Natural Selection 2 Review – Online FPS/RTS Hybrid
Natural Selection 2 is the stand-alone sequel to the popular Half-Life mod. This team-based first person shooter is full of intense action, with victory relying on strategy and cooperation. The game suffers from optimization issues and demanding computer requirements, as well as player problems.
What is Natural Selection 2?
Natural Selection 2 is a first person shooter game revolving around combat between two sides: The Space Marines and Aliens. Both sides must eliminate the other by denying and gaining resources, researching upgrades, and ultimately destroying the enemy command structure.
A Natural Selection 2 game starts with players selecting a team from the lobby, then selecting someone to be the commander of the team. The commander’s role is the most important, as they are the ones who will be building structures, selecting research, and directing their team towards objectives.
Games take place on maps that fit a space motif: Space stations, spaceships, and asteroid mining facilities. Each team’s ultimate objective is to completely eliminate the other team’s command control structure, being the Hive for the Aliens and the Command Chair for the marines. In order to achieve this objective, the players on each team will destroy and capture resource points which generate resources for both the team (to be spent on upgrades and structures) and individually (to buy personal upgrades or weapons).
Maps contain tech points which are special locations where additional Command Chairs and Hives can be built. These unlock more upgrades and weapons for your team, and are critical to capture before the other team does.
Marines have the ability to upgrade their weapons and armor, as well as purchase new weapons such as shotguns, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers. With additional tech points, they can buy jet packs and exo-suits, which are suits of mechanized armor with high-powered lasers or mini-guns. With observatories and phase gates, the Marines have the ability to spot incoming attacks and hidden units, and move quickly around the map.
The Aliens have a similar concept but based upon spreading cysts which carpet the area in a green-yellow growth that covers walls and floors wherever they are located. This allows for structures to be built, as well as acting as a early warning system when Marines move upon it. Cysts need to be spread in a chain, so it is possible for a “cyst chain” to be severed, causing structures to slowly die if not connected to a hive. Aliens can have strong map presence as every map has ventilation shafts and ducts where aliens can move around the map quickly and shortcut to places the marines cannot get to without detours.
Aliens have personal upgrades that involve faster move speed, cloaking, larger energy pools, more armor, etc. They can also morph into different alien types. All players start as skulks, the bottom tier soldier unit that can move quickly, has a bite attack, and can climb walls. Gorges act as builders, and can build tunnels that are similar to phase gates between areas of the map for quick access, as well as mini-turrets and barriers to block off entrances. Lurks are the flying units of the Aliens, with the ability to spray poison gas and shoot spikes. The Fade serves as a mid-tier harasser and hunter, with the ability to move the fastest in the game and a strong melee attack. The top tier morph, the Onos, acts as a giant tank with a devastating horn attack and a ground stomp that can stun nearby enemies.
The game is very team oriented. Coordinated attacks can help dislodge an entrenched foe, with many tools available to “siege” the enemy strongpoints. Responding quickly to attacks is key also, and finding weaknesses in the enemy area of influence is key to victory.
That said, the game hinges on a strong commander and capable soldiers. If your commander does not know what they are doing, it hinders the team and ultimately, causes a loss. The commander role is so important that it is one of the number one reasons for a team loss in Natural Selection 2, and oftentimes, most players are reluctant to take on the role of commander for fear of receiving the backlash for failure. Conversely, if your soldiers are incapable of listening to orders or are not very good at combat, even the most capable commanders will be powerless to do anything. While blame can be spread over a whole team for an underwhelming performance, if the commander fails, only one person becomes the scapegoat. This might be perhaps Natural Selection 2’s greatest gameplay flaw. Similar to how toxic MOBA communities are, Natural Selection 2 is strikingly similar. albeit not as bad, as players who are overly abusive risk getting banned from the handful of quality servers that Natural Selection 2 has.
The game itself is very fun, but lacks a depth that can capture a player’s interest for long periods of time. Maps are “different” in layout but ultimately the same: Capture resource points, capture tech points, destroy the enemy. Research is rather narrow and there are not a lot of options to pursue, which leaves team strategy without a lot of varied options.
Another issue is the small player base. As there are not a lot of players, there are not a lot of servers. Many servers in the browser are often totally empty or totally full. This, interestingly enough, serves to create a closer community atmosphere, but the lack of players at times means you will run into the same people repeatedly, for better or worse.
User Interface (4.5/5)
The user interface is intuitive and responsive. The maps are useful and the overall HUD is non-obtrusive. The UI fits each sides style, with a biological growth feel for aliens, and a holograph look for the Marines.
Changing settings and controls is pretty simple and intuitive, as well as joining games through the server browser.
The Natural Selection 2 team took the time to develop their own game engine. They were able to create an absolutely gorgeous looking game, and if you have a top tier system, you can treat yourself to carefully rendered sci-fi environments with excellent detail. The problem with the engine though, is that it is not optimized. The game at launch struggled with issues of long loading times and crashes. Even with the latest version of the game, it takes about three to four minutes to simply get into a server with a top-of-the-line computer. The Natural Selection 2 team has continually worked to optimize the coding, but there are no signs that the game will be polished anytime soon.
Rather lacking here. Music is rather ambient or environmental, for example when inside a bar or club in a space station. The sounds fit the game, and the thing they get right is how important sound is in locating enemies or detecting an ambush.
The sound overall doesn’t suck, but it isn’t anything worth mentioning.
Natural Selection 2 is a very fun team-oriented first person shooter, with a great design and idea behind it, and will definitely provide you a lot of entertainment. Optimization and community issues aside, the game is solid.