Review by bloodwulfe

"Natural-Selection further solidifies Half-life’s power base"

Natural Selection.

No no, calm down. I’m not trying to initiate a Charles Darwin discussion here. We’re talking about the much anticipated Half-life modification. While you could call it a total conversion, at it’s core it’s much more then that. It defines a whole new genre. A first person shoot real time-strategy hybrid. A FPSRTS, if you will. Sounds confusing? No kidding.

Team One: The Frontiersmen

The real-time strategy aspect of the game is applied only to one player on the marine’s team, the “commander”. This lucky - or unlucky, depending on how you look at it - marine gets to suit up and sit down inside a fortified command console. This command console grants him access to the entire map from a bird’s eye perspective, similar to Warcraft III or many of the other popular real-time strategy games around today.

From this perspective, the commander can issue orders to build structures, deploy various items, or upgrade already existent structures. He can even recycle buildings that are of no more use. Of course, things don’t happen like they would in your run-of-the-mill real-time strategy game. In order for a building to be built, a fellow Human marine must “use” the building. After a set period of time the building comes online, and the marine is free to continue on his mission. Unfortunately, while you’re building you must be in direct contact with the building and you cannot shoot. You can cancel building, and leap to protect yourself, but it takes a second or two to raise your weapon. Sometimes that’s a second too late.

This is why teamwork is essential when you’re a part of the marine team. You must learn to rely on your buddies. Have them provide cover while you’re building, or vise versa.

Dropping ammunition, health packets, or weapons doesn’t require a Human to build. For a moderate resource cost, the commander can deploy various weapons - ranging from machine guns to grenade launchers - for fellow marines to pick up. You cannot deploy weapons wherever you please, however. You must deploy them near the proper building. Ammunition and health, on the other hand, can be dropped just about anywhere. This makes the commander invaluable in combat, especially if reinforcements or re-supply locations are far off.

Having an intelligent commander capable of communication with his team and fulfilling requests is obvious very important. While this plainly seems like a beacon to draw in llamas, it’s quite the opposite. The Natural Selection team has taken excellent procedures to prevent llama commanders from ruining the game. If someone takes over as commander and idles, you can initiate a vote to kick him. If he goes on a mad building spree, or is wasting resources, you can initiate a vote to kick him. These admin-mod like features ensure an enjoyable experience for all players.

Team Two: The Kharaa

This isn’t all Natural Selection has to offer. We haven’t even touched base with the Kharaa. The Kharaa represent the alien aspect in Natural Selection and offer conflict in every situation. Don’t expect to be slouching on the job if you’re a marine. The Kharaa have lightning-fast reflexes and can literally rend through armor with their vicious talons and toxic chemicals.

Even their tough carapaces can’t protect from heavy machine guns and explosive grenades, but this is where the evolution aspect steps in. You can “evolve” into different, more deadly alien forms, each of which have unbelievably detailed and downright beautiful models. You can also evolve various abilities, from cloaking, to evolved armor, even regeneration and increased speed.

The Kharaa don’t require nearly as much teamwork as the marines, but they do need a certain level of communication. You can't expect to leap headfirst into a bushel of marines and stand victories over their bloody and beaten bodies, even if you're some sort of behemoth. You can scream an alien version of ''Intruders!'', and the hive mind will highlight the area under attack. It's up to your cuddly 'lil Kharaa friends to make it on time, but you've done your part.

You do end up relying on the builder Kharaa for a large portion of the game. Only one species can build and repair the organic structures. Without them, you wouldn't be able to evolve into a bloodthirsty killing machine. So if you ever see a friendly builder alien, give him some cover while he completes his job. It will make all your lives a lot easier.

Graphical Perspective:

Natural Selection is, quite simply, a beautiful game. While it seems impossible to push the ancient Half-life engine up to today’s standards, Natural Selection comes darn close. It’s particle effect system, high-detail .wad files, exceptional models, and excellent map geometry prove that any engine can produce beautiful environments given the proper tutelage.

The player and weapon models included in Natural Selection really shine. You can clearly see the amount of effort put into these beauties, and they can only be defined as professional pieces of work.

Every single angel and aspect of the game’s different weapons are polished, from the draw animation to reload cycle. There is virtually no clipping with the reload animations. For example, when you reload your pistol the marine slides the new clip in effortlessly. Everything about the clip fits perfectly. The floor plate clicks in place as the clip is inserted, and you can even see the resistance as the clip is slid into it’s new home. When you fire, the pistol ejects the brass in one fluid motion. All of the game’s sound effects fit perfectly, and the whole thing just adds a level of ambience to the already spectacular gameplay.

Of course, graphics aren’t everything in a game, but one can’t help but gawk at the sheer level of detail imposed upon Natural Selection.

Of course, all the graphics in the world couldn’t make up for lousy gameplay. Gameplay is far more important then graphics ANY day, and somehow Natural Selection captures the spooky atmosphere in sci-fi films graphically wise and has gameplay that appeals to everyone. Not only do you have two completely unique playable races, but both have completely balanced gameplay. This is darn right shocking for the first release, and you can tell how much play testing and bug hunting has gone into it.

You have weapons for all situations: heavy machine guns for assault, grenade launchers for support, even defensive mines and armor-repairing welders. You even have more advanced tools and equipment that can make you harder to kill, among other things.

The aliens don’t have the dependant relationship with a commander like the marines do, but they must rely on Gorge builder aliens to build resource nodes and defensive structures. The Gorge aliens in turn must rely on the heavier assault class aliens to clear out nodes and signal it all clear.

Summery

Natural Selection is a first rate mod, and it already has thousands of players despite the obvious handicap of being a few days new. With a very talented dev team behind it and excellent community, Natural Selection will be around for a long time.

The only problem in the entire game is it is so beautiful, it cannot handle software rendering mode. You must run in opengl if you want to play. While this isn’t much of a problem, it might shy off the more computer “illiterate” players in the community.

If you haven't already, download this mod right now! Drop by the offical Natural Selection site - http://www.natural-selection.org/ - for a list of download mirrors. While you're downloading, drop by their brand sprankin' new forums and chat it up with the community.

You can also read the offical manual right here - http://www.natural-selection.org/manual/ - so you know whats going on when you start playing.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/02, Updated 11/10/02


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