Natural Selection 2 Review: Beautiful, Startling Complexity

Even shooting in Natural Selection 2 is hard.

That’s not a dig against the game, though, merely a fact. You can’t jump into Natural Selection, a multiplayer-only asymmetrical first-person shooter 10 years in the making, and expect to be any good at it. Most video game enthusiasts now have years of FPS experience under our belts, but firing up NS2 instantly treats you to a reminder: The rules are different here, and it’s not as easy as the games you’re used to.

That’s a great thing. The complexity of Natural Selection 2 makes it stand out against the flurry of FPS options out there. Made by a small team and based originally on a Half-Life mod, NS2 probably shouldn’t be as good as it is, given the circumstances. But years of development and balancing coupled with a highly interactive player and modding community has resulted in one of the best multiplayer titles available on PC right now. I can’t think of another game that has ever done asymmetrical multiplayer this well, and it’s been a long while since I played a game that put such a premium on cooperation and teamwork.

Natural Selection 2
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 30, 2012
MSRP: $24.99

As mentioned, Natural Selection 2 is an asymmetrical multiplayer title, which means that the two teams players can join are different. One team is represented by space marines, not all that dissimilar to the Colonial Marines of Aliens. The other team is made up of an alien race a lot like StarCraft’s Zerg, and is composed of different classes of aliens with different roles. The play of the two teams is entirely different from one another, and it’s a credit to the developers at Unknown Worlds that they are balanced well with each other and require a depth of skill to master.

Players face off against one another, as you’d expect in a first-person shooter, but the object isn’t to kill the most, it’s to take the map. NS2′s huge, twisted maps are filled with important structures, resource points, critical choke-holds and other elements, and one team only wins when it has sufficiently razed the other team’s bases. The emphasis here is heavily on the win for the team, never on the individual player.

Apart from the standard head-to-head elements of the game, which make up the majority of interactions, there’s also an RTS component that’s key to victory: the Commander. Each team gets a Commander, a player who steps into a base location with a top-down view and is responsible for coordinating the team and upgrading it. Imagine playing StarCraft with teams of marines or zerglings that are controlled by other players — that’s Natural Selection 2 at its simplest. The Commander issues players orders and sends their teammates to do things like capture resources, which are then used by the Commander to build new tech structures or to support players in battle.

An effective Commander can make all the difference in the game, because he or she can coordinate strikes against the enemy, upgrade players to make them stronger and more resilient, and bring additional capabilities and weaponry into the battle. But individual players matter too, because they’re doing the heavy lifting in the game — the marine Commander can’t build anything without support from players on the ground (in most cases), and the alien team requires defense of its infestation-spreading structures in order to keep bases functional.

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10 Comments on Natural Selection 2 Review: Beautiful, Startling Complexity

Air Jimma

On November 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Is there an explanation of your ratings system somewhere on this site? I know there are different reviewers for some games, but can I compare this game’s score to Halo 4′s for example?

I have thoroughly enjoyed Halo 4 so far and if you guys think this games is that much better than Halo 4 I would definitely give this game a look.

I know some sites say that their ratings are not supposed to be used for direct comparison among games.

Phil Hornshaw

On November 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm

@Air Jimma

Actually, we’re working right now on a better scale for reviews so that our scores make more sense to readers. it’s a little more categorical than just a numerical comparison in our estimation, I think. For example, Natural Selection 2, I thought, was really good — but I didn’t play Halo 4, Ben Richardson did. So for starters, there’s some subjectivity there, as his experience with NS2 might be different than mine, and my experience with Halo 4 might be different than his.

And as you mentioned, I’m not sure directly comparing the games is really something I would point to in terms of review score, either. There’s a lot of context involved. Comparing the various elements in the written review is probably a better way to try to bring the two in line than just the straight score.

So while I recommend NS2, I’m hesitant to recommend it “because we like it better than Halo 4.” It IS a cool game, but is it BETTER than Halo 4? I can’t really say because we’re talking about very different experiences. And because there’s just not enough time for all of us to play everything, I can’t even say that “we” think it’s “better” than Halo 4. I can only say that I thought NS2 deserves a 90 for what it is, and that Ben thought Halo 4 should get a 78 for what it is.

Anyway, we should have a clearer review score rundown really soon, which will hopefully make the way we rate games here at Game Front a lot clearer. Stay tuned!

Derek

On November 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm

The difficulty and learning curve of NS2 is overstated. Simply recognizing locations on the map, sticking with teamates, and following commander orders is all you need to start learning and have fun. Definitely play your first couple full games as a marine though. Also, watching a single 20 minute match on youtube from a commanders point of view will help you understand a great deal.

phLo

On November 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

awesome review, I highly recommend this game!

Dr GreatJob

On November 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

This game is an instant classic, just like Natural Selection 1 was. Don’t take this the wrong way – NS2 is very different than the first one, and doesn’t play exactly the same way. This isn’t because the devs are incompetent (though people seem to say this out of ignorance,) it’s because this is the game they want NS2 to be. It’s a remarkable feat for this game to even exist, but having it exist AND be as good as it is? Absolutely incredible. Unknown Worlds Entertainment has created a masterpiece that deserves to be played and that players deserve to play.

James

On November 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I have to say that I cannot agree more with this review, this game is nothing short of downright amazing.

I pre-ordered this title many many months ago back when it was still in it’s early Alpha/Beta stage and have been dumbfounded by the progress and work that has been made since then by a relatively small team in comparison to some of the development teams you see working on larger titles.

The balance is near perfect between the two teams and it is really only up to how each team is willing to play together that will determine the games outcome.

As the ‘cons’ of this game review has stated there is a bit of a learning curve, not a huge one but it does take a little bit of time to get a full grasp on the mechanics, although once you start to get the hang of it the ball just keeps rolling faster and faster; picking up speed and the enjoyment factor will go through the roof.

In conclusion I’d recommend this game to every single gamer if I could, as soon as you have your first turn and playing you just want more and more, completely addictive and utterly amazing stuff.

Vivid8

On November 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I got this on release day, was a huge fan of the original. NS2 is amazing, better and more beautiful in everyway. The learning curve is steep, I can only imagine how steep if you never played the first one. Still, if you’re looking for a game with more depth than CoD or battlefield, this is it. Just remember, run and gun does not work in Natural Selection.

DirtyDozen

On November 9, 2012 at 2:43 am

Good review,but the downfall wel it’s not really a downfall but you have to teamplay in this game,and have really good com’s,and in pub play it can be sometimes really frustrating when there is no communication or teamplay.
That’s why i play this in a community,where there is teamplay en good com’s,and then this game is becomming awesome

grtz
DirtyDozen

Thiguz

On November 13, 2012 at 2:52 am

Nice game, have been hooked on it since release and I normally do not play FPS long. I despise some of the most popular titles since they are just garbage scrapped together under a popular title to make it sell, and the world takes it and buys it like the sheep that inhabit it.
Anyway…
A game such as this can be compared to games like Tremulous and Savage, but not so much with Halo or CoD and such. It’s a different genre, the only core that is the same is that humans have guns.
I think Phil Hornshaw hit it right on the spot, as this game truely deserves it’s score even though it’s not nearly as beautiful as some of the highest regarded titles, nor is there a story and even the balance between races is a bit off.(In a good way) But all this makes for very interesting gameplay, the story for example is mostly just implied, you can form your own thoughts when seeing a massive refinery map infested by aliens while humans defend it.
Halo 4 on the other hand is a product of popularity. While the popularity stems from what was once great, history shows us this often changes as the title progresses down numbers lane. Aside from this, I do think that whoever is behind the product plays a good role in the product’s rating. Halo 4 has been produced by mighty gaming companies bent to make massive amounts of money, with huge budgets to achieve this goal. NS2 has been made by a small indie company, struggling and depending on it’s fans and players to achieve excellence. Truely the job done on NS2 is commendable, while Halo 4 is just another Halo, which stopped being great after the 1st one. It’s just “Good”.

NS 1 and 2 are same

On November 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm

looks like the same as the first one, cept updated slightly lol..

i think il wait until its offered free on steam lol pfffffffft