Natural Selection 2 breathes life into an otherwise lonelier real-time strategy game by mashing it together with a first-person shooter game. So while some of the RTS tropes remain intact — a marine commander sets up base camps to gather resources and enhance his/her army and base against an alien commander on the same path — NS2 is much more of a team game, with players carrying out the front line of battle.
While the respective teams’ commanders labour away at keeping soldiers alive and defenses formidable, up to 15 other players will carry out the role of the strike unit for their team, in first-person mode. This is where the Counter Strike connection comes into play (or really any first-person shooter — though I’d have gone with Aliens — but this is the comparison that developers at Unknown Worlds make). Playing on either the side of the marines or the aliens, players will defend their commander’s bases to the death. Marines with their rifles and shotguns, and aliens with their teeth and infectious attacks.
As a commander, you become your team’s lifeblood. In turn, your soldiers will defend the base and help build new constructions, while also attacking the other team and their base. Whoever demolishes the command unit first, wins. Just like a real-time strategy game.
But the RTS/FPS hybrid isn’t the only thing that’s unique about NS2. And though you may have played as aliens, mutants, creatures and zombies in other video games, you rarely see that perspective through the teeth of the thing. Playing as a skulk on the side of the aliens, for instance, lets you watch your tongue slide and flop around in your mouth while on the hunt for a marine’s legs to gnaw through.
Each alien has roughly two set abilities each. Until, that is, their alien commander unlocks new ones. I lean towards the fade as my favourite, because they can blip in and out of sight. Lurkers also look fun to play. I can’t resist playing as a character that can fly as well as it murders.
It might seem like playing on the side of the aliens puts you at a large advantage. Aliens run smoothly throughout the maps. They can climb walls, fly speedily around you, and deal massive damage, particularly if you can get your hands on the Onos: a ram-looking beast. They can stick marines with a parasite to track them, even through walls.
Maybe the best testament to how exciting Natural Selection 2 is can be seen in the community’s fervent involvement with the game. Unknown Worlds tells me that the community actively sends them code to embed new features, like a spectator mode or bots to fill in for players. Community members are so active that some of them even get hired on to the development team, like Hugh Jeremy who helped me through most of the gameplay demonstration.
Unknown Worlds in turn encourages this interaction by providing the game’s entire source code. One of the most popular maps, in fact, is made by the community themselves. Accessibility through Steam Workshop lets players download community-made maps and mods to easily play on NS2.
NS2 is a game that’s as strategic as your favourite RTS game, but as fast-paced and full of bloody fun as your favourite FPS game. I can’t imagine why this hybrid Counter Strike, Starcraft baby wasn’t born even sooner than the original Half-Life mod it was based off of.