Natural Selection 2 Review

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

by

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.

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.

farbrorbla
farbrorbla

@MrYaotubo Plain ignorance. Metascore is based on different peoples scores, some like the game, some dont. Enjoy or dont enjoy but care less what other people think about the game.

bgghgubcjhgknjk
bgghgubcjhgknjk

 @Epicurus-Reborn yeah school children against little monsters and the children can do nothing but try to stomp on them while the monsters bite their ankles off

hussatron
hussatron

 @lucutisborg Some of the changes from this patch are being reverted and other things are still being tweaked and changed. You can check out the upcoming official patch in Flayra's Steam Workshop: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=108447514

 

It's definitely seems like a difficult game to balance properly, but at least the devs are listening to feedback and trying to do it right.

DarkMellie
DarkMellie

 @Ioriya I never read the comments and I've stopped reading Gamespot a year ago because they don't have an iPhone app worth a damn.. but here I am today... I'm just going to point out that every site has a reader like you... the guy who puts down the site's writers like it was your job to do so, doesn't give a damn about people's feelings, has no constructive viewpoint, offers no constructive criticism and seemingly complains solely because they aren't intellectually equipped to accept that other people will have differing opinions.

Cheers :)

tweet7
tweet7

 @assaulter_g4 Well said...for the most part.

 

Remember that the reviewer has to take into account a wide variety of gamers with different tastes and preferences. Even CS, as great a game as it was, could become dull in the same 6 map rotation. I doubt there's a long-time player out there who didn't sometimes think "not de_dust AGAIN" and go off to find a server with a fun_map rotation.

 

On your last point, of course they're not proud; they made a mistake. But rather than just delete the review, pretend it never happened and put out a new one, they came right out, hands in the air, and said "we made a mistake, we're sorry, we'll try not to let it happen again"

 

If this is as good a game as the review suggests then sales will probably recover in the long-term.

 

As for the rest of your comment: stretch it out to 2 pages and you can be a reviewer :-)

cfisher2833
cfisher2833

 @THA-TODD-BEAST It's not really underrated as most sites and people have been giving pretty damn good reviews (for all purposes, I think it's best if we ignore that last review). 

Rat_King
Rat_King

 @semolina420 There's a few reviews in the user reviews on the metacritic page that mention this is a great follow up to the Half Life mod. So I think spiderbug had it, though Allegiance looks awesome! Wish I knew about it back then...

ShadowRun02
ShadowRun02

 @semolina420 maybe you mean allegiance? a f2p old rts/fps MP game with space ships, i didn't play it but i think there's still an active community

spiderbug2
spiderbug2

 @semolina420 well i do know this game is based off a mod for gold source engine which if you dont know itshalf-lifes engine.... the mod was called natural selection thus why it is ns2 not just ns. ns was based on a mod for an older game but i forget what it was but it was different enough from the game it sorta copied to be called its own game.

assaulter_g4
assaulter_g4

 @youlade 

It's as good as cod in the same way as steak is as good as elephant dung...

NS2 is in an entirely different league of quality than black ops 2, but it requires some teamwork and your brain activity can't flatline while playing it.

JinPT
JinPT

 @youlade You can't really compare it to BO2, don't just look at the score. It's a very different game. It's not just a FPS. Don't buy it before you're sure of what you're buying, check some gameplay videos, start with NS2HD on youtube

assaulter_g4
assaulter_g4

 @Itachhi 

Been playing with a lot of ns1 vets, and while there is the usual nostalgia for the first game and some of the changes, every single vet i've seen absolutely adores ns2.

phoenixbbs
phoenixbbs

 @Itachhi it certainly feels like it to me, plus the steam workshop already has about 100 mods, of which perhaps 10 are new maps.

SideWinder6
SideWinder6

 @Slade968 I was referring to the fact that I couldn't see the metacritic score yesterday. Can see it fine now.They should be talking to metacritic to remove the old review score though.

Slade968
Slade968

 @cfisher2833  @THA-TODD-BEAST Yea but its the lack of publicity. I mean, it took them how long to review this game? Like three weeks. Then they don't give it a video review which I don't mind that much but let's be honest, most people will skip over it simply because of that. This game is a lot better than half the other generic shooters recently released (not that I'm naming any names....)

phLo_0
phLo_0

 @Rat_King  @semolina420 Allegiance still has a community that plays, i hop on every so often. because its free and doesn't take up much room, i still have it installed. Its still a blast to play, god that game is good. But, so it is this one. I highly suggest NS2 to everyone, and allegiance too :P

semolina420
semolina420

 @ShadowRun02 yep that's the one, the gameplay style was so sweet, but i always hoped they'd redo it, cuz it totally fits in this mmo age of gaming, whereas when it came out, online play was still in it's infancy,

karloss01
karloss01

 @SideWinder6  @Slade968 Won't happen Metacritic only takes the first published review. so now Gamespot has dragged down the metascore. not that i care.

Ioriya
Ioriya

 @DarkMellie that was what i meant with my comment, apology accepted.

DarkMellie
DarkMellie

Actually, I may just have been an utter toolbag. I read your comment as though it said "they replaced the shitty review with a shittier one", but you were just stating they replaced the shit review (which I haven't read but it seems to be widely regarded as so) with THIS one.

So yes, I'm a wanker, sorry about that Loriya :-S

Slade968
Slade968

 @cfisher2833  @THA-TODD-BEAST Thanks for that. Obviously it is "the world we live in." And with that attitude it will continue to be a reality. Really compelling stuff...

cfisher2833
cfisher2833

 @Slade968  @THA-TODD-BEAST Yeah, it's unfortunate, but that's the world we live in. Gamespot--like most mainstream gaming sites--focus almost exclusively on console games released by large publishers. PC games and especially indie PC games rarely get the attention they deserve. This lack of attention also gives many gamers the impression that the industry is severely stagnant, when in reality, it's far from it. It's just not the big publishers that are leading the way. 

Natural Selection 2 More Info

  • 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 User RatingOut of 198 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Natural Selection 2
    Developed by:
    Unknown Worlds Entertainment
    Published by:
    Unknown Worlds Entertainment
    Genres:
    3D, Shooter, Action, Team-Based, First-Person