Saturday, November 03, 2012

Natural Selection 2 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Natural Selection 2, an online first-person shooter / real-time strategy hybrid by Unknown Worlds Entertainment.

Natural Selection 2 is an online game (although there are tutorial videos and a solo practice mode) born from a modification, with fleshed-out mechanics and vastly improved graphics (the unit models and level detail are especially notable). The interface is informative (especially on the marine side), with on-screen icons indicating nearby structures that need to be built and friendly units under attack. The two adversaries are distinct (although some of the same themes are repeated, such as building and unit roles), offering more traditional marines and an esoteric collection of alien beings. Resource points and secondary bases scattered around each map can be captured to unlock new weapons or better lifeforms. Each side has one commander who plays from an overhead perspective (like a real-time strategy game), placing structures, queuing research, dropping supplies, and alerting players of in-game events. The aliens spawn from eggs and can only build in areas covered with green infestation, placing defensive whips, cloaking shades, healing crags, and various upgrade structures that grant new abilities. In addition to the default wall-climbing skulk, the aliens can evolve into the healing-building gorge, the flying lerk, the stealthy fade, and the tank-like onos. For the marines, their structures must be powered, researching new weapons (shotguns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers) or items (jetpacks, robotic suits), in addition to quickly warping between phase gates and placing sentry guns for defense. The end result is a very satisfying competitive game that requires teamwork and coordination; Natural Selection 2 is best when the commander is barking out orders and the other players move together towards the next objective. The strategy components add a lot more meaning to the objectives: it’s not just “stand at this flag”, rather you are trying to build your economy to afford the weapons required to take down the enemy base. The map layouts are varied enough where multiple build strategies can be used (offense, territory control, upgrades, stealth), and the game balance seems to be fair. The fast-moving aliens and slow-moving marines provide an interesting balance, especially when most shooters just feature men with guns for both sides. Those looking for a more thoughtful shooter experience need to look no further than Natural Selection 2.