Natural Selection 2 Review

"Now there's something you don't see every day... Thank... God...."

  • Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
  • Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
  • Release Date: 31 October 2012

Over 10 years ago now, a mod was released on the Half-Life engine known as Natural Selection. As Natural Selection was using what was becoming an old engine (Quake III was already released and Doom 3 was to be released two years later), its graphics were starting to become dated like other popular Half-Life mods, Team Fortress Classic, Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat. However, just like the other Half-Life mods of the day, Natural Selection shined in the gameplay department. Not only that but the game was an interesting hybrid of FPS and RTS with the inclusion of a "Commander Mode" (and this is three years before the release of Battlefield 2). So you could say the game was ahead of its time and that is what appealed to me most about this game.

Its sequel, Natural Selection 2 took a bit longer than anticipated to develop (thanks to Unknown Worlds switching from the Source engine to their own engine mid-project) but after alpha and beta testing for over two years, it was finally released last year.

Since the game was inexpensive on release and I was pining for a game with Commander Mode (the last game I played with one was Battlefield 2) I decided to give Natural Selection 2 a whirl.

Plot (4/5)
Natural Selection 2 doesn't have a very well developed background story and it obviously takes many cues from Starcraft (and in turn, the Alien films). However, a background story does exist and I happen to like sci-fi stories with similar backgrounds to the Aliens franchise :).

"Natural Selection 2 doesn't have a very well developed background story and it obviously takes many cues from Starcraft (and in turn, the Alien films)."

In Natural Selection 2, Humanity has expanded to the stars although a new obstacle has come between them and further development in a region of space known as the Ariadne Arm. A mutagenic microorganism known as the Bacterium has assimilated a race of aliens known as the Kharaa and they have aggressively taken root in several ships and facilities in the Ariadne Arm. Humanity's de facto government, the Trans-System Federation (TSF) has responded to this threat by deploying rigorously trained and highly disciplined soldiers known as Frontiersmen (or simply Marines). The fighting between these two sides is what Natural Selection 2 is all about.

Gameplay (4/5)
Natural Selection 2 at first glance looks just like any other team deathmatch game however there are some major differences.

Firstly, the game is a FPS/RTS hybrid. A player on each side can play as the commander of their side which reveals an RTS interface similar to the original Starcraft. From here the Commander can issue orders to their team, provide intelligence on enemy movements and eventually research new weapons, armour and traits for their team. In order to research upgrades, certain structures are usually required and in order to build these structures, the Commander requires resources. Resources are generated at resource nodes that are spread around the map so it obviously becomes important to secure these areas for your team.

Secondly the game has two different sides with differing play styles (although there were even more differences in the original Natural Selection): the Frontiersmen (or Marines) and the Kharaa (or Aliens). Marines rely on their advanced weapons and technology in order to beat their foe, even being able to construct powered exoskeletons and robot artillery if they go far enough up the technology tree. The Aliens on the other hand rely on evolving new traits and lifeforms to win. They also have something called the "infestation" similar to the "creep" in Starcraft where the floor is slowly covered by organic matter as the Hive cluster grows. Being on this infestation confers certain benefits to the Aliens and you're also only able to build structures on it.

"Teamwork is paramount to succeed in this so it's not the sort of game where you'll be too effective as a lone wolf."

These two factors make the game interesting from a strategic perspective and consequently good fun. The only criticism I have is that there's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to playing effectively and as a team (and the Video Tutorials don't really help – I hate video tutorials. Thankfully they introduced a mode where you fight against bots since release). Teamwork is paramount to succeed in this so it's not the sort of game where you'll be too effective as a lone wolf. You need friends or at least cooperative strangers to play with.

Commander Mode will make RTS players feel at home.

Sound (3/5)
The audio samples used in the game sound identical to the sound effects used in the original over a decade ago. As a result the audio sounds low-quality yet it does the job. The only good thing about them using the old samples is that you're able to once again hear the nostalgic taunts made by the Marines such as “Now there's something you don't see every day… Thank… God…" and “Oh man… just lost my appetite."

No music is played during the actual game and since it isn't exactly crucial to this genre it has been excluded for purposes of scoring.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics in Natural Selection 2 are okay, but not sensational. In fact, the game feels more like a high-resolution texture update to the original game instead of an outright new engine (some steps have been made to improve them further since release though). Animations are also still a bit sloppy when compared to contemporaries (e.g. Battlefield 3) but it's passable (and DICE would've undoubtedly had a much bigger budget to play with).

Replay (2/5)
The game is dependent on finding cooperative players willing to teach newbies and newbies willing to be patient and learn the ropes. While this is applicable to a lot of multi-player games, it's even more crucial in Natural Selection 2. Also there aren't too many maps but the numbers have been increasing as time goes by.

"The game is dependent on finding cooperative players willing to teach newbies and newbies willing to be patient and learn the ropes."

I can see myself coming back to play NS2 but only if I have a bunch of friends to team up with. This becomes even more critical when you realise there's really only a small community of NS2 players in Australia. When I checked today around midday there were about 60 players on about 10 Australian servers. Also, there are no persistent stats or unlocks like the Battlefield/COD games so there's no incentive from that department.

Commander Mode is arguably more difficult to pull off as well so you might feel discouraged to give it a try, especially with whining teammates.

Polish (5/5)
The game seems to be reasonably well polished although it is mostly a rehash of an existing formula after all. Loading times for maps are extremely long though – I'm usually waiting for at least 5 minutes before entering a game.

Score – 7/10

While the production values aren't high a lot of fun can be had with this game if you're able to grab a group of mates to play with you or cooperative strangers; The game's success really hangs on the quality of the community and whether you are willing to get yourself involved too.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam. Also the game is currently on sale at the moment for $8.50!

If you like this game, you might like...