Wednesday, 1 October 2003

Archive Review: Natural Selection (Mod)

(PC Review)

Natural selection is another new Half-Life mod such as the recently reviewed Day of Defeat 1.0. This time around however the setting is a sci-fi world depicting a struggle between futuristic, highly trained marines and an alien race known as the Kharaa.

This mod is extremely popular. NS 2.0 has been downloaded an estimated one and a half million times in it's first week of release! What really makes this mod special is the fact it is not just another FPS. This game is also a real time strategy (RTS) that requires tactics as well as teamwork. Often the word teamwork is used without justification but in NS I cannot emphasis enough quite how much teamwork is used, and is vital for victory.

Your first sight of the game will be in a ready room once you have joined a server. Here you will have the choice to join Aliens, Marines, or spectate the battle. Joining one of the two differing sides is a tough decision to make. Each side plays so differently. Marines have to have a player acting as Commander who will set waypoints (orders) for players, build various structures around the map such as automated turrets (I will go into this later) and also must drop down health packs/ammo on players for support during battles. A problem here is the serious lack of good commanders out there. Many a time when marine you will get a terrible comm or often no comm and this can get tedious and annoying. Marines really do rely on a good leader and it's a matter of luck if you get one although as we all learn 2.0 more and more, more good comm's will appear. Marines tend to stick together in groups due to fear of ambushes from the aliens. Aliens are completely different. Although very often a player will naturally take command of an alien side this is not an official leader. Alien players will tend to do their own thing but teamwork is still vital. Skulks (small dog like things) will run around and hide ready to ambush foolish marines. Gorges will build all the required alien structures and eventually the side will be able to evolve to tougher alien breeds like fades and the dreaded, and very damn large, onos. The idea for the alien side is to defend their hives. The hive is their power source and without it they would be nothing. They can build 3 eventually and then get access to evil powers which normally the marine side cannot match.

Marines rely on weapons such as standard light machine guns and pistols to shotguns and then the more powerful heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. As well as this they can get jetpacks and heavy armour and then they truly are a force to be reckoned with. This all relies on the resources the team has and these come from resource nodes. Teams must build on these to mine the resources and defend them against the enemy. With resources the marines can build armory's for better guns, radar tracking to detect enemy. The list goes on. Aliens rely more on the hive and need to get 3 hives up in order to gain access to their better tech tree's. They can do anything from go invisible and ambush marines to set webs to trap them. There is a lot of room to experiment here and the possibilities for evolving are almost endless in terms of combining skills.

Playing Natural Selection

As I have played this game more and more I have become more inclined to play as the marines. I prefer the way you get a commander and work in a tighter team. 2.0 has had a lot of criticism about the fact the alien side seems too powerful. They always seem to win now and this was not an issue in the last version, 1.04. My personal opinion of this is that the aliens do seem to win a lot. I have explored this game deeply and played on many servers including huge 30 player ones. But I don't think this is a game fault. My view is that the marines need to learn their tactics. Simple things like the marine ability to weld certain entry ways shut often go overlooked and the aliens take advantage on this and sneak through. Commanders are now beginning to realise how to beat the Kharaa. An example of this was a recent game I was in on a brilliant new map ns_veil. We were getting slowly pushed back and our comm decided to give us all shotguns. Now in 2.0 the shotgun is officially the don. It is ultra powerful but you need to be up close to your target. We all then went on the offensive with our shotguns and the comm constantly dropped us med packs and ammo. It took 15 minutes but eventually we decimated the aliens and drove them back to their only hive and destroyed it. This was all down to the shotgun and a few grenade launchers. This just proved to me that the marines "can" win and will begin to win a lot more in the next few weeks and months, because they will suss the tactics.

Playing as aliens is probably harder yet more rewarding. You start as a skulk and run around biting marines. This sounds primitive but that bite attack will kill them in 1 hit and you can run up walls and along ceilings and hide in dark corners. Ambush tactics are the basis of the alien side when on lower evolutions. Players who go Gorge (the builder alien) will create the alien equivalent of the automated turret and other alien forms of the marine tech tree. As I have said the alien side rely on their hives to evolve and must defend these. The marine side must defend the commanders booth in equally the same importance. Once the Kharaa get a few hives up and can evolve into better aliens the real fun begins. The Fade (think Alien - the movie) will hack marines up with it's claws and launch powerful acid rockets at structures and players. When you play as Fade and learn invisibility it is truly great fun. Marines will run past you and then you go visible and chew them up only to fade away again. Then we have the Onos - big nasty mammoth style creature. The Onos can charge into marines and structures and destroy them and, new to 2.0, can eat marines. They will go into it's stomach and digest. Sick. In previous game version the Onos was almost invincible but with the new powers of the marine shotgun it now is not as tough to destroy. Onos players now tend to attack quickly then run, instead of just decking everyone and camping the marine base.

Worth a download?

If this game was retailing at £29.99 I would consider it worth it. This is even with the fact it is a Half--Life mod. Graphically NS is really very good. Like DoD the dev team have really gone beyond limits of the Half-Life engine here and the game looks great. The atmosphere of every single map is tense and gripping. If your a fan of any type of science fiction style game grab this! It feels like the game of the Alien movie Saga yet has enough originality to seem completely unique. Smoke rolls around corridors, machinery sounds echo around the void, doors open with a loud mechanic thud - it's all here. The sound in 2.0 is much better than previous versions with new and improved gun sounds with neat metallic properties. As well as this each gun has it's own crosshair which really is a nice feature. The shotgun for example has a round circle that represents the pellet spread which would be useless for, say, the pistol which has a smaller X crosshair.

Games like this really make you realise something. If people, volunteers, are making games like this for free download and they are as amazing as NS is then why bother buying all these new games that are coming out? NS is a marvelous achievement. It's deep and requires a lot of time to master. The fact there are so many tactics in this create great arguments between players. Whether it be on the microphone or talk bar you will always be promised a great verbal clash in this game. It really gets quite serious too. The will to win in NS is so strong, probably due to the effort that goes into building (the RTS aspects).

Like DoD and CS this is another example of an amazing mod. I was asked recently which one was best: NS 2.0 or DoD 1.0? I refused to answer. In my view these games represent brilliant effort on the parts of the creators and are both completely free! But due to the fact they are all mods of an aging title there will never be as much content here as in a proper game. This must always be remembered.



Truly unique game style, brilliant gameplay, tense atmosphere, teamwork is a "requirement".


Needs more maps, maybe the shotgun is a little too powerful, where is Bishop?


Ripley would be proud

by The Critical Alien
© 2003

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