Versatility is a key component to the quality of a game while grinding is just a road sign that tells you the developers ran out of ideas. Being able to switch between roles and play styles is something more genres have begin to tinker with, and it’s not just the RPGs.
Natural Selection 2, the sequel to Natural Selection by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, is one such game. While the game is classified as an FPS, it adds a unique twist that gives the players a wide range of choices that enrich their play experience.
The premise of the game is a tale as old as time: humans vs. aliens. The two sides are pitted against one another in a chess game of ‘defend the base.’ But while in most FPS games guns are the perfect weapon against guns, the two teams in Natural Selection 2 constantly have to upgrade and develop their teams in response to each other. That’s because both sides don’t get to use guns. The aliens start off as wall crawling creatures with a powerful melee attack and a much weaker and slower ranged attack. There are special vents and passages throughout the levels that are only accessible by these starting aliens which adds a ‘strategy’ to the game besides just charging and chomping. Your team can research upgrades that let you evolve into stronger and more specialized breeds at the cost of a few resources which are collected through attacking the other team. These new breeds add cloaking abilities, charging attacks, flying, toxins, and even a mammoth creature that looks a lot like an ultralisk from StarCraft 2.
Meanwhile, the humans, known as ‘Marines,’ start of with assault rifles, pistols, and welders. The Marines stick to technology to make up for their biologic deficiencies, upgrading their assault rifles to shotguns, flame throwers, and grenade launchers. Marines also build various robots and research armor and weapon upgrades in response to the evolution of the alien team. This along with placing turrets, reloading/healing stations, and teleporter pads may seem like a lot for a randomly assembled team to handle, but that’s where Natural Selection 2 becomes unique.
Every team begins the match with one member commanding the rest of the team. The commander doesn’t take part in fire fights or even have a character; instead he or she views the arena from a bird’s eye perspective and guides the rest of the team, telling them where to attack, where to defend, and what the other team is up to. The marine commander drops packages that players can turn into the aforementioned structures as well as ammo and healing packs. The alien commander chooses what evolutions to make available for his or her team, and the game ends when one side destroys the main core of the opposing team.
Winning depends entirely upon teamwork and communication between a team and the commander. While the two don’t need to listen to one another, if they choose to go down that path then they will lose.
But all of this isn’t learned that easily. There are video tutorials available from the main menu, but otherwise you’re just tossed into a lobby and into battle. Luckily there are several rookie-friendly lobbies for newbies to learn in. Even so I recommend starting as a marine to get a feel for the game. Aliens take a little more getting used to and because of that there is a fairly large learning curve, especially if you want to try being a commander.
It’s a game made to just be fun, like CS 1.6. You open the game, choose a lobby, and go. And just like with CS 1.6 the game is extremely modable, letting users make their own versions of the game for others to fool around in. Even more than the versatility of every game you enter, this is what’s refreshing. While I enjoy story in a game, this game doesn’t need one. It’s like ‘Pong,’ you just turn it on to play a round without the end goal of some long term progression. You don’t need to unlock weapons or load-out slots or gun camo; every match is completely self contained. And while this is nothing new, it is something that hasn’t been seen in a while. I’m just glad it’s being dusted off.