There are an endless number of asymmetrical shooters that pit humans against aliens, and “Natural Selection 2” makes no attempt to break that mold. What Unknown Worlds Entertainment has done is to create a first-person shooter that successfully integrates actual RTS mechanics.
The first player to enter an unoccupied hive or command station becomes the commander and has strategic control over the game. Being commander is an incredibly daunting task for which you cannot really prepare yourself. It is an experience that melds the RTS mechanics of a game like “StarCraft” with a team full of real people. Imagine if every marine or zergling had demands and provided their input on every decision that you made.
Human commanders place buildings such as armories and phase gates — which are powered by nodes — in fixed positions along the map. Similarly, alien commanders place cysts to spread infestation. Commanders can only place structures on powered areas or infested areas and properly managing resources gathered by harvesters and resource nodes is essential.
The relationship between commanders and their soldiers is completely unique to “Natural Selection 2.” Not only do commanders provide the infrastructure players use to purchase weapons and upgrades, but they can also take the time to micromanage their soldiers.
Commanders can assign waypoints and communicate plans through the VOIP system built into the game. They can also drop health packs, ammo and weapons for individual marines.
Human marines spawn with assault rifles and can purchase shotguns, flamethrowers and welding tools among other items, as the commander researches them. Marines also have access to a tool which allows them to build structures as the commander places them. Combat is exactly like any other FPS, although the enemies you face as a human are quite a bit different.
Aliens exist in five different forms, with players initially spawning as skulks. Players can choose when they want to spend their collected resources to morph into one of the different types of aliens. Skulks are dog-like and can run on any wall or floor while leaping to attack enemies. Other aliens encompass different roles, such as utility and tanking, but what all of the aliens have in common is an utter diversity in play style. After playing as a human, being any of the alien types will be disorienting and utterly confusing in a good way.
“Natural Selection 2” is a sequel to a mod that has managed to polish up an idea that is both unique and fun. Asymmetrical shooters do not always work, but this one does. Playing on either side is enjoyable although the depth of the interactions between the commander and his or her teammates is what really makes this game a success.