November 1st, 2012 | By Alex Wilkinson
Fear comes fast and engulfs you completely as you charge down hallways, clutching your assault rifle for dear life. No matter how prepared you think you are for this, the training only goes so far in teaching you how to respond to an alien onslaught.
Noticing movement above your head you alert your squad to “stay frosty”, only to be dropped, seconds later, by a ravenous group of Skulks hell-bent on tearing your company apart. A fierce flurry of bullets, and blood, spray in all directions. You manage to get away, badly wounded and barely breathing, the last remnant of the human squad.
Alas, in the distance you see a grim dark shadow descend upon you. One swipe of its scythe and your body tears apart as though made of paper. Leaving behind only a bloody stain and distant memories of this former last hope for humanity.
Natural Selection 2 (NS2) offers everything I have ever wanted from an FPS and more. NS2 really is what the Alien franchise should’ve been, yet continued to miss, and is now relegated to mediocrity.
Creating two highly varied sides, Unknown Worlds did great justice to their original game and really built on its framework fantastically with NS2. The ravenous and unrelenting alien horde consists of several alien types.
The first being the basic spawn-unit, the Skulk. A fast-moving, wall-climbing, melee beast that will chomp through even the toughest steel the marines put in place. A deadly unit not to be underrated by its low health. Although lacking in range, once they zero in on a target, things can only end one way.
The Skulk is the footsoldier of the alien ranks followed by the two support classes: the Gorge and Lerk both offer very different yet vital roles to bolster the alien swarm. These are followed by the extremely deadly, and fear invoking unit, the Fade. A rapid attack assassin class that has the ability to blink into close proximity and cut down all that oppose it with its mighty scythes before disappearing in a black cloud like a distant memory.
The Fade is only topped by the mighty Onos. A huge elephant-like beast that can crush the skulls of all that stand it its way, whilst resisting even the most well-equipped marine bulletstorm. Monstrous in size, the Onos commands much fear from all who are unlucky enough to encounter it. Tossing around humans like ants, the Onos’ size really puts things into perspective.
This line up of pure terror has the ability to crush even the most well-equipped marine squad. The marine core has, of course, not come into this battlefield unprepared. They have anticipated this moment and have pulled together some of the best machinery and technology available.
Of course being human does have its bright-side as you can rely heavily on weapons and upgrades to push back this horde. On top of upgrades you have been kitted with the best experimental technology available. You can take to the skies with jetpacks, or teleport from phase gate to phase gate in an attempt to counter the foe’s ungodly speed.
Don’t worry, the best has been saved for last. After working tirelessly, superiority has been achieved with the all new Exosuit. This suit will be the deciding factor in the battle to take back what the aliens have stolen. Being able to take down even the most hardened of enemies in a bullet-storm of glory. In an Exosuit, the only thing you will have to worry about it is fatigue from mowing down so many aliens – window wipers would be an added bonus but I assume they only come in the deluxe model.
The game plays out very much like a gigantic tug of war. With teams moving around to capture control points and establish forward bases. This leads to games in NS2 resulting in a lot of rotating bases around the map.
NS2 combines the fast paced action associated with FPS games with a level of strategy infused by the addition of the Commander. With this role you are able to turn the tides of battle via offering your superior strategy, combined with the ability to offer over head support for your team.
I did find that the alien team required a lot time to learn the new techniques. Typically you do not get so many abilities in other FPS games. The new skills prove tricky to get used to but great fun once mastered.
The RTS element of the game is vital to your team’s success and although much of the strategy is focused around the way your Commander will direct the squads and setup the equipment it really carries over greatly into the way squads should operate.
The Commander gains a unique view of the field: a top-down view showing the areas their team currently occupies.I feel it adds a lot to the game overall, however in NS2 you almost entirely rely on having a good commander. If upgrades are researched late or nodes are not taken, your team will lose no matter how well your team has performed and this can be very frustrating for PUG games.
In addition to having a badass overview, Commander’s are able to build structures and build collection points across the map. In a similar way to the FPS side with the asymmetry in teams, Commanders also contain a great level of asymmetrical gameplay between the two teams. Although often times confusing it is also very rewarding.
Being a multiplayer-only game NS2 does rise and fall with the community. It relies on a strong and mature player-base to carry the game forward and keep it breathing. Before release, it was a small and largely competent player base – although I largely served as a hinderance.
On release, the player-count ballooned greatly from having just a handful of servers full to pages filled. Although, from my experience, the community has not been too bad, and I have yet to be called a noob…which is very surprising.
Unknown Worlds seems to be trying to cultivate a more friendly and caring community than some, which is, of course, even more important when you add in voice communication and a very high level of necessary coordination.
It is for this reason they have added in this green “noob tag” which the game marks new players with until they fulfil set criteria. I feel this tag is often a blessing and a curse as it feels like a badge given to the new kid at school with their name on it. Being implemented in the best intention, but sadly in reality this does not always workout.
It does often feel like a bullseye drawn on your back and may prove a barrier to the game later down the line when more skilled players develop. This “noob tag” I feel could’ve been worked more into the framework of the game and maybe act to actually balance out the number of new players each side takes.
The graphics overall are sensational putting many AAA titles to shame, with many large and detailed environments that change dynamically as the two sides fight and sabotage points. Levels look very different at the end of a round compared to at the start. These graphics can be a slight detriment though, as it does require a very substantial computer to run, and even when running, the load times between maps can take an eternity.
Coupled with the graphics is the audio, and I can say now that the audio is flawless. From the ominous title music to even the most subtle in-game scurrying, NS2 uses audio to great effect and pulls it off with ease.
Natural Selection 2 is a sensational new addition to the FPS genre adding in a lot of unique gameplay dynamics that provide something for everyone. Blending RTS with FPS really was a stroke of genius back in the original title and Unknown Worlds’ talent seems to show no bounds in the second installment.
Natural Selection 2 is available on Steam for $24.99 and in my mind is well worth the money. Follow all the future developments over at the official site here.