Natural Selection 2 Review: Beautiful, Startling Complexity

All these wildly varying elements — the RTS-ness, the different classes and the skills players must master, as well as the requirement of solid teamwork to be any good — come together extremely well in NS2. They all work beautifully, and the developers have to be credited for creating such a well-balanced experience. However, the best part of the equation is that what matters most is taking the time to be good at the game. Unlike other FPS games out there, it takes an investment to learn NS2 and be a good player.

Even on the marine team, you can’t really just hop into the game and expect to kick ass, because there’s balance to the game that really favors players who pay attention and learn to play well. The “rock-paper-scissors” RTS elements in play in NS2 are there — for example, a standard marine is highly effective at range against a standard skulk alien, and much less effective in melee combat — but they’re hidden under a thick requirement of skill. A really good skulk, the base-level alien, can take down the marines’ super-strong EXO suit if he’s good enough, and coordinated marines can do serious damage against the best the aliens can muster. So any given interaction between the teams feels dynamic and exciting, and you learn quickly that you’re never necessarily outmatched if you know what you’re doing.

This has its drawbacks, however. Starting out in NS2 is completely daunting, and the game’s tutorial videos don’t help much. Starting out as a skulk, for example, requires you to basically learn a whole new brand of gameplay right off the bat, because the alien can climb on walls and ceilings and is pretty fragile in a straight-up fight. The trouble with this is, while dropping onto the marine team doesn’t guarantee you’ll be any good as a marine, it’s certainly easier to learn to play a gun-wielding human than to get used to the often-vertical, melee-focused gameplay of the aliens.

NS2 mitigates this some, doing well to let players know who the rookies are when they sign on and when they speak, and the community surrounding the game is awesome — they can and do actively help out new players. But it still sucks to be a full-on drag on your team when you play NS2, and most new players will be that for their first three or four hours of trying the game. This also results in a few balance issues, because most players naturally gravitate to the marine side. This usually results in a lot of rookies stuck on the alien team, totally out of their depth, getting trounced by more experienced players who have stacked up on the marine team, where gaining skill is a lot easier.

And even after its long beta period, NS2 suffers from a few issues like lag and frame rate issues, and it’d be nice if it had some means of keeping teams more fair or keeping up with player stats. NS2 employs an autobalance system, for example, but all it does is keep players on the overfull team from respawning and urges them to switch of their own accord. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but the game could do with a more robust system for balancing things out.

Of course, that’s not exactly practical given the size of Unknown Worlds, but if there was something the game could use, it would be some kind of player balancing scheme. One of the phenomenal things about NS2, however, is that it’s highly moddable. Players have already come together to build out a spectator mode, which has been integrated into the game proper; it’s conceivable that modders will continue to team with the NS2 devs to improve the game in other big ways. But even if they don’t, the mod support is a great addition to an already smartly built game.

The biggest strength of NS2, however, is that it gets so many things right about its out-there premise. Realistically, integrating a full RTS into a first-person shooter must have been difficult; even more so to build two entirely different brands of shooter and RTS into the same game to support the asymmetrical gameplay. That they work as well as they do is remarkable. Everything comes together to create a unique multiplayer experience that’s incredibly refreshing, given the stack of military and third-person shooters on the market right now.

It takes an investment to learn and an even bigger one to really get good, but NS2 is different enough and fun enough to warrant putting in the time. Highly creative, extremely diverse and heavily reliant on skill, this is the kind of game that reminds us that not everything has to be a clone or stick to a formula.

Pros:

  • Beautifully balanced asymmetrical FPS gameplay
  • Works exceedingly well with RTS elements, too
  • Requires a lot of skill to be good, but rewards dedication
  • Teamwork held at a premium
  • Great community, extremely healthy mod support
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Really tough for new players to break in; takes a lot of time
  • Could use some means of balancing teams and player skills
  • Occasionally still a bit buggy and suffering from some lag issues

Final Score: 90/100


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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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