Natural Selection 2
Natural Selection 2 is a tactically-oriented FPS set in a science fiction universe. Play on the ground as marines or xenoforms and attack your enemies, or become a leader and command your team building structures, researching upgrades, and directing troop movement.
|Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Type: Strategy FPS
Release Date: October 31, 2012
Pros: +Fast-paced FPS combat. +RTS as commander. +Unique Alien gameplay mechanics.
Cons: -Very steep learning curve. -Community can be toxic at times. -Mediocre tutorial.
Natural Selection 2 Overview
Natural Selection 2 is a first-person shooter that incorporates real time strategy rules. Marines and aliens compete for resource nodes on a variety of maps, set against the backdrop of a science fiction universe. Commanders issue building commands from their chair, dictating the placement of structures and researching upgrades for their teammates. Collected resources can be used by players on the ground to upgrade. Marines can switch out their rifle for guns such as the flamethrower or shotgun. Or, in late game they can equip a jetpack or jump into a mechanized Exo suit to wreak havoc with a mini-gun. On the other hand, aliens earn new abilities that let them run fast, endure more damage, and camouflage. With enough resources aliens can evolve into new lifeforms, changing their playstyle and learning new moves to terrorize the marines, such as the elephantine Onos or hit-and-run Fade. To win a match in Natural Selection 2 you must work with your team under the leadership of a strong commander.
Natural Selection 2 Key Features:
- Real-Time Strategy – play as a commander and issue orders to fellow players from a tactical layout.
- Unique Xenomorph Mechanics – playing as an alien is unlike any other game: climb walls, fly through the air, charge, and slide to defeat the marines.
- Cooperative Gameplay – whether or not your team wins depends on how well you can work together.
- Fast-Paced FPS Combat – exhilarating combat where life and death are decided in mere moments.
- Upgrade Trees – customize how you play by selecting from various technological upgrades; whether they be advanced lifeforms or new guns and gear.
Natural Selection 2 Screenshots
Natural Selection 2 Featured Video
Natural Selection 2 Review
By Sean Sullivan
The first Natural Selection, the Half-Life mod, ate up my time like a famished xenomorph. I played after school, before school, and—after one crafty friend discovered a means—during school. It’s a game like no other, where FPS and RTS collide in a science fiction blender you can’t tear yourself away from. And, when Natural Selection 2 released I was even more absorbed by the infestation. I admit, NS2 is a niche game, and while replaying it after my hiatus I saw familiar names that have been logged in since release. Commanding is intimidating and alien mechanics fluster most new players. It’s a game that requires dedication to get the hang of, and a long-term commitment to master. But I still love Natural Selection 2, even if it's past its prime.
Ridley Scott’s Blender
There’s a lot going on in a typical NS2 match. Smashing RTS and FPS together and calling it a well-made genre sandwich isn’t easy. To start, a game takes place on a self-contained map, similar to Counter-Strike. Whether it be Veil or Biodome, the maps are soaked in a futuristic setting: from an abandoned space station complete with a disco nightclub to an industrial facility on a distant moon. Maps are segregated into hallways and rooms, and some rooms can contain a Command Chair. It's from the Command Chair that one player on each team issues orders. The xenomorph commander gestates new buildings and facilities from their slimy hive, while Marines sit in a mechanized box. Aliens and marines will each start in one of the command rooms, typically on opposite sides of the map.
And scattered around the map are Resource Nodes, and collecting Resources is the primary objective of the game—before destroying the opposing team's base. You don’t need to have an amazing kill/death ratio to be a good NS2 player. You just need to understand the core mechanic: collect resources. Because more resources translates into more upgrades, giving you the upper hand against the opposing team. Commanders use collected resources to create new buildings, unlock new guns and abilities, and upgrade their teammates' offense and defense. As long as the soldiers on the ground know how to drag the mouse, the team with more resources are likely to win the game. A commander who understands his role, how the mechanics work, and communicates is essential for every victory.
I never suggest that a new player jump into the Command Chair, unless you’re in a noob-friendly server and somebody volunteers to be your sensei. Once nestled in the hive or surrounded by the chair, the game’s camera angle changes to a top-down view—similar to any RTS game. In the bottom right you’ll see your available moves. It’s like Starcraft, except your units are flesh and blood, sitting at their desk, eager to be lead to victory. In the bottom left-hand corner of your screen is a minimap, indicating your teammates and structures. Commanders must pay attention to every aspect of the battlefield to win.
As a marine commander your primary role will be issuing building orders. Most marine commanders drop an armory first, placing it near their teammates’ starting zone. Once dropped, a cobalt hologram of the structure will shimmer. Marines have to build their structures, "it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it." The same applies to marine resources extractors. From the beginning the marine commander has to ensure that resource nodes are prepped for their teammates to build. As the marines collect resources the commander can upgrade their tech tree, unlocking new equipment and tools to fight the alien invasion, such as grenade launchers, mechanized machines called Exos, and jetpacks. Staying on top of the upgrade train secures victory for the Marines; failure to do so causes your team to crash into a brick wall.
On the other side, the alien commander has a little more freedom. Aliens don’t have to build their structures, they gestate automatically so long as they’re placed on infestation. So an alien commander has to lay a chain of Cysts—viscous embryos that spread infestation in a radius around them. Smart marines pop the cysts like zits, to cut off alien structures; alien structures outside of a cyst eventually implode, lacking nutrients from the Hive. Once aliens have gathered resources, the commander can issue upgrades, some of which are general and some of which are lifeform-specific. Whereas marines equip new weapons, aliens evolve into higher lifeforms—specialized roles. And each of those life forms has unique abilities. The Onos (a warped, alien elephant) can stomp, knocking down a squad of marines, while the Skulks can explode, dealing AOE damage to marines around them at the cost of their own life. Abilities require research, and only the commander can research abilities.
Most new players swarm to the marines. They’re familiar: run and gun your way to victory. But it’s important to actually build, not pursue aliens like you're an interstellar marine. Worry about placing structures and then defending; the aliens will be harassing your buildings and it's your job to put a bullet in them. As the commander upgrades your tech, you’ll have access to new weapons to slaughter the xenomorphs like your Ellen Ripley.
Xenomorphs are undoubtedly the more nuanced and complicated team. They come in five flavors, and each lifeform relies on new mechanics, so that you’re relearning the game by evolving. Skulks can stick to any surface, and hurl themselves off walls for a speed boost, while Lerks fly and spit arrows from afar or chomp at the heels of unsuspecting marines. And then there are abilities you can evolve with, such as Celerity for increased speed or Phantom to cloak. It takes time to feel comfortable playing the aliens. But once you're familiar enough, you'll be able to dance around marines while they spin, wildly trying to shoot you.
Regardless of which species you end up playing, combat is intense, unforgiving, and fast. Firefights can quickly mirror the chaos of the universe if players aren't prepared. It doesn't take much to die either, a few chomps or bullets. And if you're a new player you'll be dying all the time, either because you didn't check the ceiling corners for stealthy Skulks or because you're still learning to navigate on four surfaces.
The Problem With Leadership
In the melange of RTS meets FPS, nearly everything depends on the player in the Commander’s chair. Sure, one or two skilled players might turn the early-tide of the game, but without sufficient upgrades and resources, your team will lose and games can end under the five minute mark. I’ve seen aliens completely outplayed by marines—when an alien commander is new, and baffled by the seemingly complex alien upgrade-structure system; the marines rush forward spraying down the hive. I’ve seen games end in under two minutes, when aliens collectively Skulk-rush a marine commander’s chair, while the marines have scattered across the map and must then sprint back before their defeat.
Natural Selection 2’s commander seat has always been the most refreshing aspect of the game, and its most debilitating. There’s a reason why no other game has intimately bound FPS and RTS, but stuck to withdrawn commander positions such as in Heroes & Generals. It’s hard. There’s a social pressure from other players, one that’s unforgiving and rightfully so. The entire game depends on the commander having at least some idea of what they’re doing. But the complex nature of the role deters even the most adventurous players form hopping in the seat. Therefore, the start of nearly every game is a patience test, waiting to see who will jump in the chair so the game can begin. And that’s before a match even begins. Then you have to worry about players not communicating in a tactical, communication-based game.
"Blue Cadet-3, do you connect?"
NS2 hinges on communication. When commanders don’t communicate you lose. When soldiers don’t communicate you lose. If there are two aliens chomping on a node in Monorail, then hold the mic down and tell your team. If you spot three marines moving through Hydroanalysis, towards Fluid Transfer, then tell your team. Information is key, but too often players run into an NS2 game like its Battlefield or even Counter-Strike, thinking they can “solo bolo” their team to victory. But that rarely happens. Only the most skilled player, with hundreds of hours invested, is going to have a chance running in alone. Ask for help if you don’t know what you’re doing. Commanders who don’t express that they're clueless kill their team's morale, leading to players looking for a new server or “alt +f4ing.”
NS2 poses a huge skill gap that intimidates many new players. Hence why every time there is a Steam sale nearly every match has an alien victory. New players flock to the marines like a stay-at-home mom flocks to a JC Penny when there’s a store-wide sale. Alien mechanics have no parallel in gaming, and many new players drown in the deep end as they try to wrap their heads around sticking to every surface. In my experience the NS2 community is fairly forgiving, with the occasional angsty teenager bad-mouthing new players—who ought to be diligently ignored. But the skill ceiling is ridiculously high. There are players with pinpoint accuracy who can maneuver a Lerk with such precision that you can never connect. Or, Skulks that dance around squads of marines, always hovering just outside line of sight and nibbling at the marines’ health. And that translates into a brutal but entertaining competitive scene.
The Competitive Scene
Scrimming in NS2 was one the most intimidating experiences I’ve ever had in gaming, moreso than a Counter-Strike 1.6 scrim where my CAL-O team was decimated by CPL players reveling in our high-school noobness. Pub matches lean towards chaos, where players scatter the map hoping for a kill, unless their commander gains their respect and issues sensible orders. But in scrims, coordination requires a level that borders intuitive synchronicity. Examining any map makes it obvious that there are typically three lanes, or paths, that can be followed to resource nodes, and the enemy’s base. Ensuring that your lanes are covered in a 5v5 match is no easy task, as any weakness can easily be exploited by a seasoned team.
Space Is Quiet
Natural Selection 2’s big drawback—in my humble opinion—is that in space there’s no one left to even scream. Logging on after my hiatus I either see more old player names who have always been there than highlighter green names indicating a new player. And the sense of community has dissipated with the server list. Beyond a core group of hardcore players who take part in the competitive scene’s Saturnalia, the PUG life is miserable—filled with taciturn players and brash veterans belittling fellow players. The sound of frustration can be heard in players’ voices as they report enemy presence on the map. There’s a sense of melancholy for a game that captivated their attention, a longing for the glory days of Natural Selection 2. Now everyone convenes in the remaining servers, and banters. Most games end up being completely one-sided. Out of all the games I played recently, only one was a gripping match.
Final Verdict – Great
Natural Selection 2 is one-of-a-kind, a daring mix of FPS and RTS, but its glory days are in the past, and NS2’s sun is waning. If you’ve never played, then I highly recommend picking it up (especially if it's on sale). It breaks ground where no one had thought it could be broken. Combat is fierce, and the xenomorph mechanics alone make it worth experiencing. There's something very satisfying about chewing away at other players' toes. To this day, Natural Selection remains one of my favorite games. If you're hungry for an FPS game with a sharp tactical edge, then pick up NS2.
Natural Selection 2 Videos
Natural Selection 2 Links
Natural Selection 2 System Requirements
Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
CPU: Pentium D 805 2.67GHz or Athlon 64 4000+
Video Card: GeForce GT 530 or Radeon HD 4650 1GB
RAM: 2 GB
Hard Disk Space: 4.5 GB
Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
CPU: Core 2 Duo E7200 2.53GHz or Opteron 270
Video Card: GeForce GTS 240 or Radeon HD 6750M 512MB
RAM: 4 GB
Hard Disk Space: 4.5 GB
Natural Selection 2 Music & Soundtrack
Natural Selection 2 Additional Information
Developer(s): Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher(s): Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Game Engine: Spark
Designer(s): Charlie Cleveland, Max McGuire
Concept Artist(s): Cory Strader, Brian Cummings
Programmer(s): Brian Cronin
Composer(s): David John, Simon Chylinski
Alpha Test: July 26, 2010
Closed Beta: November 18, 2010
Release Date: October 31, 2012
Steam Release Date: October 31, 2012
Development History / Background:
Natural Selection 2 was developed by American-owned game development company Unknown Worlds Entertainment. It was announced in October 2006 and utilizes an in-house engine dubbed Spark. Natural Selection 2 was released through Steam on October 31, 2012, and sold 144,000 copies in its first week, earning over $1 million. Unknown Worlds went on to develop an open world, underwater exploration game called Subnautica—released through Steam on December 16, 2014. Then the company proceeded to work on a video game creation tool called Future Perfect, to be released on Steam sometime in the future.