Natural Selection 2 Review
A highly successful attempt at blending competitive asymmetrical multiplayer with real-time strategy elements
While the alien team also has a commander, his role is not as active as that of the marine commander, but is equally crucial in leading his team to success. The alien commander must control the 'infestation,' which is a slimy substance which covering alien-controlled territory based on the placement of nodes which can be destroyed by marines. The commander can place defensive structures on this infestation, but more importantly, aliens need it in order to evolve. To win the aliens must destroy the marine command stations. Success for the alien team usually involves destroying the power and resource extractors of the marines and covering as much as the map as possible with infestation and defensive structures. Both teams can build multiple command stations or hives, and usually the team that manages to get a second or third base up first ultimately emerges victorious.
Regardless of what team you are on, tight-knit teamwork and co-ordination is essential. A commander with a mic giving specific orders, and ground-troops who provide information about enemy movements and structure locations to the commander, will make for a much stronger team than a silent commander or soldiers/aliens who do not communicate. Few games require this level of team-play, another aspect of Natural Selection 2 that allows it to stand out from the crowd. The learning curve is initially steep, and a series of videos take the place of a proper tutorial, but I didn't have too much trouble figuring out the basics after jumping in to a few games. Playing in public games can be a frustrating experience as new or incompetent players mire down the best laid plans of experienced commanders, but I found the community to be largely welcoming and happy to teach new players the ropes.
One area where Natural Selection 2 might seem lacking compared to most multiplayer games of today is that it is bereft of any sort of leveling, unlock, experience or customization systems. There is no stats page, no way to gauge if you are getting any better as a player. New players are tagged as 'rookies' and highlighted in green for their first few hours, but beyond this, there is no way of telling how long someone has been playing the game for or what their skill level is. The gameplay in Natural Selection 2 is so stellar that this deficiency is of essentially no consequence once you actually get into a game and start playing, but it would have been nice to be able to see how you are improving as you become more experienced.
Considering the small size and budget of the development team, Natural Selection 2 has extraordinary production values. The proprietary engine doesn't stand up to the best on the market, but the game still looks quite good with detailed textures and great lighting effects when the power goes off and the marines are wandering around with their flashlights. The game engine is very stable although I did experience some frame rate drops related to ambient occlusion in areas with a lot of infestation. The net code is consistently excellent with hit detection being dead on and minimal network lag. The sound design while lacking in fidelity at times has some good details such as being able to hear skulks scuttling through vents and soldiers running up to the front lines. Weapons sound powerful and alien attacks have a good sense of impact thanks to the meaty sound effects. The industrial/orchestral music only comes on during the end of matches, but it serves its purpose well.
Natural Selection 2 manages to offer up a unique and remarkably refined multiplayer experience that successfully merges a number of genres. Those who rely on unlocks and leveling to remain interested in a multiplayer game may struggle to become invested long term, but the gameplay and strategic depth offered here are more than enough reason to dive in and keep playing. Those looking for a multiplayer game that requires a good mix of careful teamwork and quick reflexes will surely adore Natural Selection 2, and anyone who likes the idea of blending RTS and FPS gameplay should check it out.