Natural Selection 2
Natural Selection was among the mods for the original Half-Life to become so popular it took on a life of its own, emboldening its creators to form their own studio and release a sequel ten years later. Since that time, there hasn’t been a gaming experience quite like it: a fusion of real-time strategy with the traditional trappings of a team-based, online shooter. Natural Selection 2 by Unknown Worlds Entertainment may be sporting a new engine, but it aims to deliver the same tactical gameplay that made the first a success.
The central idea of Natural Selection 2 isn’t a complex one, even if the mechanics are. Takings its cues from Aliens and the RTS elements of Starcraft, it pits human marines versus the Kharaa—nasty aliens capable of evolving into even deadlier species. Both teams struggle for dominance of the map in a brutal tug-of-war that attempts to balance the trigger-happiness of a first-person shooter with the resource management and complexity found in an RTS.
Each team is led by a commander, shifting the game to an overhead perspective and giving a complete view of the map. It’s up to the commander to organize their team members as best they can while giving orders and researching new tech/biological weapons to give their team the edge. Marines rely on electricity to power their resources, and nodes need to be erected in order to do that. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Kharaa use infestation—a green glop that gradually takes over the map aided by cysts.
Once things are researched properly on the marines side, items like jetpacks, exo-suits, automated turrets, and additional weaponry become available along with better armor. Things are a bit more complicated for the Kharaa as they can evolve to have better traits and into different creatures. This requires a small amount of uninterrupted time while they incubate in an egg, vulnerable to any gunfire, so it’s best to find a quiet area first.
Each creature is designed for a specific purpose, but everyone starts out as a Skulk. They’re little dog-like beasts that can cling to walls and travel through vents, though they can’t take much damage. Gorges are fat hippos that can clog up entryways while Fades are essentially the Kharaa’s assassins. Rounding out the Kharaa are flying Lerks and massive Onos: the most damaging species there is. There’s a huge amount of variety in using the Kharaa, but one significant disadvantage is that they primarily deal in melee damage, which is something of limited usefulness against armed marines.
With so much to learn, it’s impossible to just jump into a game and start learning the basics. Training consists of Youtube videos serving as in-depth tutorials, and the only hands-on learning is a free mode where players can toy around with each faction. They help to some degree, but the videos are information overload and free mode isn’t good for much else besides getting a feel for the controls.
This is Natural Selection 2’s greatest strength and weakness. With no shortage of depth and variety of strategy, it’s imperative that a game have a room full of people who know exactly what they’re doing and work in tandem. Anyone who isn’t a seasoned pro is going to lose the game, simple as that. Success hinges on juggling resources, pushing into enemy territory, and undermining the other team wherever possible.
Unfortunately, playing Natural Selection 2 itself is spent mostly repairing resources and/or taking swipes at them. Killing opposing players serves little purpose unless they’re working on something. Typically, most of the matches are spent developing resources until a final push can be made with heavy weaponry or deadlier species. The shooting and strategy don’t entirely mesh, and as it stands each aspect feels watered-down to accommodate the other.
Natural Selection 2 is unquestionably a unique title, but its bar to entry is incredibly high for the average FPS player. For the hardcore strategist, it has its appeal, but its complexity severely limits the enjoyment in matches that aren’t significantly populated by experts at the game.
Six out of ten