to buy if you have any interest in top-notch arcade action.
It would be easy to say that Compromised is like a mixture of this game and that game, but this would be doing it a disservice. It is different enough to be classed all on its own. You are Aero, on a search and, if need be, destroy mission, sent out from Se-Da, the hub of civilisation which has detected a possibly threatening virus spreading and approaching from outside. To this end you pilot a 2D ship along a myriad of tunnels and caverns, with a twin-stick control scheme (move in one direction, shoot in another), but after some initial help from colleagues, you soon lose contact with the chain of command and must find a way back to Se-Da.
The tunnel (world) edges do not harm your ship which is a fantastic design choice because there is already a perfect amount of challenge just in surviving other threats along the way. Whilst the route is linear, the stages and areas discovered on the journey all prove to be distinct enough to provide highly memorable experiences. One way in which areas differ is in how far away the camera is zoomed from Aero’s ship; one minute you could be fighting your way through a tiny corridor filling much of the screen and the next you could be a tiny sprite in the distance, surrounded by a giant cavern and similarly giant bosses. This simple shake up in the action makes every new encounter fresh and exciting.
The visuals are a contrast of greyscales Vs. redscales, the latter representing the virus, as it spreads across the environment, attempting to take over the tunnel network, as well as its minions, all hell bent on aiding that domination. The cavern walls and backgrounds are intricately designed, occasionally giving way to gaping wounds from unknown damage. White and green mists swirl and curl through the tunnels, with random floating debris filling out the space. Sometimes environmental hazards get in your way or even affect your progress as you get caught in a jet stream, all at perfect intervals to keep it spiced up. Sound and music sugar coat the package, with intense noise and fierce beats at times, then suddenly switching to calm ambiance or sinister tones, depending on the action. Such variety and quality marks out Compromised’s territory.
The standard peashooter laser you are graced with from the start isn’t going to do much damage against the nastier foes, so your ship is equipped with rockets fired in the direction of travel and bombs dropped in place. This does mean that instead of spending all the time circle-strafing as in some other twin-stick shooters, it is advantageous to take the risk of aiming straight at the enemies with a salvo of rockets before dropping bombs and peeling off at the last second, detonating them with some laser-fire whilst on the retreat. Yes, this is fun and sets the pulse racing.
The rockets and bombs are infinite, but in short supply at any one time. When depleted, they take a short while to load the next set ready for use, and at first, some areas will be tough to progress through. However, there is a system which gradually allows your ship’s features to be leveled up, little by little, so if at first you don’t succeed with a level, just try again. To level up, little red upgrade pods must be collected; these are dropped at random by destroyed enemies, but in an evil genius design decision, at first glance they look very similar to little red exploding mines, so careful as you go! Each level up gets more expensive in terms of number of pods collected. Areas that can modified include number of rockets/bombs, strength of rockets/bombs, chance of upgrades appearing, health pod effectiveness (these often appear at useful moments), and strength of main laser. Additionally you can level up the density of the energy cores dropped by most destroyed enemies, used to charge special weapons.
The special weapons are mapped to the face buttons. The Shockwave fires the laser in all directions at once, so good for in a tight spot. The Missile Spread does some serious damage with a lot of rockets fired in the direction of travel. The Shield is very important, soaking enemy fire until used up. The Gravity Bomb gradually expands, pulling everything into it, including your ship if a loss of sanity leads you back to the area. Each of these uses a different amount of energy cores, and equivalent coloured buttons on the screen light up when one becomes available. Even after collecting a lot of energy cores, you could use them all up in seconds if in a panic. The overall variety of the weapons, ease of controlling them and need for employing them all at the right moments makes for an enticing and thought provoking game.
Enemy design is mischievous and well balanced. The mine generators are especially devious, being vaguely stealthy in appearance, zooming around just fast enough for you to worry about the choice between stopping them or sweeping their already dropped mines. Boss battles are a treat too.
Each of the ten stages can be played as many times as needed, with the next stage unlocking on completion of the last. Upon finishing, you will play through them all again in Expert mode, available from the start though if you wish. In this mode, there are no checkpoints so each stage must be completed without dying, made all the more hard given that health pickups aren't dropped as often, especially on boss encounters. For a real challenge, reset the upgrades before starting the Expert play-through. There are hours of playtime, making this extreme value for money.
If that wasn’t enough, the developers have promised two entirely new modes which will be made available for free as DLC. “Survival”: Survive an endless barrage of enemies, collecting energy cores to spend on defences and special techniques. Compare your scores against other Xbox Live players. There is no score aspect in the main campaign, so this mode will surely be popular. “Hoard”: Local multiplayer mode where 1-4 players compete to collect as many cores as possible before time runs out. Collect power-ups to extend time, trigger multipliers, and more. Compare your scores against other Xbox Live players.
However, even before these extra two modes are available, Compromised is well worth a purchase. Plentiful stages, varied well-balanced gameplay, and the superb atmosphere make it stand out from the crowd, keeping you gripped till you have sore thumbs and beyond.