Despite the title, recent PC release Natural Selection 2 doesn’t have as much to do with Charles Darwin as one would think. Beginning life as a mod for the first Half Life, Natural Selection pits the human Frontiersmen against the menacing alien Kharaa. Now developer Unknown Worlds have finally released the sequel as a standalone title on Steam and it is a brutal battle for survival of the fittest.
While on the surface Natural Selection 2 may look like an average Aliens vs. Marines shoot-em-up, the game has a few features that differentiates itself from others in the genre. The largest and most exciting feature is the commander. Each team has one player who must take up the role of commander by entering a central structure in their base. Once a player has done this, their perspective pulls back from the eyes of an individual marine to a near-omniscient bird’s eye view, and the gameplay becomes something resembling an RTS (real-time strategy). The commander of each team must build structures such as armories and equipment stations for the marines, and growing structures that allow the alien menace to mutate and advance on the opposing side. Each side’s commander must also research new upgrades, equipment and mutations for their side to maintain supremacy. Both humans and aliens must compete over resource nodes scattered across the map, which provide their commanders with an increased flow of cash to build more structures and research more upgrades, and many battles will be focused on controlling these vital assets.
Another feature is the unique attributes each faction possesses. The Frontiersmen marines must build power nodes in each room containing their building, and if they are destroyed by enemies the room will be plunged into darkness until the node is repaired. Alien buildings must be attached to the creeping infestation, which the alien commander spreads using small buildings called cysts. The dynamic infection, which looks eerie and can spread over any surface on the map, is one feature touted by the game’s developers.
While many games struggle to bring new life to the story of conflict between humans and aliens, Natural Selection 2 pulls it off admirably. All the elements of gameplay combine to create engaging experiences both as a soldier on the ground and the commander up above. With the spreading of the alien infestation, the map will change over the course of a game as the balance of power shifts, and a losing team of humans can see a visible reminder of their impending failure as it crawls and spreads closer to home. The atmosphere and level design are both stellar; oftentimes players will be patrolling through dark hallways, pointing their flashlights frantically at sudden movement in the shadows as the aliens creep through claustrophobic ventilation ducts to stalk their prey. Playing to the end of each side’s tech tree is immensely satisfying; with humans gaining access to flamethrowers and giant mech suits and the aliens growing into the elephant-like Onos or the terrifying Fade. The community is one of the nicer groups out there, with old grizzled veterans of many games willing to lend helpful advice to fresh-faced players. Overall; the game is a fun and well-paced experience that grabs the player and throws them head-first into a deep conflict where they must rely on their team to survive. At a price point of $24.99, it is well worth its value to anyone looking to pick up a great game on the cheaper side.