Review by antseezee

"A perfect example of how innovative games can get."

Many of the Half-Life mods that have been released over the past few years have always been fully shooting orientated. Whether they'd have a unique shooting system, improved character abilities, or the overall theme, something would stand out from the original game. Very few mods can come close to what Natural Selection has done to the community. Natural Selection is a futuristic real-time strategy game that is played from a first-person view. But what makes Natural Selection so different is how many unique things you can do, and situations you can put yourself in. Natural Selection has the strategy elements of Starcraft, but the shooting elements of a high-paced action game. The basic storyline behind Natural Selection is simple, and easy to learn. Basically, Earth is getting overpopulated by the minute. Humans decide to expand to space colonies and other planets through space travel. Unknowingly, some of their establishes stations and colonies are invaded by a mysterious alien race. The aliens, better known as the Kharaa, are fighting for their own existence against the Marines. Thus, Natural Selection is an epic battle for survival between two different species.

Graphics [10/10]
Some of the most beautiful and graceful graphics to cope with the Half-Life engine come from Natural Selection. The mod has been in development for several years, and the Half-Life engine fit it perfectly. The resolution and detail of the graphics is amazing. There's tons of seepage and organic substances layered all over the walls. Sealed doors and computer operated control panels are complete with digital monitors and switches. The maps are what makes Natural Selection differ so much from the competition. Each map is layered with tons of detail, whether it be the gigantic vent systems, or the numerous ''hives'' or spawning points. Layouts are very complex, allowing users to explore unknown parts of the level. Plus, many maps have strategic points, or chokeholds that can make or break a team's success.

Player models are absolutely stunning. Marines have vision visors with their full armored suits. Add-on weapons and enhancements make visual appearances on the marines. Aliens and their different evolutions are detailed with huskers and antennas. A wide variety of colors is used in Natural Selection, but for the most part, everything is toned to a darker setting. Structures look very cool, and a hologramish look. The entire gaming environment captures the user into a whole new sensation. No longer are you playing on some long desert plain, or in an urban setting. Natural Selection sets itself apart from its competition based on the shear detail that consumes the gamer.

Sound/Music [9/10]
Since NS already captivates its own environment based on the graphics alone, the sound effects are almost as top-notch quality as you can get. The best enjoyable experience from the game is the numerous voice recorded messages. You can request for more supplies from your commander, or yell to your teammate of incoming hostiles. The best feature is the huge variety of alien-like sounds. Every scream, groan, grunt, and snark has a different tone based on the creature you're using. Wait till you hear one of the biggest monsters in the game trampling down a hallway towards your position. The quality of the sound effects captures the user into the gaming environment. You truly feel like you're in a futuristic world, or part of a mysterious alien race.

Much of the music in the game is good. How? It fits the theme well. Almost every song sounds gloomy and perplexed. It gives the feeling that something is around the corner, but the only way to find out is by peeking your head. Background music avoids the actual gameplay, but it makes its appearance every once in a while. The songs aren't that spectacular, just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Gameplay [8/10]
This has to be one of the most innovative modifications ever created for a game. The actual gameplay system behind Natural Selection is complicated, but able to be learned. To start off, Natural Selection is a teamplay based mod pitted between the Frontiersmen (Human Space Marines) and the Kharaa (Aliens). Unlike other typical team deathmatch mods, Natural Selection combines strategy and shooting into one game. Here's a brief little description as to how gameplay works. Each team has a different playing style. The marines rely on accessories such as guns, mines, jetpacks, and increased armor. A marine team is led by a commander, who controls everything on the battlefield. Whether it be a structure being built, or supplies being sent it, he is responsible for every action that takes place. In a simple matter, the commander controls what is built and when. Other marines follow the orders of the commander, and can build structures, pick up ammo, and combat other aliens. When a player enters commander mode, his screen is shifted to a special overview mode where he sees the entire battlefield. So the interface becomes much more like an overhead strategy game as he clicks and points where everything goes.

Marines need certain structures to perform certain tasks. For every structure, weapon, and accessory to be made, resources are needed to create them. There are resource nodes scattered across maps, and the aliens or marines may build a node on top of it to ''suck'' resources out of it. So basically, resources are the fuel to each team's supply of energy. Marines rely on advanced weaponry to survive, and also have useful structures which can eradicate the aliens. Things such as siege turrets can shoot through walls, and are designed for destroying enemy bases. As you can see, Natural Selection sounds similar to your typical Starcraft game.

Aliens are a race dependant on support. Rather than having one sole commander, they must act as a team, and use groupwork as more of a necessity. Aliens have different forms or evolutions, unlike marines who are designed as a one man unit. The Kharaa also need resources just like the marines, but instead, the resources are shared throughout all players of the game. Every alien player starts out as a Skulk, which is basically a weak, but agile and fast creature that can scale walls. Based on how many resources you have, you can evolve into larger and stronger creatures. There are also three hives on every map, which are basically points that makes aliens stronger. In each new game, the aliens start out with one hive, which is basically their homeland. If they are strong enough, and have great teamwork, they can expand into all three hives, and gain all the upgrades and evolutions they need to beat the marines. So basically, most of the gameplay comes down to fast paced action as to who can secure key points on the map before the other team does. Aliens cannot use weapons, but rely on forceful abilities and skills which are unhuman like.

Despite all this, there are some issues at which the game can be troubling for some. The biggest concern is that many gamers get overwhelmed with the wealth of information. Be warned that this is not your typical Rambo mod where you can blow everyone away with a chaingun. This is a strategy mod, and being a new player doesn't help the situation. Secondly, most players who don't know what they're doing will often get lost or angry at the game. If you didn't read the manual, or just don't like strategy games, then Natural Selection might not be your name brand cereal.

Fun [8/10]
NS can be one of the more fun mods on Half-Life if you don't let it get to you. At times, if your team is horrible, or not sticking together, then the game will be a frustrating moment. Often, teams will get stacked, and you may find yourself in a tough situation. Getting overrun by multiple marines, or swarmed by a bunch of aliens isn't always fun. But for the most part, NS does provide an experience that rarely any other game does. How often do you get a chance to use wits, strategy, and skills all in one game? For once, strategy is the most important aspect, and the players who aren't as quick on the trigger finger really shows. If you have a commander on your team who is doing an amazing job, then the chances of your team winning are increased. You will get consumed by the sheer possibilities on each map, and how you can build your own base up.

Replayability [9/10]
With plenty of upgrades for both teams, and so many different places to build structures, Natural Selection is the type of mod that can addict you for many weeks. It can be a fast paced game, or one that can take an hour. Even if your home spawn is destroyed, you can sometimes move your base, and make a surprising comeback. There's enough different classes, accessories, and depth on maps to keep anyone busy. The unique fact that a sole commander, or a structure building Gorge can truly make the difference in your team's success. There's a decent amount of NS maps, around six or so. The mod has been out for a little under a year now, and with plenty of future updates to come, this is the modification to train with.

Difficulty [7/10]
Unfortunately, all this strategic gameplay has its downfalls. The biggest flaw is that you're going to be facing a brick wall. Players that use teamwork will kill you, and others may be easy obstacles. If you think about it, most veterans of NS are the ones who understand how the game works. Many opponents you face are smart, because Natural Selection is one of the most strategic Half-Life mods ever developed. This isn't some meathead deathmatch mod where the simple aim of a mouse decides everything. NS tells the difference between the girls and the women. If you've got what it takes, you'll follow orders and lead your team to victory. Sometimes making a hit and run tactic is smarter than trying to stick around and blow up the base.

Final Factor [9/10]
Natural Selection is the best example of a pearl in a clamshell. These types of games rarely come along in the gaming community. NS tempts the boundary of first person shooters, and adds the strategic element as a part of the gameplay. No longer are strategy games just strategy games, or action games just pure killing fun. This is the best hybrid combination you'll find on the internet. With a large community, good support, and plenty of servers, you're going to have a lot of fun playing this game. While there may be a few bugs or glitches (such as getting stuck in a structure, or a map error), the development team really stuck with this one, and put a lot of dedication into it. To simply pass this mod by is a disgrace. Download this at any chance you get; it will change your perspective as to how you view first person shooters.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/21/03, Updated 07/21/03

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