Natural Selection 2 Preview: You’ll Be Coming Out of the Walls, Man
Natural Selection might seem new to some, but nothing could be further from the truth. The game started out as a mod for the original Half-Life — Game Front still hosts some old-school files. Since then, Natural Selection has been carefully shepherded towards a full Steam release by an eight-man team; the original mod developer is now the CEO of San Francisco developers Unknown Worlds.
The bulk of the gameplay is a fast-paced FPS, with an exciting twist: while one team of players takes control of heavily armed Space Marines, the other takes control of ravenous aliens. Climbing on walls, gliding through halls on leathery wings, and swinging scythe-bladed appendages, these creatures are a formidable foe, and they’re a blast to play.
Except that there’s another twist: one player on each team takes the role of the “Commander,” physically stepping into the command chair (or disgusting alien brain-creature) and overseeing the action using complex, fully fledged RTS mechanics! Having a good commander is crucial to success, as the entire team will benefit from defensive emplacements, researched upgrades, and collected currency that players can use to transform/mutate themselves into more powerful soldiers and alien life forms. In a pinch, the commander can even hop out of the command chair and defend it FPS style, though neglecting RTS duties for too long is a good way to lose a match.
Levels are large and sprawling, with a mixture of tight corridors and wide-open rooms that hearkens back to an older generation of shooters. The game is built using a brand-new proprietary engine, and character models and textures look razor sharp. Particular attention has been paid to the lighting; in addition to setting a creepy, Aliens-inspired mood, it has an important strategic function — the alien team can cut power to the lights in certain areas, putting its human opponents at a serious disadvantage.
Because of its mix of genres and abundance of features, Natural Selection 2 sports a steep learning curve — Game Front editor Ron Whitaker, who played the mod in its original incarnation, killed me at least 50 bazillion times during our playtest. Nevertheless, if you can weather some frustrating initial deaths and wrap your mind around the concept, the game will provide hours of violent competition. What’s more, there’s no need to wait — for $34.95, interested players can get immediate access to the open beta through Steam. We love mods here at Game Front, and when it comes to Natural Selection, it’s great to see one of the fittest survive.
Game Front is on-site at PAX East all weekend (April 6-8), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!