Back in the early 2000s, Half-Life mods were all the rage. You could spend days browsing Mod DB in search of something to spice up your FPS experience. People were creating legitimate mods that you could simply download and play. The modern modding scene seems to have evolved, but it's just not as widely popular as it once was.
One of the Half-Life mods that really took off was Natural Selection, a game of humans versus aliens with a base-building mechanic. It was a real-time strategy game and a first-person shooter doing the tango together! I used to play it with friends quite frequently, but now it's time to move on to the sequel. Natural Selection 2 has been in development for about five years now and I got to play it and talk to Charlie Cleveland, the game's director, at PAX East.
Playing Natural Selection 2 wasn't anything exactly new to me -- I've had the game on my PC for a while now due to my pre-order. It can be occasionally difficult to get a match going, since there are usually a few servers running at a time and they're full or foreign. It was definitely a blast to be playing with a bunch of people I could physically see and communicate with. The most recent overhaul for the PAX build was the game's visuals. To put it simply, the game looks stunning. The engine is their own and with such a small team it is quite the feat.
Each team has one player that will assume the role of the commander. This player has an RTS-style view of the map and decide the overall strategy of the team. If they decide that you should be focused on defense, your upgrades will be defense-related. If the commander tells you to do something, you better do it for the sake of the team. It obviously takes more time to get used to the commander position than one of the field units, but a good commander at the wheel goes a long way.
While you're out on the field, you'll be collecting resources to upgrade either yourself or your base while trying to also take out the enemy base. I've always been a big fan of the alien team because, at least on the surface, it's different. Many people will try to play either aliens or nothing, similar to how all of the losers will leave a Left 4 Dead lobby if they can't play as the zombies first.
As an alien, you can use your resources to evolve into a different type of alien, each with their own specialties. The starting alien can climb walls and leap quickly in a direction so if you can't afford an evolution you're not useless. My favorite alien is easily the Fade, who has the ability to teleport around and cause mass hysteria. There's a trail that follows the Fade as it teleports so you're not left with no idea where it went, but if you teleport often and fast enough, seeing the enemy marine look frantically in every direction brings nothing but pure joy.
Natural Selection started as a mod, and Charlie made it clear that they want to foster that same community with their game. He said that NS2 is being built with mods in mind and that he can't wait to see what the community does with their game. I was also assured that the programming language used made it very accessible to mod and won't require a ton of previous knowledge to do so.
As I tend to do, I got to talking about Natural Selection 2's possible future as an eSport. When I mentioned it, Charlie's eyes seemed to light up. He is already a huge fan of the scene and wants to cater to competitive players as much as he can. We both agreed that the team dynamic easily lends itself to a competitive scene. Since Natural Selection 2 has the RTS element to it, the map that the commander sees can be utilized as one of the spectator cameras to show the audience what's going on at all times. With a fan of eSports at the helm, I have no doubts that the game will go far in the constantly evolving competitive scene.
You can pre-order Natural Selection 2 over on the official website and get into the beta immediately!
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destructoid's previous coverage: Natural Selection II