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.
- 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
- 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