Natural Selection 2 | Flashback Review
Natural Selection 2 (PC)
Natural Selection 2 (NS2), developed and published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, released 31 October 2012, is a Sci-fi FPS (first person shooter) multiplayer game with RTS (real time strategy) elements that pitches marines against aliens. It’s an incredibly difficult game to learn and master, but doing so can reward you with some of the best alien movement design and multiplayer moments to be found in a game. For this review I hope to cover in more detail what NS2 is, why it’s good, why it’s not so good and whether you should bother adding this game to your PC collection.
So firstly, what is NS2? NS2 is primarily a competitive multiplayer that pitches two teams, aliens and marines, against each other in an attempt to destroy each other’s main base and wipe the other team off the face of the map. Both sides are guided by a commander, who instead plays a RTS role in guiding players through the map, viewing the level from a bird’s eye view while placing structures that provide weapons, buffs or extra resources for those on the field. Each side competes in capturing resource points, which can be used to build structures that provide resources for both the commander and players to use, and bases, which are used for establishing new strongholds that can then be used to acquire new upgrades or structures. There are a wide variety of maps to fight on, each with a Sci-fi feel to them, but there are a variety of parts that mix them up such as lava, a bar or an observatory with a view of a rather familiar looking planet.
Marines use a variety of weapons and gadgets to manoeuvre around the map and keep the nasty aliens at bay. Starting off with the traditional assault rifle, marines eventually get access to shotguns, jetpacks, flamethrowers and, if a marine saves up enough resources for it and the research is available, Exos, which are essentially giant mechs used primarily for decimating the alien forces. Marines must spend time constructing objects that the commander places on the map and defend the power source in the area to keep things functioning. In return for taking the time to build these structures, marines can build teleporters to make up for their slow movement speed, sensors to detect nearby aliens and armouries to resupply from. Armour and weapon damage upgrades can also be researched over time with the right structure and enough resources.
Aliens on the other hand, use agility and close quarter combat to their advantage, with Skulks, the primary alien force, using their razor sharp teeth to tear their enemies to shreds. Aliens are typically more difficult to play as, although there is nothing quite like being able to run up walls, leap great distances and chomp on unsuspecting marines, all from the perspective of the Skulk’s slightly unhygienic mouth. Structures placed by the alien commander do not need players to construct them and instead automatically build over time, however cysts must be placed on the map to spread infestation which is required for building alien structures. If a chain of cysts is broken, the separated cysts will no longer spread infestation, so the commander must use structures wisely to counter this, such as the shade which can hide nearby buildings and aliens. During the later parts of a game, aliens have a selection of “evolutions” to select from at the cost of player resources that vary greatly in ability. For example, gorges being the cheapest are little hippo like aliens that specialise in support by healing others while the Onos, being the most expensive to evolve into, is a strong dinosaur looking like creature that can tear through marines like tissue paper. On top of this, aliens can choose up to 3 upgrades when available that can, for example, increase their energy regeneration for using special abilities, or further increase their movement speed.
Both sides have been balanced well, with each side having one advantage or another usually countered by an equal disadvantage. For example, smaller aliens are usually faster but tend to be more fragile allowing marines to shotgun them pretty easily. However, game balance is very dependent on teams, as more often than not you’ll find yourself in a game that has already been decided within the first ten minutes after one side has half of the map under their control. Admittedly there is the occasional game which has that perfect tug of war between sides, and it is always possible for a team to make a come back even in the most dire of situations, but most games are usually decided early on which can be frustrating if you find yourself frequently on the losing side. Adding to this is the age of this game, only about a year old at this point in time, but this has impacted on the player base. While it’s usually possible to find at least one full server with around 24 players for the standard game at any time, the peak hours tend to only have about another 2 or so servers full, which is a huge difference in comparison to the 10 or so servers that used to be full closer to launch.
Natural selection 2 is also frequently described as having some pretty hefty hardware requirements. However everything does look quite pretty and while the tog-gable chrome colour of the alien vision, that allows you to see everything in infrared, can initially be a bit off-putting, it’s easy enough to get used to. Some players may also find the loading times of maps annoying, but usually game sessions last for long periods of time, so I never found this to be an issue. Another downside to this game is the steep learning curve for new players. NS2 is by no means an easy game and this is made even more apparent when playing alongside those with far greater experience. Regardless of side, you’ll probably find yourself initially being torn apart over and over again while wondering what the heck it is your supposed to be doing or what that structure in front of you is actually used for. Commanding in particular can be daunting to learn, as a commander can make or break a game depending on how well they communicate with their team members or what structures they build and in what order. There is a practice mode with bots that you can jump into, but the AI are generally unintelligent which makes this mode barely worth mentioning.
So, there is no denying that there are a few negatives to be found in NS2. But for those committed enough to play through the initial frustration of inexperience there is a truly enjoyable and addictive experience to be found here. Personally I have over 100 hours in this game and counting. Having recently come back to the game and, on average, having triple the deaths to kills, I defiantly remember the reasons this game isn’t for everyone. But there is something in NS2 that continually draws me back in for more, wanting to become that alien ass kicker or natural marine predator. The community are a great bunch as well, no doubt you will encounter the occasional troll or nasty person, but if you’re willing to ask questions and learn you’ll find that there will always be at least one person willing to guide you. Especially the commander, as it’s in their best interest that all players on their team know what they are doing and are working together. On that note, taking the time to learn the role the commander plays and than taking command of a game and coming out victorious is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have in a game.
So in summary, is Natural Selection 2 worth your time and money? Well it does depend on several things, however if you’re not willing to spend the time learning the game, getting used to dying (a lot!) or not really sold by the alien versus marine in an FPS fused with RTS environment, than this probably isn’t the game for you. But otherwise, for the amount you pay ($25 Aus on steam) there is a great amount of play value to be found here. Becoming even semi decent at the game is extremely satisfying and the mechanics used for alien movement makes traversing the many levels you end up fighting on extremely enjoyable. More than anything, this game strongly encourages you to work together as a team, so it can be frustrating when things go south, but when things go to plan it makes for some truly spectacular moments. Natural selection 2 is a game that won’t be for everyone, but there is reason gamers, such as myself, find ourselves coming back to it again and again.