Natural Selection 2

7.8 Overall Score

Graphics are Impressive | Aliens are Diverse

Spawn Camping | Multiplayer-only Experience Easily Ruined by Weakest Links

Written by on November 7, 2012 in [, , , , , ]

Natural Selection 2  is a game with roots in the modding and crowd-funding community. Originally conceived as a modification to Valve’s Half-Life, this proper sequel has been a decade in the making, supported every step of the way by the efforts of fans. With an official Steam release under its belt, the question is whether or not the gaming community in general is ready to embrace what Selection’s admirers have held so close to their hearts. The answer is: probably, but there’s still a better way.

Selection is a multiplayer-only first person shooter at its core, but it isn’t quite that simplistic. What the game offers unique to the genre is that each team has its own command post, staffed by one member of each team. Whether you side with the Frontiersman space marines or the alien Kharaa, the player serving as the commander for that side interacts with a top-down view of the entire battlefield, placing structures and giving orders on where soldiers should go.

Serving as the marine commander you can order the construction of key structures like an armory or sentry turrets, but you will rely on your troops to accomplish the physical building. With a good commander in the hot-seat, giving instruction on where the team should go next, the system works well to introduce new players to the basics. This is essential when considering that there is no real tutorial to ease you into battle before the digital lives of others are placed in your hands. The game does offer spectating and exploration modes, as well as nearly three hours of instructional videos, but it’s a lot to take in and most players (who don’t read manuals) will just dive straight in.

While that intentionally reckless joie de mort may be fun for some, it certainly doesn’t help the cause, especially when playing as the aliens. The Kharaa, while also possessing a hive-mind field commander, are channeled into teamwork even less (at least initially) than the Leroy Jenkins’ of the human world. Starting out as a lowly Skulk, your main mission will be to harass the marines at every turn, preventing them from expanding and taking over resource nodes (which allow the controlling team to expand their arsenal, giving them the edge in combat). The Kharaa hive mind doesn’t need its minions to construct or expand the base – it only needs players for defense – whereas the minions rely heavily on their leader to research upgrades and allow them to morph into more deadly creatures.

Because the commander of the aliens needs you less than you need them, there’s less natural encouragement for alien commanders to talk to or organize their troops. This can be frustrating when you couple both factions’ propensity for dying – it only takes a couple hits to kill a player – with the awkward mechanics of playing as the starting aliens. The first creature you spawn as for the aliens sees the world from the inside of its mouth. That seems interesting, but it poses a unique problem when in order to attack an enemy you have to close your mouth to bite them. This means that every time you get within melee range for an attack, you don’t just risk losing site of your target while they Halo-hop around the world, you risk losing sight of your target because you’re literally blinding yourself every time you attack.

Due to the fact that a team’s commander plays such a crucial role in success or failure, it can be frustrating if the first person to grab the reins isn’t the best one for that job. While in the future the game could be helped quite a bit with some sort of impeachment process – maybe a certain number of players are required to pry open a pod to oust the ineffective leader – right now you simply have to suffer through your defeat. That suffering is only exacerbated by the way in which the game handles respawning.

Every multiplayer arena game has to make a decision on how to handle spawning and it is the implementation of this single feature that dictates (in what surely must be some undiscovered mathematical equation) the ratio of spawn campers to rage quitters. In Natural Selection 2 that ratio is not so good. The way that respawning works is that soldiers have teleportation nodes they materialize from near the command structure, while aliens similarly have eggs they hatch from near their hive. When you arrive towards the end game, due to the fact that players are so easy to kill, it is not an uncommon occurrence for you to spend twenty seconds waiting to respawn only to die before you literally have any chance to move your character.

Selection has some really good ideas that it is trying to implement. It just doesn’t do enough to address the problems the genre inherently faces. That doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad – if you can get into it then you’ll find something hugely enjoyable. But all of that is going to depend on whether or not you give the game a chance in the first place. More than long load times, what hurts the game is that it exists in a world where smaller development teams are taking ideas based on game mods and making them available to the public as stand-alone products. Where in the old days fans of multiplayer death matches pretty much had Quake to choose from, now millions are flocking to community generated content like Counter Strike, Team Fortress, or Day Z, where great ideas are kept from becoming diffuse by being brought into the larger fold.

Though it would have been hard to imagine a few years ago making a case in favor of EA as it slowly gobbled up franchises and smaller studios, there is something to be said for creating a centralized point for talent, where many great minds can come together to create one product that is greater than all its parts. How that applies to Natural Selection 2 is that although the graphics are good and it’s fun to run on walls, ambush marines, or coordinate a squad in real time from a tactical point of view, what keeps the game from true greatness is that there are too many aspects where someone, somewhere else, has come up with something that works just a little bit better.

A copy of Natural Selection II was provided to TMG for the purpose of evaluation and review.


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Author: Patrick Cassin View all posts by
Patrick has been playing games since the days of Pong. To support his video game habit he got his BA in English. Then he cut down some trees, put out some fires, rescued some dolphins, got paid to go to prison, and arrested someone's horse. Now he writes the things he imagines that you LOL at.

2 Comments on "Natural Selection 2"

  1. uRBAN_Spaceman November 8, 2012 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    I would highly recommend going back to Pong… It would appear the mechanics in NS2 are a bit beyond you… Terrible review of a near perfect game. The last paragraph alone proves how clueless he really is… NS2 is the only game of its kind… and hes gonna try and say someone, somewhere else, has come up with something that works just a little bit better…. What game?!?!?!?!?!? Oh thats right…. there isnt one like NS2….

    • Patrick Cassin November 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      What I actually meant was that each element, individually, has been done better elsewhere — that was why I said there were “too many aspects done better elsewhere,” instead of saying that there was one specific game that was doing everything else that NS2 was doing.

      But since you brought it up, there is such a game and it is called Tremulous.

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