Natural Selection 2: evolve or die in the standalone sequel to the hit Half-Life mod
Oct 03, 2012
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This article originally appeared in issue 245 of PC Gamer.
The original Natural Selection came from the same purple period of Half-Life modding that birthed Counter-Strike. It pitted two asymmetrical teams against each other: marines, armed with rifles and shotguns that could be swapped for flamethrowers and jetpacks, versus aliens, who could spew bile and hurl spines, before evolution turned them into hallway-filling elephant monsters spearing humans on giant horns.
Natural Selection 2 takes its predecessor's concepts wholesale, stopping only to sever the ties with Half-Life and become a standalone game. The result is as complex as the first Natural Selection: in addition to first-person shooting/munching, one player on each team assumes the role of commander, who can plonk down buildings. Certain structures garner resources from map nodes that can then be spent on upgrades. Humans start off with a pulse rifle, pistol, and neato pop-out hand axe. As the commander builds extractors on resource points and plugs the spoils into specific research, they can expand their arsenal. Shotguns, say, cost 20 resources – each player getting their own independent pool – where welders only cost five.
A successful game demands the commander choose a safe research path while their soldiers protect their resource-gathering interests from the aliens' maleficent gaze. Chart that course successfully, and the grunt-level marines are near-unstoppable, hurling automated killbots at their enemy as they use jetpacks to hover around near the tight, warren-like maps.
Fail in execution though, and those same aliens can gain the upper hand. Like the humans, the Kharaa have a home base and a commander. New players spawn in as an egg. A couple of seconds later, they plop out as a skulk: a low slung, spine-legged thing that looks like a mutant warthog. Skulks have a nasty bite and can spit sharp spikes over distance, but they die quickly under sustained machine gun fire.
Aliens must evolve or die. Players can find a safe spot and spend some of their resources to do so at an accelerated rate, allowing them to turn into Fades, Lerks, Gorges, or the aliens' ultimate weapon, the Onos. Onoses (Onii?) are the size of a rhino and as tough as the side of a house. Marines need to concentrate fire to take one down, and while one isn't enough to knock out a base's power supply, it's usually enough of a panic-spreading distraction to allow a coordinated team to finish the job.
That coordination is vital in Natural Selection 2. There's a lot to learn in the beta, and it's easy to bounce off. The game mode means it's not immediately apparent what players should be doing, and the best answer is often “bide your time”. But the game's genre-crossing depth and friendly community has more than justified its leap from mod-dom to a full game.
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