Review by Splatter
"An excellent game, but not everyones cup of tea"
Natural Selection is a Half-Life mod which strikes an excellent balance between team and personal skills to date. There are very few things wrong with this game and so many things that work beautifully to make playing Natural Selection a treat.
Background (brief - skip this if you know the basics):
There are two teams - the aliens and the marines.
The job of the aliens is to prevent the marines from spawning, by ensuring that no spawn portals (they respawn dead marines) are running with no possibility of them being created. There are 3 specific areas in each map where an alien Gorge (a builder alien) can build hives, which allow access to better upgrades and more powerful/resourceful creatures in order to accomplish this task.
The job of the marines is to prevent the aliens from spawning by destroying the alien hives. The marines have a single commander which issues order from his Command Console, which gives a top-down view of the map ala Starcraft or other RTS games. He places buildings which give an assortments of upgrades, from grenade launchers to motion tracking radar to defensive turrets to jetpacks and so on.
I can't stress how important sound should be in a first person shooter. Not only the quality of the sounds, ensuring that they aren't overbearing for a knife swing, or weak for an RPG firing, but also how they are strategically advantageous. Natural Selection uses sound perfectly in most all forms.
Players can distinctly hear when an enemy is approaching in full-run, yet need to concentrate to hear an enemy walking. What weapons are being used can easily be distinguished by their specific sounds, and what race an alien is can also easily be told with a sharp ear.
Even the background sounds are ominous and creepy, with machines cranking, consoles beeping, hives oozing around and many other sounds which fit perfectly into the scene. Through the official maps, I have only heard one single sound in the entire game which seemed overbearing and out of place. This sound was later confirmed to be a bug, and is said to be fixed in the next version.
The music does enhance the feeling of tension slightly when there are no enemies around, however when in a fierce battle, creepy sounding music simply doesn't work and should not continue playing. It greatly decreases the feeling of immersion when you're being attacked by 5 aliens while the music sounds as if you are an assassin trying to sneak behind enemy lines. Fortunately, the quality of the music is superb, although many hardcore fans will want to turn it off in order to hear their enemies better.
Although the quality of the graphics themselves are far outdated by today's standards, the scenery is absolutely perfect for this game. You will really feel as if you are in a ship, fighting the enemy for control. There is steam shooting from broken pipes, flashing computer consoles with buttons, airducts, generators, pipes everywhere. Just as you would imagine a ship would be in the future. No graphic looks 'plain' in this game, and everything, from the command console to the aliens and their structures are superbly detailed. The only reason I gave the graphics a 9 is because they really are behind the times when it comes to the actual polygonal and effectual quality and its very noticeable.
Gameplay is very hard to rate for this game, since the game is so vastly different every time. Currently, as of V 1.04 there are some problematic 'strategies' and bugs which lower the enjoyment and longevity of the game as it stands.
This game truly strikes an almost perfect balance of a tactical and personal skill FPS to date. If your team has amazing personal skills, yet poor tactical skills, you may lose. If you have amazing tactical skills yet poor personal skills, you may still lose. You really do need a combination *most of the time* in order to beat the game, and I'm sure this is what the dev's set out for and they did a fantastic job of it.
Still, due to the current lack of ranged attacks by the aliens at the start of the game, a single good marine can use his extremely accurate guns to kill every alien in his path (since the starting aliens have only melee attacks for dishing out damage). Once he gets to the enemy hive, he can simply camp in one spot while the commander dishes out health and ammo to him, ensuring that he doesn't die. The aliens don't have a chance.
The game also seems to employ a 'rock / paper / scissors' strategy in which if the teams are even skill-wise, it may come down to luck to win. The general idea is that Teching-up beats Expanding Defense, Expanding Defense beats Attacking Offense, and Attacking Offense beats Teching-up. Generally though, it isn't very noticeable to most people, and many grunts are happy to simply receive orders and shoot/eat things. It really comes down to what the Commander decides versus what the alien Gorges decide - as it should be. Don't worry if this seems problematic. The game does not get repetitive quickly in public play and stays enjoyable for a long time.
The only real gripes I have with the gameplay is that certain strategies win virtually every time, which really gets annoying after a while. Fortunately for us, there is a patch scheduled to be coming out shortly which supposedly addresses these issues, called the V.1.1 patch. Based on the extremely long testing period that has been going on by the top NS clans, I do believe that many of these problems will be fixed with the patch, but only time will tell.
There are a few bugs in the game, mostly due to the placement of buildings by the commander. Sometimes buildings can fall through the ground, or be made in areas that were never meant to be accessed. Although these bugs don't make the game any better, they are not too much of a burden as a whole if you play on a good server with admins.
For the low price of Natural Selection (I.E. free so long as you own Half-Life), I can't recommend it enough. Even as a game that would cost $50 retail it would certainly be worth purchasing. Everything in the game is professionally done with a lot less bugs and exploits than retail games on the market today. It still amazes me how many of the best/most popular multiplayer games, especially FPS's are free. Rocket Arena, Natural Selection, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress and many others. Personally, I believe it's because the creators of these great games are not in it for the weekly paycheck, but rather they simply want to make a game that others will enjoy, while making a name for themselves on the internet. I strongly suggest you download and play Natural Selection whenever you have the time, and although it may not be your type of game (many people I know absolutely hate it), at least give it a shot and see if you enjoy it, as it just may be what you've been looking for.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/20/03, Updated 06/20/03
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