Natural Selection 2 Review

Engaging variety and refreshing complexity make Natural Selection 2 a supremely rewarding experience, once you come to grips with it.

Some games are easy to pick up and play. Others require you to learn, improving and developing skills as you go. The multiplayer-only Natural Selection 2 proudly sits in the latter camp. The latter camp isn't for everyone, and that's okay. But as long as a game is designed well enough to allow you to learn, improve and develop, it's always great to see one push the envelope and not rely on the most tried-and-tested formulas. Often, these games end up being some of the most refreshing, the most celebrated titles around. Natural Selection 2 is one such game. It isn't the most accessible game on the market, but if you put in the time, this deep and complex strategy/shooter hybrid rewards you with plenty of engaging variety and lots of thrills.

A platoon of Frontiersmen prepare to fend off the alien menace.

It's important to stress from the outset: if you're a first-time player, your initial enjoyment of Natural Selection 2 will be entirely decided by how prepared you are to learn new gameplay systems. There's no interactive tutorial; all the game offers is a series of lengthy demo videos. These aren't ideal, they don't open within the game interface, and it's a lot to take in should you choose to watch them all back to back before diving in. That said, by far your best bet in picking up Natural Selection 2 is to play Natural Selection 2. The way the game is structured makes it very easy to learn by doing. Certain servers (highlighted in green) are defined as rookie servers, providing a great place to get to grips with the game's many systems, ideally under the watchful eye of a more experienced commander.

The commander's role forms the RTS portion of the experience. Here, one player controls resource management, base building, and upgrades. The commander directs units, issues orders, and tells the team where to go and what to do. The best rounds of Natural Selection 2 see the commander using full voice chat, communicating with the team vocally as well as through the interface. A good commander isn't the only thing that can make NS2 appealing, but having a competent leader goes a long way towards making the game more enjoyable.

Thankfully, it's usually easy to find plenty of welcoming, communicative matches; after all, NS2 is very much a team game. There's absolutely no incentive to ostracize or punish teammates for a poor performance. The best commanders know that to win, communicating with and nurturing your team is key. The best way to learn how to play commander is by not playing commander. Take a hands-off approach, stick to one of the ground troops, and it's very easy to pick up what makes for a successful--and unsuccessful--commander. On top of that there's Explore mode, which lets you play around in the RTS interface with a vast amount of resources, and tool tips for each structure.

A lone skulk, waiting to pounce. Clearly, it's been watching Alien.

The commander is just one role, however, and the rest of the players have a diverse array of options to choose from. There's a lot here, and chances are, after a bit of experimentation, you'll find at least one aspect of the game you really click with. The best way to approach the game isn't to think of it as having an overall learning curve, but a number of smaller spikes; focus on one aspect of the game, and you'll learn plenty by way of observation while doing so. Thankfully, the game's been designed exceptionally well to allow this. Every facet of both the Frontiersmen (marines) and Kharaa (alien) sides is important. It's very much like Team Fortress in that respect: every role has its place and purpose.

The roles themselves vary considerably depending on which side you're on. The Frontiersmen are the more traditional of the two; rather than focusing on individual classes, weapon and equipment upgrades allow you to outfit your character depending on your playing style and the demands of the situation. Through the commander's resource management, new weapons are made available, including shotguns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, and mines. Then there's the prototype lab, allowing the research and purchase of jetpacks and exos (think the loader from Aliens, but with the ability to punch and shoot). On top of that there are numerous other research possibilities. There's the arms lab that provides permanent armor and weapon buffs as long as the lab remains active, a robotics factory that allows for the creation of commander-controlled support units, and various individual objects such as teleports, enemy detectors, and sentry guns.

Of course, nothing comes for free, and all these goodies can only be bought with resources. For both teams, resources take the form of team resources and personal resources. Team resources are used exclusively by the commander to build, upgrade, and generally get things done. Personal resources are used to buy the items on the ground. Both types of resource are generated based on the number of collection structures your team has put in place (extractors for marines, harvesters for aliens).

Explore mode lets you test out the commander role without sending your team to their doom.

It's unlikely your team will be able to afford every single bit of kit, so you have to choose your purchases carefully, and this adds a layer of strategy to all aspects of the game. A good commander will have a game plan, focusing on specific research and development to shape the team into a suitable side. Fancy building up a ton of defenses and sending a strike team to meet your opponent? Or perhaps aggressively expanding your base across the map, choking the opposing team and cutting off their potential resources?

The Kharaa side, on the other hand, is a lot more focused on class-based progress. There are five alien types, with the skulk leading the way as the basic, free unit, and the rest requiring increasingly more personal resources to evolve into. You have the gorges, almost-cute hippo-like creatures that act as healing/support classes, who can also build hydras (sentries) and clogs (defensive walls). They can also powerslide around on their bellies. Then there are the lerks: flying units who specialize in precision strikes and utilize poison to get at their foes. Next up is the fade, the stealth specialist that excels in speed and rapid damage.

Kharaa vs. Frontiersmen: Whoever wins, we lose (unless we're on the winning team).

Finally there's the most expensive unit, the onos, a huge rhino/gorilla-like creature with vast amounts of health and armor, capable of rampaging through even the most well-defended marine base. The onos is perhaps overpowered right now, and can often turn the tide of a match in a way that can occasionally feel cheap, although watching a team of skilled marine players rapidly take down an army of four onos is a moment of beauty. (Unless you're on the alien team, of course. Then it's the stuff of nightmares).

The RTS elements of the Kharaa vary somewhat from the marine counterparts, too. There's still the emphasis on upgrading and researching, but here individual hives (the main bases) are converted into specific hive types, focusing on either stealth, speed, or defense. Ground is gained by laying cysts, which spread a sickly green infestation across the map, and harvesters require infestation in order to be planted. Unlike the marine power nodes, which must be placed on a specific point in a room in order to power it up for the marines, cysts can be placed anywhere, as long as they're within radius of another cyst. It offers a more natural, creeping form of expansion than the marines' technical wizardry, which is reflected nicely in-game as the infestation takes hold, plastering the levels with organic-looking textures.

There's a lot more focus on expansion in general when it comes to the alien side, with fewer restrictions on things like sentries (here called whips, protruding tentacles that can move around as well as giving marines a bit of a beating). The primary emphasis is on the aliens themselves though, and each class has unique offensive abilities which have to be researched. They can also be boosted by general buffs, which the commander can activate at opportune moments. These take the form of things like camouflage, armor, health regen, and speed increase. The abilities are grouped into types, and one ability from each group can be active at any one time, so for example you may choose to play as a silent, fast gorge with regenerating health--or something else entirely. Again, one of the best things about Natural Selection 2 is the amount of player choice available within a set system.

What the gorge lacks in dental hygiene, it makes up for in the ability to construct defenses.

The variation on offer can lead to some interesting, emergent experiences. A small band of twitchy soldiers might hole up in one corner of the map, flashlights darting from corner to corner as they guard against a steady drip-feed of skulks. The telltale screech of their attack becomes a signal for erratic, panicked fire as the commander desperately tries to keep the base in one piece. Such a battle has the feel of an intimate survival horror-esque experience, where the difference between winning and losing seems less important than simply surviving for as long as you can. In other matches, though, you'll be part of a tanked up army of powerhouses, or a group of precise, base-expanding operatives lethally shutting down the opposing team.

While the game's textures aren't outstanding (although on high-end systems, Natural Selection 2 looks great), this is more than made up for by its artistry. The Kharaa look fantastic in first person; play as the skulk, for instance, and the camera lives inside the creature's mouth. This sees you peering out of its gaping maw, sharp teeth and darting tongue working overtime as you chomp away at marines. The majority of locations are comprised of metallic corridors and chiseled caves, but Natural Selection 2 still has the capacity to visually surprise, with the occasional corridor opening up onto an outdoor, snow-covered precipice or, in the case of the excellent Refinery, a central lava cascade. Thanks to some extremely impressive lighting, the alien design and the organic, pulsing growths that make up the infestation, the game has a great aesthetic going for it.

The marines get down to business, heading out to build one of the game's many structures.

Natural Selection 2 isn't without its problems, however. For starters, despite the fact they're large and well-designed, there are only six maps, although between free updates from developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment and community-designed maps, there's potential for expansion here. Then there's the barrier for entry; there's no denying that when faced with a genre mash-up comprised of a bunch of classes and no hands-on tutorial, some players are going to be put off before they get started.

It's certainly not the multiplayer experience everyone is after, and with no single-player component whatsoever, Natural Selection 2's appeal entirely depends on your desire for a complex, deep alternative to the usual immediacy of modern online shooters. There's potentially more balancing to be done when it comes to certain classes or abilities being slightly overpowered, but that's a matter of fine-tuned refinement rather than a vast overhaul. Right now it's an excellent game that taps into both the FPS and RTS markets, with plenty of varied builds and playing styles on offer. If competitive multiplayer gaming is survival of the fittest, then Natural Selection 2 is certainly fighting tooth and claw to reach the top tier.

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The Good
Great amount of depth and variety
Gameplay encompasses a wide range of playing styles
Match flow varies hugely from game to game
RTS and FPS elements are both exceptionally well-handled
The Bad
Not enough maps
The lack of hands-on tutorial makes matches initially intimidating
8
Great
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0 comments
cgobeil
cgobeil

Good review, I'm gonna try the game for free on Steam since it's the free week-end for Natural Selection 2.  Yay!

I_are_Cake
I_are_Cake

Thank you for pulling down the original review. God damn freelance journalists...

grandone22
grandone22

This game doesn't even deserve a 7... i don't know why people are upset...

MrYaotubo
MrYaotubo

Thanks gamespot,if it weren´t for you the NS2 metascore would be around the mid 80´s,the way it is now it only hurts the game because of your incompetent review...

Epicurus-Reborn
Epicurus-Reborn

well the biggest problem i have with this review, is it doesn't actually say what you do in the game, until..........  the 3rd paragraph. Kind of. I mean the analysis of what makes it good or bad is great and all, but its just as important to say what you actually do in the game. I mean given the 1st half of the article, minus the picture, this game could be about anything from teams of unicorns collecting rainbow dust to teams of monsters eating hordes of school children... Which sounds pretty fun come to think of it. 

santinegrete
santinegrete

My worst fear with this title will be that I end in games and lobbies where the players votekick newbies just because they want a strong team. Yes, that still happen in public games and you can't deny it.

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

Lmao gotta love lower score because you have to learn the game.Always makes me smile at gamespot.

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

yah yah yah the first reviewer screwed the pooch.  onto the game....this looks like a combo of starcraft and halo and frankly really intriguing to me!  think i want to play it

SideWinder6
SideWinder6

I lol @ gamespot removing the metacritic score.This is just ridiculous. Just issue an apology for god's sake, you're not children. This is some half-assed high-school newspaper conduct right here. 

lucutisborg
lucutisborg

Hey guys so despite my glowing review below, I have some sad news to report.

 

The latest patch for the game (Build 229) has ruined the game balance and completely overpowered the alien side. Although the developers UWE said they would not be changing gameplay elements in this build, focussing only on network issues, they secretly changed major components of the alien side.

 

The network issues are improved on the whole, so they did deliver on that. But at the same time I and some others have found game load times to have worsened (but others say theirs have improved). But what ruins everything is the alien buffs which weren't even included in the patch notes, and was found by someone reading the game source code to compare differences -- UWE admitted to the changes after the community had found them.

 

The buffs are serious, with what used to be 51-49 alien win to marine win ratio in 227 and 228 (launch versions) now totally skewed to a 60-40 or more in favor of aliens.

 

Anyone who purchases this game and goes marine will have a terrible time of it, as they are destroyed within 10-15 mins, no matter how good the rest of the team is. And even experienced players are having great difficulty winning as marines. If you play as aliens though, it's great because you almost certainly are going to pwn the marines.

 

Please take this also into consideration along with the other comments made here, and along with the Gamespot review. I'm really disappointed with Unknown Worlds after this. I will definitely be very careful about purchasing any future games from them.

rahl247
rahl247

game does take some use to. biggest thing you can not be afraid to die over and over. you get better stats the more you play

moc5
moc5

I will be giving this game a second look now based on the feedback on a review that seems to appeal to depth and variety.  A good way to test the gaming public on what they value most I think. 

s4dn3s5
s4dn3s5

finally, a proper review made by someone who knows what he's talking about... well done GS.

Metrorav
Metrorav

Thanks for taking the time to review it properly, Gamespot. You've earned some of my respect :)

Ioriya
Ioriya

Lol.

 

They replaced Neigher's shitty review with this one.

sonofdabeach2
sonofdabeach2

Better review kudos to gamespot for getting thier reviews on point.

grgolj_blaster
grgolj_blaster

Not enough maps? Don't worry modders are already working on it!

assaulter_g4
assaulter_g4

This game is amazing, anyone who doesn't give it a chance is doing themselves a huge disservice.

Going through the motions of learning the game is super rewarding and extremely much fun, don't be afraid of it, embrace the fact that games with a good learning curve are a blast to play and a blast to learn.

You'll be surprised at how good the community is, people are in general always willing to teach a rookie.

 

The onos is cheap complaint is a typical rookie complaint, if the writer had put in some more time he'd have learned how to deal with oni, and more importantly how to not lose the game with exos on your side.

 

6 maps too few? another ridiculous complaint, there are more FREE official maps on the way (no dlc splitting the community here!) and mod support assures an endless steady stream of community maps over the years. This game doesn't deserve a negative on the map count, you get ten times more value with this system than you do in shameless cash grabs like battlefield and cod.

 

I also agree that it's too late to amend the review, the damage is done on metacritic and sadly that aggregated score number is what many people will go looking for when they check out this game. I hope you are proud gamespot that you most likely cost Uwe thousands of sales with your botched review.

 

evil_sheep2007
evil_sheep2007

Credit to Gamespot for having the bravery to pull a flawed review and replace it with something more well thought through. I have a feeling a lot of publications would not have the integrity to admit and rectify a mistake once they had made it.

THA-TODD-BEAST
THA-TODD-BEAST

This review is more like it.  What an awesome and sadly underrated game.

semolina420
semolina420

i'm curious, there was a game like 10 years back that had a similar playstyle, combined first-person and commander strategic roles, but it was spaceship combat with i think 3 different factions, anyone remember it's name?

Itachhi
Itachhi

If it is as good as the original this game certainly is a lof of fun. I will most likely buy it.

SideWinder6
SideWinder6

Your mistake is actually extremely damaging to the game. You should do whatever you can to pull that grade off of metacritic.

Nanomage
Nanomage

It´s a damn shame that metacritic won´t change or take down the previous review score due to their policies,so because of the original incompetent review it´s now dragging the game below 80 on meta,with the current GS score the metascore would be in the mid 80´s.

 

Good thing that you guys pulled the review but shame on you for allowing this mess to happen.

hussatron
hussatron

Just a heads up, the mobile version of the site has the updated review text but still shows the old 6.0 score.

zilcher
zilcher

The fix was in to ruin this game.........oh wait, it wasn't this one, the other one uh oh, better change this......

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

Shazbot! PC only...damn you real life for taking all my money.

SideWinder6
SideWinder6

The poor score of your previous review is still up in metacritic. What gives?

lucutisborg
lucutisborg

This is an awesome game. Very nice review :)

 

I'm a NS1 veteran so most of NS2 came to me naturally but I remember distinctly the learning curve when it came to being able to command marines, actually score hits on aliens/humans, and even new to me was the alien commander role.

 

But you should stick with it. After about 5-10 games as a front-line soldier (on either side) anyone will start to get the hang of it. The only way to learn to command is to actually command, but please refrain from doing so till you have at least 10 games under your belt. That being said, it can be pretty daunting when you first get in the Chair.

 

I've found people on most servers are quite accommodating of newbies, so it's fine if you want to be commander -- just tell the team that you've never done it before, and they will tell you where to look and what to press. But please, please, please! use your microphone -- everyone has one, so stop being shy. No one cares what you sound like (except the odd loser -- just mute him if it becomes a problem). This game is way too fast-paced and demanding for you to be frantically pressing buttons with your fingers and sending garbled typo-laden messages out, especially with the high propensity of accidentally pressing "enter" before typing and broadcasting the message to the ALL-chat rather than just your team.

 

I personally took some time to get used to being commander in NS1, but once you learn the basics it's like riding a bike, you never forget it. For that reason, I think it was correct that UWE didn't bother wasting time and money on creating a bot system. In any case, if you think front-line/infantry bots (rather than the MACs and ARCs which actually are useful sometimes) can be useful in a game vs. human controlled enemies, I really don't think this game is for you.

 

There have been quite a lot of networking/connection problems for many people, with random server resets, disconnects, crashes, and non-refreshing server lists etc., but UWE are working on that and hopefully build 229 will fix most if not all these problems (due end of this week I think -- currently it's out as beta).

 

NS2 offers something which is rare to find these days: a unique gameplay experience. The ebb and flow of a particular match will change several times throughout a game. If you as a marine manage to single-handedly kill the skulks rushing your far outpost and build the phase gate in time (to allow more reinforcements to come quickly) it could mean securing a second base and pushing your team to victory. If your aim isn't so good or your commander doesn't give you health packs, the gate will fall and the aliens will claim the base, setting your team back. Then the question is do you push  back to that outpost and fight to get it back, or do you do a counter-attack at a different point like a rich resource point the aliens currently control? Do you distract the enemy with a heavy push while your commander (alien or marine) saves up team resources for Exos or Onos to "drop" (ie. gift) to your team?

 

What strikes most about this game is how individual events like the lone marine defending an outpost till backup arrives, and whether he succeeds or fails, can truly have a cascade effect leading to victory for your team. Nothing is set in stone though, so even if you fail at one position, you can still come back to win. And let me say here -- winning as front-line but especially as commander, is the most amazing feeling!

 

A good example is in one game, when I was aliens (you can be several different classes of alien), we had 3 hives (bases) and victory was assured. The marines made a heavy push with their Exos (tier 3 mechs) and cleared out first one, then another hive. We fought hard at the battleground that was the second hive and managed to destroy a few of the exos and reclaim the hive.

 

They fell back to what was our third hive (which they had now captured), and started building up defences. But instead of attacking there, we made a feint -- sent a few aliens to make it look like we were moving there -- but instead pushed for the double-resource point, which fell easily while they were distracted at the base. With all that resource flowing in, we got some advanced aliens out and did a simultaneous attack on both the marine bases. Needless to say  we won.

 

This game is worth more than the current price, but this is probably because the team recognizes there's still some stuff to sort out and a bit more content required before it goes up to a regular sort of price. There will be years worth of free updates and new content coming, so just buy it now and start playing so you can say you had it, and understood its greatness before it became a world-renowned classic on par with HL1.

 

I will say it again: this game provides you with unique experiences: gameplay, strategy, camraderie, and leadership, all wrapped up with stunning atmospherics and a beautiful world. Individual moments of glory, and broad overarching strategy can clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. That is what this game is about, in the final calculation. BUY IT NOW.

UncleDolanDuck
UncleDolanDuck

The user score proves that you cant trust in critics anymore.

 

quina
quina

I found this game out of nowhere one morning. I don t do impulsive buys with anything but I did with this one. WELL WORTH IT! One of the most intense game's I've ever played and although it can be frustrating if you suck at it, it's well worth learning how to play it. RTS+FPS with "Alien" written all over it with games that can last hours or just a couple of minutes.

 

It's just sad that a group of 7 people from an Indie dev team can outmatch so many other dev teams and their AAA titles. This game feels fresh, looks great, runs great and its pure fun. The hard learning curve will just make you come back and be good at it eventually. Game's are like women, if they are too easy we'll lose interest in them.

 

Been playing this game a LOT and although it seems unbalanced sometimes, its just the skill of the people you are playing with that cause that feeling. If you have a few euros to spare, buy this game, as a gamer you owe it to yourself.

NeighNayNay
NeighNayNay

Good review. Anyway, Neigher/GameSpot is still ruining this great indie game's metascore. Make Metacritic.com list this review instead of the horrible old one.

ASnogarD
ASnogarD

The only remaining issue here though is due to Gamespots first score of 6.0 which is still on Metacritic, the Metacritic score remains below 80 (79 the moment) dragged down by the original poor work of GS reviewers (all the other scores are 80+).

 

This effects sales as its generally (and wrongly) seen that games below the 80 mark are not good and bargain bin only affairs, and the launch period for a indie game is crucial... by the time the scores are corrected how much damage will this error have caused Unknown Worlds Entertainment ?

 

Its not like UWE can shrug off lost sales without worries here.

wezkilla
wezkilla

I expected it to get this score and since it did why is there no video review?

 

but Black Ops 2 will get one? you reviewed black ops 2 4 years ago when modern warfare 2 was out, you dont need to re-review it a 4th time via video 

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

I thought this game was reviewed a few weeks ago? Did they re-review it? What happened?

Raisiine
Raisiine

why dont you always do video reviews man

 

SuperByakhee
SuperByakhee

Now this is more like it, a considered, thoughtful review that acurately assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the title in a proper manner. Bravo!

 

Just a heads up though: The Mobile version of this review is still showing the old review's 6.0 score (but the current review text and content)

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

Would have really loved a video review for this since it's not quite as mainstream, and has changed a lot since the last we saw of it.

omghaxor45
omghaxor45

i wish they had bots for this game. good ones. cause over half the time i go on all of the servers are too laggy to join and they're not the amount of players i wish. most of the games are out of 18 or 14 i want 24. bots would make this game complete for me.

aniforprez
aniforprez

yeah, good thing they realised this game is much better than the last reviewer thought. i don't think that dude even tried playing the game.

 

as for the maps, i understand why they have complaints but i'm sure a few updates and dlcs will fix that

lfebaggins
lfebaggins

Natural Selection 2 is great, I really love some of the improvements they made, like the power nodes for lighting areas.  If you haven't played the first game or herd of it, try it out.  These guys at Unknown Worlds are highly skilled, you'll see why these guys started as a dev group creating the first one just as a mod to Half-life 1 and then becoming a studio making a full version game for the sequel.

thom_maytees
thom_maytees

It is a good thing that a competent reviewer was chosen which gave the game a deserved score.

don_saulari
don_saulari

Hmmm first time I hear of it, is it any thing like XCOM ?

TomPoots
TomPoots moderator

 I've been playing this game for a little more than 40 hours... and I am still hooked.

There is always these moments where I would tell myself "Wait a minute, this game is actually great".I keep discovering stuff, the more I play the more I get comfortable with the controls and the more I enjoy it. 

y3ivan
y3ivan

it seem like alot of ppl in steam forums are complaining about lacking of servers, CTD, and performance issue.

jamesbigmac
jamesbigmac

How in the hell does this get an 8.0 when it has so many positives that other, corporate backed games never have?!

Bladestop
Bladestop

I played Savage how ever many years ago that came out and really enjoyed it. Can anyone who played this game and Savage let me know if its similar and if I would enjoy it?

Fiscaldeal
Fiscaldeal

This game just sounds incredible.

SolidTy
SolidTy

New Writer, new Gamespot.com Review, new score...

 

All is well.

Natural Selection 2 More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Natural Selection 2 is a multiplayer shooter that pits aliens against humans in a strategic and action-packed struggle for survival.
    8.3
    Average Rating200 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Natural Selection 2
    Developed by:
    Unknown Worlds Entertainment
    Published by:
    Unknown Worlds Entertainment
    Genre(s):
    3D, Team-Based, Shooter, First-Person, Action
    Theme(s):
    Sci-Fi