Some of you by now who use Steam are probably aware of this little indie title creeping it's way into the top 10 charts over the past week. It goes by the name of Natural Selection 2, a follow up sequel of the critically acclaimed Half Life mod - Natural Selection, naturally. You may think that you've seen this game before, Natural Selection draws heavy inspiration from games like Alien Vs Predator as FPS and StarCraft as RTS for its respective mechanics. NS2 has been in development for over 6 years from a small indie developer that goes by the name of Unknown Worlds Entertainment and to show just how dedicated they were to recreating the popular mod, they decided to develop an entirely new engine for this game specifically that goes by the name of Spark. NS2 was released on October 31, 2012 on Steam. This post will be split into various sections and some sections may be split into sub sections for further clarity.
What is Natural Selection 2?
Natural Selection 2 is an asymmetrical first-person shooter and real-time strategy hybrid which pits two teams against each other in strategic combat over positions and important locations on the map which fuels your technology and abilities, making your team much stronger over time. The two teams are the Frontiersmen, more commonly know as the Marines, and the Khaara which are referred to in-game as the Aliens. The marines function similarly to Colonial Marines of the Aliens films and the Kharaa function closely to the StarCraft Zerg but both teams work differently in almost every way.
Each team has a home base to start with that give the different teams ways and methods of expanding their territory to capture and control resource nozzles and base expansions. Extractors can be built on these resource nozzles to provide the team with more resources. The more extractors you have, the more resources you have, the more tech and upgrades are available to you, the more map control you can obtain and the more pressure you can apply to the opposite team. There are two types of resources, team resources (TRes) and personal resources (PRes). Team resources are used by the commander whereas personal resources are used by you to purchase whatever you fancy. When you die after buying an item, upgrade or evolution, you lose it.
A number of players take the role as the combat troops while one player takes control as commander which functions similar to an RTS mode. The troops serve as the teams way of securing areas and bases while the commander focuses on construction, giving orders, providing research and technology and communication with the rest of the team. If you know your commander is competent, listen to what he says and what he tells you to do.
Communication and Teamwork. False Hope or Reality?
Natural Selection 2 heavily promotes teamwork over everything. A slayer with 30 kills and 5 deaths doesn't serve much purpose if there's no communication or fluidity. A negative K/D team with good teamwork will win over a team of slayers. Lone wolves won't win you games, coordinated teams do and personally, for the first time ever in public games, I find myself seeing and hearing people talk to each other and interacting positively, trying to coordinate together and amalgamate to create a strong team all the time. The games where people aren't talking together or working together are in the vast minority. People who you've never spoke to before WILL obey your orders as a commander or even as a grunt. Teammates will heal you if they are support roles, they tell you where attacks are coming from, what technology they want upgraded and protect vital structures and locations. If somebody calls out a command, it's for the good of the team and not for himself in almost every scenario. Never be afraid to speak with voice over, it's infinitely better than chat and surprisingly, nobody is going to bite at you or curse your mum for speaking to them like in other team games.
Races of Natural Selection 2
Marines are the more traditional team for new players in that they operate very similar to an FPS game with mechanics such as aiming and shooting. Everyone has played an FPS at some point and marines are easy to pickup and play provided that you don't lone wolf. Marines start with a Command Station which any player can enter to become the commander. The command station functions as the most important structure, if you lose all your command stations on the map, you lose. Luckily it has heavy armor and can take quite a beating before it goes down. Next up are your resource extractors. These little money machines give you exactly what you want - resources. They are used to by your commander and yourself to buy armories, sentry guns, weapons, equipment, structures, jet packs and best of all, Exosuits/Mechs.
The marine commander begins with his overview on the home base with the command station, an infantry portal which spawns dead marines, an extractor already built providing your team with resources and a set amount of team resources to start off with. From here on, the commander will need to begin providing his team with structures to build such as power nodes, extractors and armories He will also need to issue orders for movement, attacks, positioning and construction to ensure maximum throughput. If marines cannot afford an upgrade or weapon, the commander can purchase one with his team resources and supply his team. However, this will greatly hinder expansion and map control if not used correctly. Eventually, through more map control and more extractors, the commander can rapidly ascend to higher tech trees and access weapon and armor upgrades in addition to more powerful equipment and technology, empowering his team. In times of emergency, the commander can recall all marines to a command station to protect a vulnerable base but at a cost of losing significant zone and map control. However, in addition to his passive contribution, the commander can also directly influence a battle by dropping medkits, ammo packs, nano shields to reduce damage on marines and locational scans to detect aliens. A good commander is one who can make best use of his resources with structures, teleportation, directing orders and providing battle support to his soldiers.
As mentioned, the marine draws influence from the Colonial Marines of Aliens and they definitely are comparable. Marines work extremely well in coordinated squads, moving together, assisting in construction and providing each other support through grenades, repairs, zone control and heavy artillery. A marine on his own is a dead marine and almost totally useless. However, the arsenal of the marines is extremely varied and fit to take on any alien threat directed at them, from the vicious Skulk to the mighty Onos. All marines will spawn with full health, armor, a pistol, a hatchet and a light machine gun. In addition, to their equipment they also have a minimap that displays alien threats, fellow marines and structures and the layout of the area around them. Eventually through upgrades and technology, they can purchase shotguns, grenade launchers, proximity mines, welders, flamethrowers, jet packs and finally Exosuits.
Each weapon is useful, serves a unique purpose and has it's pros and cons. The LMG for example provides a general all round purpose but is not as effective as other weapons when supported by a team. A shotgunner supporting a grenadier can be a brutal combination for aliens to deal with whereas an LMG won't nearly be as effective. Some of the aliens force are also specifically vulnerable to certain weapons. The shotgun for example is extremely effective versus the Skulk and Fade but very weak versus the Gorge or Lerk. Finally, Exosuits are the final tech choice and provide extremely powerful ranged dominance over the aliens, they can simply decimate entire teams if engaged and supported correctly but they are vulnerable when not supported and can't be recalled if the home base is counter-attacked, making them extremely susceptible to alien attacks.
Structures, Weapons and Technology of the Marines
Marines have a detailed assembly of production and technology available to them and are detailed below.
Command Station - Home base for marines, provides commander position. Multiple command stations allow more technology upgrades.
Infantry Portal - Spawns a marine every 7 seconds following a marine death. Players are vulnerable to spawn kill afterwards.
Extractor - Built on resource nozzles, provides steady flow of resources to the team. Rate increases with more extractors.
Power Node - Provides power to the surrounding environment and marine structures. If destroyed, marine structures and local lighting powers down.
Armory - Provides weapons and equipment to marines. Restores health and ammo to nearby marines. Can be upgraded to Advanced Armory for more weapons.
Robotics Factory - Produces MAC repair drones and ARC assault drones that assist marines with repairs and additional turret damage. Effective when teamed with Mechs. MACs can also release an EMP that drains nearby aliens of energy, they can also be upgraded with increased movement speed.
Arms Lab - Upgrades marine weapon and armor. Capped at three upgrades.
Sentry - Provides base defense and location control.
Phase Gate - Instantly teleports marines from one phase gate to another. Very important for map mobility and defense.
Observatory - Detects aliens nearby by highlighting them. Exposes cloaked aliens.
Prototype Lab - Allows marines to purchase jet packs and Exosuits.
Weapons and Tech
Light Machine Gun - Standard issue rifle and what marines spawn with. Is useful against all types of aliens and situations but isn't spectacular.
Hatchet - Melee weapon. Provides effective damage versus structures and inflicts marines with Braveheart morale. Obtained on spawn.
Pistol - Highly effective burst damage weapon. Used to finish off weakened aliens and when low on ammo. Obtained on spawn.
Shotgun - Brutally effective against weaker, melee alien lifeforms. Cost 20 resources.
Proximity Mine - Effective at controlling locations and protecting bases. Three mines per purchase. Cost 15 resources.
Flamethrower - Drains the energy of aliens and deals light damage over time. Most effective against groups of light aliens and structures. Costs 25 resources.
Grenade Launcher - Excellent in clearing out rooms and dealing with light alien lifeforms. Very weak with no support but has long range. Costs 25 resources.
Jet pack - Provides airborne and increased mobility for short durations and protects against melee aliens. Costs 10 resources.
Welder - Repairs damaged structures, armor, robots and Exosuits. Deals light damage to enemies and structures and replaces the hatchet. Costs 5 resources.
Exosuit - Awwww Yeah. Excellent ranged combat proficiency by shredding weaker alien targets. Weak when unsupported and vulnerable to multiple Skulk attacks or an Onos charge. Two types of Exos: one minigun with melee or dual miniguns. Costs 50 and 75 resources respectively.
The Kharaa or Aliens, are a form of rapidly evolving bacterium which employs infestation and rapid mutation into macro-cellular organisms to viciously conquer marine territory. Similar to the Zerg of StarCraft, they control the map by spreading their infestation through the compounds and installations of the Frontiersmen and expanding their hives to base locations. Kharaa use hives as their main source of nutrition and tactical command. It serves a similar purpose to the command station but also spawns eggs which in turn, spawn aliens. All of the Kharaa structures require infestation to be build and sustained, losing the infestation will cause the structures to slowly die. Infestation is spread by constructing and spreading a chain of cysts.
Aliens progress through the game by evolving into superior lifeforms which have unique, important roles tailored to them that are improved by further class upgrades such as leaping into combat for Skulks and Bile Bombs for Gorges. In addition to these more powerful evolutions, they can also upgrade certain attributes that are maintained by the commander. These upgrades include improved speed, dead silence, improved armor and rapid regeneration. These upgrades are maintained by expanding the teams hives and securing more resource nodes. All aliens use a mechanic called Energy. This is what fuels the alien abilities and when the energy bar is depleted, attacks and abilities are far less frequent making the player much more inefficient at dealing with marine threats.
The alien commander begins with a resource harvester, a hive, a set amount of resources and numerous eggs through which the aliens spawn from. From here on the commander will need to secure additional harvesters and a second hive very quickly to begin upgrade evolution and defensive structures. The alien commander can issue expansion and threat alerts to his teammates but cannot use move commands unlike the marines. Expansion alerts and communication is necessary to allow aliens to maximise their upgrade potential. Communication of marine locations on the map is critical to ensure that aliens are not caught out of position or mopped up by a squad of marines. Eventually, through enough resources and hives, the commander can create defensive structures such as Whips and Shades which attack enemies and cloak friendly units respectively. Furthermore, units called Drifters can be sent out onto the map to locate marine positions and provide distractions. Similar to the marine commander, the alien commander can directly influence a battle by causing infested ground to spike upwards, creating a bone wall that blocks and restricts enemy movement. In addition, they can rapidly accelerate building construction and energy regeneration by creating a gaseous mist at the targeted location. Finally, similar to the marine commander, the alien commander can provide upgrades to his team by spending team resources. The commander can select eggs and morph them into an Onos egg, allowing any alien to enter it and evolve into an Onos without spending personal resources.
Unlike the marines, the aliens progress through the game with evolution similar to classes. Either by morphing into new alien strains or by upgrading statistics such as speed. The following classes are: Skulk, Gorge, Lerk, Fade and Onos.
The Skulk is the basic life form that everyone starts with. It is the class that resembles the most with the Xenomorph of Aliens. It's fast, agile, wall-crawling capabilities make it a deadly foe for any unsuspecting marine. A superb ambush predator. They can eventually be upgraded with leap which closes the distance of marines and improves mobility and elusion. Skulks can also inflict a ranged parasite onto a marine which tracks the target through walls. Finally, they can be upgraded with Xenocide which cause the Skulk to voluntarily explode causing damage to nearby enemies. Costs 0 resources.
Next up is the Gorge, a support pig-like creature that deals light ranged damage and heals nearby enemies. They can also setup defensive and offensive positions by establishing clog walls supported with hydra turrets. Clog walls can block off a tight corridor, preventing quick marine access. Finally, they can be upgraded with an ability called bile bomb. Bile Bomb is an AoE artillery ability which deals poison damage over-time to affected targets, extremely effective versus Exosuits and structures but very weak versus small marine numbers. Costs 10 resources.
The Lerk is a flying creature akin to a Bat or Pterosaur. Similar to a Gorge, they provide a more support role by intercepting and engaging marine squads by flying overhead and releasing toxic gas to distort, disrupt and damage marines and allowing other aliens to close the gap and decimate the marine squad. In addition to their flying and toxic capabilities, they can also shoot toxic darts at marines, deliver a deadly poison bite, release a trail or spores behind them and create an Umbra cloud which reduces ranged attacks against fellow aliens. Costs 30 resources.
Fade. A dimensional travelling scythe-wielding assassin that backstabs and slaughters marines all while retreating safely only to return again for more carnage. Any marine that comes face to face alone versus a strong Fade is lunch. Fades deal heavy melee damage while warping around the map at tremendous speeds with shadowsteps and blinks. In addition to their strong mobility and melee damage, they can also deploy a vortex which traps enemy units and structures, preventing them from taking any action for a certain period of time. Despite these devastating abilities, Fades have low hp so it is important to know when to kill and when to escape. A greedy Fade is a liability to the team. Patience is a virtue with the Fade. Costs 50 resources.
Finally, the might Onos is the last and most powerful alien strain available. Capable of decimating the most powerful marine tech and breaking heavily defending locations, the Onos plays a pivotal role in keeping marine pushes at bay and inflicting terror into it's opponents. An Onos with a Gorge is force to be reckoned with and makes for a very effective alien strategy. The Onos' main abilities are a high damage melee attack, a rapid charge and a ground stomp which knocks down marines in the vicinity making them extremely vulnerable. The Onos is very important for soaking marine damage and giving other aliens the capability to be aggressive. Costs 75 resources.
Structures, Evolution and Upgrades of the Aliens
Hive - Base control, provides commander role, spawns eggs, heal and energises nearby aliens and provides upgrade and evolution unlocks.
Harvester - Provides incremental resource flow, the more harvesters net more resources.
Eggs - Aliens spawn from these. Can be killed.
Cyst - Spreads infestation which maintains and nourishes alien structures. Must be connected to another cyst or will eventually die.
Whip - Short range, static defense. Can be upgraded with greater range.
Crag - Heals nearby alien units and structures.
Shade - Cloaks nearby aliens units and structures.
Shift - Speeds energy recovery and shifts structures around the map. Generates eggs for spawn.
Shell - Provides armor and regeneration based upgrades.
Veil - Provides deception and stealth based upgrades
Spur - Provides speed and energy based upgrades.
Hydra - Static, weak defense spawned by Gorges. Max of 3 per Gorge and costs 3 personal resources each.
Clog - Static defensive blob spawned by Gorges which restricts enemy movement and provides defense. Max of 10 per Gorge, free to produce.
Evolution and Upgrades
The following upgrades can be used by any alien, only one upgrade can be evolved from each category.
Speed Celerity - Boosts movement speed.
Speed Adrenaline - Doubles energy pool and increases energy regen.
Stealth Silence - Makes the player completely silent when attacking, moving and using abilities.
Stealth Camouflage - When standing still, the alien is camouflaged until moving. Excellent for setting up ambushes.
Defense Carapace - Improves armor and survivability.
Defense Regeneration - When retreating from combat, health regeneration is drastically increased.
The following upgrades are specific to each alien.
Skulk Leap - Allows Skulks to leap into combat, improving mobility and retreat.
Skulk Xenocide - Skulk can explode dealing heavy damage against nearby enemies. Kills the player.
Gorge Bile Bomb - Short range artillery that heavily damage armored targets. Weak versus marines.
Lerk Spores - Trailing spores behind the Lerk as they fly around and disrupting marines. Leads to Umbra.
Lerk Umbra - Creates a protective cloud of gas that reduces ranged damage from bullets.
Fade Blink - Allows the Fade to rapidly teleport through the map at high speeds. Allows them to fly during Blink. Leads to Vortex.
Fade Vortex - Creates a vortex in melee range which prevents action of affected targets for a set period of time.
Onos Stomp - Knocks down nearby marines, making them susceptible to attack.
Thoughts and Conclusion
Natural Selection 2 is simply a blast from the past that revitalizes that old school FPS feel while introducing carefully balanced asymmetrical gameplay and rewarding excellent teamwork. I've only been playing for the past week and I already love it. Although I came from a hardcore AvP2 multiplayer background which both games have similarities. While not as fast-paced as games like Quake or Unreal as marines, any FPS player can find something they will like here whether it be aliens, marines, commander, support or assault.
The developers of this game are constantly pushing out new patches to fix bugs, balance changes and general community interaction. In the future, they have also stated that they will likely be producing free DLC content for everybody. The game is heavily moddable ranging from new maps, new skins to entire recreations of the game and graphical changes.
This is a game that with enough recognition and enough players it could easily become a top eSport and not many games are good enough for eSport status. It has a spectator mode, interesting and high skill-cap gameplay, essential teamwork, varied maps and an evolving meta game as new strategies are being discovered and new strategy builds are found.
In-game is an exploration mode which gives you the opportunity to use the various upgrades, weapons and evolution's without interference from other players. In addition, the game links you to various tutorials about different aspects and mechanics of the game such as individual alien classes and commanding. Below is the link to the tutorials homepage.
If you are an avid FPS or RTS player, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. It's around $25 (£18 for UK) on steam so it's a fairly cheap title compared to most generic shooters out there today.
If I've missed anything, let me know below. Thanks.