Saturday, 29 December 2012

Review: Natural Selection II (Steam PC)


They were close I could feel it.  Checking my short range scanner I could see the red blips moving around me and my fellow marines, but we couldn't see them.  I looked to a nearby player asking if we could hold them off.  He flashed me a grim stare and said "Sure" before he was violently brought down by a cloaked Lurker.

Yes Natural Selection 2 is full of these tense moments where as a losing team things become desperate and everything hinges on your teams commander who is also under pressure to bail his team out of a tight situation.  The game is a combination of first person shooting and real time strategy as one player from each team takes the commander position to see the battlefield from a birds eye view, while everyone else represents the commanders forces.

Commanders have the job of building resource gathering structures, upgrading equipment or evolving new forms for the aliens, and finally building support structures to help protect vital areas of the maps.  The other players run the game as a normal FPS but the element teamplay is critical as communication between your team and commander can decimate a less coordinated team.  Teams are made up of 12 a side which might sound small but the maps aren't huge and are designed to maximise the effectiveness of small squads.

As I mentioned earlier NS2 is about a war in the future between human marines and hive like aliens which battle for control of facilities.  The objective of both teams is to dominate the map and make progress toward the enemy teams main base to destroy it.  You get the feeling that if SEGA didn't have the license to the Aliens universe then Natural Selection 2 may have featured Xenomorph and colonial marine units instead.  There alot of similarities between the them.  Lurkers can stick to walls and climb through vent shafts.  The alien team can knock out power to deactivate lights and other marine facilities.  Aliens spread a zerg like creep to allow new buildings to be produced and finally they evolve new abilities by hatching from eggs at a hive base.

The alien team lack the ranged firepower of the marines so need to utilise speed and surprise to their advantage.  To make up for this handicap any damage done by the alien bite is pretty substantial and usually only needs 2 to kill a marine outright.  Other alien units utilise different attack methods, with a flying unit that can fire low damage spines from it's wings and later spread a deadly gas.  Another unit that resembles a small Hippo can build support structures and walls along with healing friendly units.  Another unit is a stealth killer with massive claws and finally the massive Ono's acts as the aliens late game tank unit capable of taking massive damage and dealing massive damage.

Aliens can self heal over time albeit slowly provided they hide from weapons fire.  The alien team also need to be aware of the number eggs available in their base since each respawn consumes an egg.  If a marine team gets inside the hive base and destroys the eggs there it can severely hamper a teams ability to respawn.

The marines play more like a traditional FPS team with sentry turrets, upgrade stations and healing points.  Marines have to build their structures on the level as the commander places them, meaning they have to respond as soon as possible to construction requests.  Marines don't evolve new abilities but instead unlock new weapons and improved armour, eventually acquiring jetpacks and exo armour.  Once a marine team acquires Exo suits it's pretty much game over unless they are against Ono's aliens.

The game lends itself well to competitive play and will likely become a big favourite amongst the professional gaming crowd.  The gameplay is fast and rewards coordinated gameplay on all levels.  My only gripes are that the animations a little wooden at times and the game can be a little too CPU heavy so make sure your chip is a little faster than the recommended specs to ensure smooth gameplay.

NS2 comes preloaded with a mod suite allowing you to create your own maps and gametypes.  I imagine that given time we will see a Xenomorph mod along with other sci-fi inspired gametypes.  There are already modded servers online that tweak basic aspects of the gameplay to having entirely new maps.

Graphically Natural Selection 2 is good although not like today's triple AAA titles.  Environments are detailed but can blend into one another as they all take place within industrial complexes or similar facilities. 

Natural selection 2's sound effects are again passable with dialogue being kept to a minimum, only going so far as to have the basics such as calling for healing or building structures.  Weapons sound powerful and alien bites have plenty of volume to them to suggest a powerful jaw clamping down. 

Overall Natural Selection 2 is a very good team based shooter hybrid with tonnes of potential for the future either as DLC or in the mod scene.  While it's on sale on steam I highly recommend buying it and any other time frankly.

SCORE: 8.0/10

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