The follow-up to the insanely popular Half-Life modification, Natural Selection 2 looks to recreate its predecessor's blend of first person shooting and real-time strategy multiplayer, this time on an original engine.
Despite developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment's indie status, NS2 could give big name titles a run for their money in terms of graphics and game play. The visuals are sharp and stylish and the controls tight and immediately satisfying, and overall the game displays a high level of polish. You'd never guess the studio only has six permanent staff members.
Game play is very similar to its predecessor's, albeit it tightened up and tweaked for the new Spark engine. The majority of players on both sides assume the role of ground units in first person mode while one player from either side will operate as their team's commander. He or she will view the map from a traditional top-down RTS perspective as they lay down buildings for the ground players to construct. Since they have a much wider perspective of the battle they are strongly encouraged to lead their team by spotting enemy threats and giving out orders.
Both sides vie for territory and resources, with one losing when all their units are dead and no longer have the means to respawn back into the match. True to its RTS roots there are multiple strategies a team can employ. For example, you can sit back and build up resources or attack the enemy's base in a risky early gambit.
NS2's setting and back story seem to be heavily inspired by the Alien franchise, with one side assuming the role of marine-like human troops and the other inhabiting the aggressive extraterrestrials. This is where the asynchronous element comes in with both teams playing very differently.
The humans control largely the same as you'd expect for an FPS, wielding firearms and melee weapons. The aliens though seem to have a lot more variety and are able to demonstrate some unique abilities. For example, the small crocodile-like species is able to cling to walls and ceilings and move at speed while a large lumbering species is hard to take down due to its high resilience.
A big draw for the game is the fact that it will be open source from day one, allowing users to tweak and modify it in any way they like. It will also ship with a map builder and is editable in a simple programming language, making it easy for a wider range of users to be able to edit the game.
The studio has already been working with its community during development to craft the core game. While many have been helping test the game as you might expect, several have been aiding the tiny dev team with programming. A map created by fans was also deemed so good that it has now been integrated into the shipping product.
It's rare to see developers actively encouraging the fan and the mod communities but having been a mod developer before Unknown Worlds obviously has a different perspective on such things. It'll be interesting to see how the open source attitude will effect both the popularity of the game and the potential for people to cheat and exploit matches.
With both sides reliant on having good commanders, teamwork is essential if you want to maximise your chances for victory. As such, it seems like the success of the game rests on establishing a dedicated community willing to put in the extra effort of working well together and following orders from their commanders.
We won't have to wait long to see if it can do just that. Natural Selection 2 is due for release on PC via Steam toward the end of the summer season.
Most anticipated feature:Since the whole game rests on the teamwork aspect, it should ideally be at its best when two closely knit teams go at it.