Doing it right: Natural Selection 2

It’s not often you can say this about a game, so I’ll open with it: one of the first things that really hit you about Natural Selection 2 is the ambiance, whether you’re playing an Alien or a Marine. Well before you figure out the game you’ll find yourself experiencing some degree of catharsis by way of the sights, the sounds and how they change.

This kind of experience is more than purely aesthetic; it’s part of the game play! As you become more tuned-in to the struggle in which you’re participating your surroundings become important, actionable queues. Whether it’s the red glow of an under-powered part of the map or pulsating alien infestation slime that’s spreading through the corridors they’re all indications of something you’re meant to handle.

On the surface level this game is about two adversaries, Aliens and Marines, in a battle for possession over a playing area which will require the exhilarating combination of FPS-twitch and RTS-top-down skills married to a conflict that involves building a viable economy which is meant to be used in vicious ways against your opponents.

I’m not going to go too deep in to the mechanics because there’s far better explanations (video!) to which I’m going to be linking. What I really want to touch on briefly is how we got here and what we’ve got..

When the first Natural Selection was released on Halloween 2002 it featured some of the most enterprising developments in an FPS game, ever. Not only was this a (Half Life) modification created by enthusiasts but it was one of the first to put in a “commander” who not only managed his team mates but also pursued the development of resource generation and pursued technology tree expansion.

Yes, if you don’t know the game: you ultimately have to build extractors on resource points which in turn trickle in to your economy which allows you to upgrade (or evolve) more specialized and/or powerful items which you will use against your enemies. Most of you are in first-person but each team has a commander that sees the game top-down.

Aside from this unique game-play (which isn’t for the feint of heart: losing/winning can be devastating/rewarding as it would be in any RTS due to the time you put in to building things up) there’s the matter of the approximately 65,000 people that came along on an unprecedented ride that took NS2 and started its rise to the top of the Steam best-sellers list – something I’ve never seen from any other software developer.

You see, some of us believers/fans/onlookers decided to take up Unknown Worlds Entertainment (the small company these gentlemen formed to make the game) on their offer to buy in to the development cycle of the game before it was released, before “crowdfunding” was a common term – they shared their builds with us and collected feedback, ideas and sometimes even code from a dedicated fan base along the way. I’ve lost track of how long ago it was, but two hundred and twenty eight (228!) builds as of this article, and most of these came with lists of fixes, improvements, optimizations, game-changing alterations, commentary from the developer and community and some video blogs thrown in as well. Take a look yourself and even a quick scroll through should have you agreeing that this is largely unprecedented and an amazing level of transparency and support that, frankly, most games we’re passionate about could only dream to have.

It’s this kind of openness, this kind of translucence that has really made this a very, very unique experience, from their community web page through to their twitter account it’s really been all about making a great game and getting it out there.  Rock Paper Shotgun has a fantastic article that you should check out about the trials and tribulations of getting this thing done — there were countless times where it almost didn’t.

Bottom-line? It’s now a top-selling game with one of the most solid developed foundations ever seen in this industry and it’s unlike anything else on the market right now. It’s shockingly polished for a title at its price point and the community support is very difficult to parallel: almost everyone uses in-game VOIP (that’s enough to remind you how some AAA titles really miss the mark) and the nature of the game is such that it is in your interest to support your team, after all: everything you build/upgrade/evolve will benefit you whether you’re looking to chomp at a marines ankles or control the infestation and come out on top. This is a title I can’t recommend enough, it’s cerebral, it’s supported, it’s got ‘moddable’ ability, it’s being sold at a sane price and it’ll speak to the FPS crowd as well – isn’t this the kind of game/studio combination that we, as gaming enthusiasts, should be supporting?  Heck, even the guys working for the company are fans (there’s some great videos there)!

Check out some of the videos for more, the entire game is explained in these and please do get in touch with us if you’re looking to play this on the regular. This game has both casual and competitive applications and Crack Clan would be happy to grow an NS2 community which participates in any/all of those levels.

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