A broad description of the gameplay in Natural Selection is that it plays out a lot like most RTS games, such as Starcraft and Command and Conquer, except the player controlling his team doesn’t have to do all the work. Basically, one player on each team is the commander, who gets a birds eye view of the playing field, and everyone else is a soldier running around in first person. The goal is what you would expect, destroy the command centers of the other team. Resource gathering is also a vital part of the game, without it your opponent will quickly, quite literally, out gun you.
The marines might seem like a simple team to play as, but as different technologies get researched they soon become far from ordinary. You will go from simple soldiers with a gun to jetpacking flamethowing escorts for your robotic army. Marines can easily get cornered by aliens when they are alone, but when traveling in groups they will make a formidable opponent for anything trying to sneak up to them. Their upgrades range from different types of weapons to piloting a robotic armor suit with chain guns. Just recently they have added the ability to play as a female marine, completely free.
Aliens are where all the advanced strategies can take place, and they’re almost required to be successful. They might be weaker when compared to marines, but their stealth and speed can let them take on groups of marines at once. Self regenerating armor and health is also one of their unique perks, which is also shared to the buildings that they grow around their bases. Instead of different weapons, the aliens can completely evolve into different forms, from a supportive pig-alien that can heal and even build it’s own structures, to aliens that can fly while laying down toxic clouds.
Other than the fact that this game is a combination between an RTS and shooter, another thing that differentiates this game from other shooters is that a lot of teamwork is involved in higher level play. Maybe if you’re on a server that is completely full of new people you can just go around alone doing your thing, but after a while you will NEED to rely on your team to get anything done. The commander is especially the most important player on each team, since he can see everything and following his orders is vital. Marines are especially the ones who require more team work when out exploring, since a lone one can easily be taken down by an alien that hasn’t been seen.
Since both teams can’t be the same race, balance issues are probably something you would be concerned with. This is probably the case when you look at individual things that one side can have, but when you look at them as a whole it is fairly balanced. When one side has something, the also has something that is functionally the same but still very different, such as the marines having a large exo-suit robot chassis that you can ride around in, and the aliens having a large rhino like evolution form that can plow through everything.
This is one of those rare games in this genre that actually allows modding, made even easier through the Steam Workshop. Alot of mods are just cosmetic options that add skins to player models, though there are also a fair amount of player made maps and even rebalancing of whole alien and marine races. The non cosmetic mods have to be used on unofficial servers though, since you obviously can’t play a normal match while also having a mod that makes alien have twice as much health.
There aren’t very many games that put shooter and real time strategy games together, or very well for that matter, but there is one that does. Nuclear Dawn is very similar to Natural Selection and is also well worth a look. The biggest difference about it is that it is two human teams against each other, but just like Natural Selection both sides still have their differences.
Natural Selection graphics are very nice, and the options menu doesn’t appear to be lacking anything. Sounds are also well done, and they aren’t only for show either because if you are aware you can easily hear enemies sneaking up on you if they don’t have the silent upgrades.
The load times to get into maps, especially with a slower computer, can be extremely long at times. It can takes up to a few minutes to load maps it seems like, though it tends to speed up if you play often. It may seem balanced, but someone that is wanting a game that requires both teams to be completely balanced, that can be a negative going for the game.
Even if the aliens seem too complex, you can always just stick with marines which play a lot like basic shooting games, with the few unique gameplay elements. There are a lot of tips on the loading screens and when you die a short video will play about the many different mechanics that exist on each team. Rookie mode will be active on new players and it will allow you to join rookie servers with other rookies, as well as cause you to show green on your team so people will know you’re new and they can help you.
Games won’t last very long if one team is better than the other, but it is possible for games to drag on forever if both teams are evenly matched and it just becomes a stalement until something breaks the tension. Even if they go on forever, it will still be a very enjoyable experience.
If you love real time strategy games, or even shooters, there are lots of advanced mechanics and tactics to learn. Aliens have a lot of stealth and movement options that can catch the marines out of place. The most important mechanic that can make you stand out from the rest of everyone is being a good commander for your team, and since you don’t have to control units you can spend that much more time maintaining bases and planning attacks for your team.
There is nothing at all to unlock from playing the game, you will always have the same equipment available to you. Obviously this is bad if you like to unlock stuff, but at the same time this means the game can be directly balanced by the developers, instead of allowing players to change the variables. Learning how to use the tools that are available on each team could be considered a goal to strive for though.
Natural Selection 2 currently sells for 25 dollars with an optional deluxe edtion for 15 dolalrs that comes with behind the scenes art and music. If you’re looking for a good RTS or shooter, maybe even both, Natural Selection 2 is a great title to pick up because both aspects are well designed and if you ever get bored of one aspect in the game, you can just switch to the other.