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
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.