In the past many games have tried to seamlessly blend multiple genres of games. Though there’s a reason that you don’t often see many, or fondly remember the pioneers of the past. It’s because they’re extraordinarily difficult to accomplish. In these days of Rehash, Rehash 2, and Rehash 2: Brown and Bloom Edition, not many companies are willing to take the risk to create something genuinely new and exciting. Leaving the door open instead for intrepid Indie Studios to blaze the trail.
It just so happens that Natural Selection 2 has strut through that door in style. Made by a small company of six, Unknown Worlds Entertainment has created a grand total of three games. Natural Selection, Zen of Sudoku, and Natural Selection 2. It’s not a resume that would make your average gamer turn his head, or even give the company a second thought…But when they’re able to generate a game as impressively well designed as Natural Selection 2, you can certainly count on gamers to spread the word themselves. In the last Player Versus Everyone, we took a look at Mount and Blade: Warband, and how they blended a RTS style over-world with visceral first person combat. Here in Natural Selection 2 we’re seeing a different take on the RTS/FPS blend.
At the start of each match, one player on each team has to take the responsibility of being the commander. A commander is someone who takes lead of the team, it’s their strategy combined with their teams ability to follow orders, and kill the enemy that ultimately results in a win or loss. It’s a big responsibility as players aren’t afraid to blame commanders for the teams failure. However, in my experience commanders who communicate, take advice, and help their team are loved and encouraged, even in the face of particularly brutal losses. The team lives and dies on the commanders orders, or lack thereof. More than once a commander has silently bailed, or even worse, sabotaged the team by destroying all their equipment. Leaving the team dumbfounded, lost, and often unable to recover from the time and territory lost.
But that’s not to say that a comeback can’t be done, team play is vitally important, if you do not group up, you will be killed. Even when you do group up the brave first fighter through the door or into an enemy group will likely be dispatched in short order. Natural Selection 2 has done a great job at making exciting and unique play styles, not only for each team, but also for each evolution and weapon. Being in a group is important, but so is the ability to actually kill your enemy. It’s a lot more difficult than you might expect. When getting started prepare to die, a lot. But with the inventive system that lists new players as green, and servers that are friendly towards them as green as well, new players can find help as they play.
Let’s talk for a second on play styles, the aliens rely on fast paced visceral action. Every form can quickly get to and from battle, while the Gorge and Lurk (2nd and 3rd forms respectively) can get up close, or fire from a distance. For each evolution there are three upgrade slots available to give increases to energy, armor, stealth, speed, silence, among others. Making it so the player can customize his beast to his play style! Another thing to note, when a power node is destroyed the area is immediately engulfed in darkness while “backup generators” slowly bring up emergency red lighting. Aliens have a special vision mode (F key) that allows them not only to see in the dark, but also pick out humans and constructions more easily. But be careful marines have flashlights to see as well!
I’m sure you may remember the old Alien Versus Predator game, where as a Xenomorph your vision moved with the alien’s body, leading to quickly spinning walls and ceilings. The vision of Skulks (the first, and starter form) feels like a smoother more polished version of this, leading less to staring at ceilings, floors, and walls, and more seeing your surroundings, hallways, and rooms. While the jaws stay on the top and bottom your screen, your body moves naturally along the surface you’re on, making it a smoother experience than we’re used to having as a wall crawling bad bad son of a….ahem.
Players have a resource pool that generates over time, maxing out at one hundred. Meaning they can buy new evolutions in the case of aliens, and weapons as marines. For the aliens, the Fade and Onos (4th and 5th forms respectively), are often met with calls of alarm from marines, and cries of joy when they’re defeated. Both very dangerous for very different reasons, the unmatchable speed of a fade and the devastating power and durability of an Onos are a scary thing to see in a dark hallway. There’s also not much quite as fun as being a part of a group of Onos stampeding in and demolishing a base along with all the marines from top to bottom. Though the same thing can be said of the final marine form, which we’ll talk about shortly.
As for the marines, they don’t have the speed of the aliens, but they have range, damage, and the tools to get the job done. A group of marines is enough to make even the baddest veteran back off and wait for help. Going into battle with an assault rifle, pistol, and hatchet these guys are nothing to sneeze at. As they move from room to room, building structures, using phase gate (teleporting door) technology to fight in their various strongholds, they require constant pressure or they’ll amass too much strength to stop! While the weapons are strong and teamwork is key, a crafty group of aliens can often do some serious damage, the Rifles holds fifty rounds per magazine and while that might sound like a lot, disappears a lot faster in practice, and a marine without bullets might as well be ready to be a chew toy!
Marines obviously don’t have the speed or movement abilities that the aliens do, but in place of that they do have a couple tricks up their sleeves. Phase gate technology is often one of the first things a marine commander will research and the portals are invaluable trips to secured, or not so secure locations. After some research they can also gain jet packs, which allow a marine fast moment and a respite from the ground and the awaiting jaws of skulks. And in the case of emergencies the commander can use a “beacon” instantly teleporting the entire marine team back to a base where they have a command chair. While this is a great way to crush an alien rush, it’s also dangerous for the marines, leaving the rest of the map open to attack, or even worse, when a commander beacons to the incorrect command chair. Causing the loss of a base and a great deal of territory.
Being a marine comes with a few perks, you’ve got mines, grenade launchers, flamethrowers, shotguns, welding tools, and best of all, exosuits. These big mechs are the best equipment a marine can end up in, letting him go toe to toe with an Onos, or and entire horde of the lesser evolutions of aliens. They come with both a hand and a minigun, or even better, dual miniguns to spray out damage across the map. A fully upgraded team of marines or aliens is very dangerous if not nigh unstoppable. One of the only ways to deal with them is to find the base where their upgrades are hidden and destroy as many as possible to set the team back in terms of both power and resources.
The game is based around securing territory on a map and setting up a hive/command chair to enable new upgrades that makes your team more likely to defeat the enemies. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if those little RTS soldiers you send to their deaths were real people, or if you’ve ever wanted to be an RTS soldier being sent to his horrible horrible death, then Natural Selection 2 is for you. While some times teams can become stacked, or a match be over quickly due to a successful team rush, when two teams get at it, gaining territory and upgrades, you’ll find yourself enjoying pure violent fun.
As for the community, I’ve found myself impressed with the attitude of the players I meet. They’re friendly, helpful, and are serious about winning without being overly emotional about losses or the game in particular. It’s the kind of community that makes you eager to get back in and play. Sure there are a few assholes who will talk crap about the commander, or cause their team grief by sabotaging rounds as the commander. But these people are a tiny tiny percentage of the people you’ll meet in this game.
All in all, this is a very impressive game, even more so considering it’s from an indie studio trying to get a foothold in the market. I find myself being impressed by the design choices of the developers, the layout of most of the maps, the balance of the teams and their abilities. While a bug will pop up every so often, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to play a game that performs as well as this. I for one look forward anything that these guys can crank out. And next time I won’t be waiting until a Steam sale to buy it.
Final Verdict: Go buy it!