Review by pikachu1221
"Counter-Strike may have some competition..."
Half-Life. One of the most revolutionary FPS's ever. While the engine may be dated by today's standards, it still remains a huge hit to this day. However, Half-Life alone lacks that certain punch. While it does contain multiplayer, many find it to be...well, kind of boring. That's where the mods come in.
There's been a multitude of mods created for Half-Life, ranging from the bizarre Ricochet to the ultra-realistic Counter-Strike. Speaking of Counter Strike, many avid gamers have considered it the best multiplayer experience on the Internet. For a long time, Counter-Strike has dominated the multiplayer gaming community, with over tens of thousands of servers running the game for players.
...That may soon change.
Enter Natural Selection, the latest offering in Half-Life mods. Released to the public on October 31, 2002, Natural Selection made a huge splash in the world of online gaming. Mixing together elements of Real-Time Strategy games, such as the Starcraft series, with the fast and furious action of Half-Life, Natural Selection has possibly paved the way for a new genre of games...First-Person Strategy, anyone?
The story is that a race of aliens, called the Kharaa, have invaded locations previously occupied by the Frontiersmen, a group of highly-trained soldiers. Both teams, however, have the same one objective: destroy their enemies. A big part of the game is which team you pick. Do you choose to go with familiar weaponry, such as machine guns and grenade launchers, or do you choose to use unique and diverse alien abilities? The choice is up to you.
Controls are spot-on. If you've played Half-Life or one of its many mods, then controlling the game will be a snap for you. Every aspect is customizable, and there aren't too many changes from the control scheme. The only difference is that alternate fire (default right mouse button) is replaced with a commands menu, which is the guiding force in your team's success. Also if you have the ability to fly, be it by jetpack or by wings, you hold down the jump button to jet up for the former, and you repeatedly tap the jump button for the latter. To build something, walk up to it and hold down the use key until it's ready.
The visuals are the best I've seen in any Half-life mod, period. The alien hives really look alive and organic, as do their structures. The Frontiersmen have a definitive metallic, futuristic look to their locations and structures. The models for all of the characters look great, especially the aliens. Nothing drives fear into a Frontiersman's heart better than popping out of cloak as a Fade, then slashing them to death.
This mod also features superb audio. As you walk along a corridor that's been taken over by the Kharaa, you'll hear your footsteps change from clanking on metal to a soft ''gooshing'' sound as you walk over the organic areas. Or, you fire the grenade launcher, and you hear the clinking of the grenade as it bounces along, followed by a huge explosion that looks and sounds great. Frontiersmen can taunt their enemies with random insults, while Kharaa can give off a low chuckle to taunt. The ''voice'' for the Kharaa really sounds like an alien, while the command console's voice sounds just like a computer generated female voice. The audio in Natural Selection is truly a treat for the ears.
The success of both teams depends largely on resources. You collect resources by building a resource tower on a resource node. Resource towers periodically collect resources from the nodes and give them to your team. The Commander of the Frontiersmen is the only one who controls the resources of their team, but with the Kharaa, the resources are shared evenly. However, the Kharaa must evolve into a different form, called a Gorge, in order to build anything. (More on evolving later)
If you decide to be a Frontiersman, you can choose to command or play normally. If you choose to be the commander, then the game pulls a Starcraft on you, as the view changes from first-person to a bird's eye view of the action. From the command console, you can survey the whole level, but you can only see what your soldiers see. So, if there's no one looking into a room, then you can't see what's going on in there. Your team's fate rests in your hands. You choose where to build sentry turrets, armories, guns, and more. If you make one critical error, then you may lose the game for your team. However, there can only be one commander at a time. If you are new to Natural Selection, and you choose to be a Frontiersman, then it's probably better that you stick to following a commander, rather than leading a team. You can use radio commands to request medpacks and ammunition from your commander. When your commander puts down a structure near you, it's your responsibility to build it. You do this by holding the use key down until the ring surrounding it is green. Frontiersmen use bullets, shells, or grenades in their weapons, and they are obtained by pressing the use key on an active armory, or by asking the commander. In addition, they can upgrade their weapons via the Arms Lab, which allows increases in weapon damage and armor increases as well. Prototype Labs allow your team to wear heavy armor and use jetpacks, which both grant extra protection. Being a Frontiersman is no easy task, especially if you are the commander. This team stresses the importance of teamwork, especially when you're assaulting a heavily fortified hive.
Or, you can choose to be an alien. Ditch the sophisticated weaponry, this is survival of the fittest! Rather than have a set limit for their attacks, the Kharaa use an orange energy bar that regenerates over time. As you attack, the bar goes down, so make sure you're not in a position where your bar is empty and there's a Frontiersman pointing a machine gun at you. The Kharaa, while weak at first, can eventually grow to be strong enough to take out 3 Frontiersmen without even breaking a sweat. How, you ask? Evolution. If you can't evolve as a Kharaa, then you're sunk. Your default form is the Skulk, a small, fast, and powerful alien capable of causing some major damage. The downside is that Skulks can only take a few bullets before dying. You can assist your team by evolving into a Gorge, which can carry 100 resources no matter what, and is the only one able to build structures. Don't even think about assaulting a base with a Gorge. Its attacks are very weak, so it's best suited for defense and support. Finally, you can choose the Lerk, the only alien that has the ability of flight. With a few taps of the jump button, you're flying in the air, shooting spikes at a Frontiersman down below. Although its spikes are quite weak, it can still dish out some damage.
Ohh, but wait. You noticed that there are two more aliens, the Fade and the Onos, didn't you? But you can't evolve, right? Surprise! The game throws a twist at you by making you build hives in different locations of the map. Hives allow the Kharaa to respawn. If the Kharaa lose all of their hives, then they cannot respawn until another is built. Chances are if all your hives are lost, then you have a very good chance of losing the game. (Added in version 1.03, there is now a countdown that causes you to lose health if all of your hives die, as to prevent long, drawn-out hiding sprees.) In order to evolve into the Fade or the Onos, you must build 2 and 3 hives, respectively. To make things tougher, each hive costs a whopping 80 resources to make! Chances are you also noticed those red attacks for each alien. What the heck is Umbra? Blink? What's the deal with Xenocide? You can't access your third and fourth attacks until your team builds a second and third hive. Once a second hive is built, the limit on resources is changed from 33 to 66, and with the third hive, the resource cap is 100 for all Kharaa forms. That's how you access the stealthy but strong Fade, and the mammothlike Onos, with unmatched power.
The aliens don't stop there, however. In addition to building offense chambers that automatically fire balls of goo at any enemies in range, Gorges can create support chambers that allow the Kharaa to upgrade their abilities. A defense chamber slowly heals any friendly units and structures nearby, and allows carapace armor, which reduces damage, regeneration, which is self-explanatory, and redemption, which has a chance of pulling you back to the hive as you're about to die. Movement chambers allow instantaneous teleportation to faraway hives, and allow adrenaline, which recovers your energy faster, celerity, which speeds you up, and silence, which makes you very quiet. Finally, we have sensory chambers, which detect enemies and gives a parasite to any enemy that touches it. The sensory chamber's benefits are cloaking, which makes you invisible when standing still, enhanced vision, which highlights enemy units and structures with their alternate vision mode, and scent of fear, which tells you when an enemy is weakened. All of these upgrades are available in the command menu. However, you can only have one upgrade for each hive, so if you only have one hive, you can't build both defense and movement chambers. You have to choose only one. As you get more hives, you can build more upgrade chambers, so it is imperative that you get those hives!
In order to win a game, your team has to make it so that the enemy cannot respawn, and all of their team is dead. Frontiersmen accomplish this by destroying all if the Kharaa and their hives, while the Kharaa accomplish this by destroying the infantry spawn portals and killing all of the enemy team.
Okay, so you've played your first game, and chances are, you sucked badly. Don't worry. While quite confusing at first, Natural Selection grows better with time, like a good wine. You may dismiss the game after you die a few times, saying that one team is overpowered. I personally believe that the teams are well balanced, and that there's no overpowering. While the Frontiersmen had a slight advantage at the mod's release, there have been patches released that fix that, and best of all, you don't have to download them!
But you may have read the review and asked, ''But why'd you only give it a 9? If it's so good, then why not a 10?'' There are a few reasons. First and foremost, this is a BIG mod. Weighing in at around 90 MB, chances are you'll spend a while downloading it. Some people complain about the lag in the game, but I find it to be fine. The patches fix a few net issues, increasing the netspeed by a bit. You may experience a few jerky moments, though. The final issues are build bugs. If a structure is placed on top of you, then you're stuck. Permanently. You have to kill yourself in the console. The other problem is that the Kharaa can stack their towers on each other, making a totem pole of offense chambers. While this doesn't really affect the game, it just doesn't look right.
However, Natural Selection offers a great mix of action and real-time strategy. No matter how hard it may seem to get this mod up and running, do whatever you can to get it installed on your computer. Once you start blasting up a hive with a grenade launcher as a Frontiersman, or you rip through 3 soldiers without a sweat as a Kharaa, you'll be hooked on Natural Selection. It's free, so if you don't have it, go get it NOW.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/02, Updated 12/03/02
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