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Natural Selection 2 Preview

Released in 2002, Natural Selection was a favorite mod of mine when it was developed late in the life of Half-Life’s viable modding cycle. By combining first-person shooter elements with the organizational finesse of an RTS, it broke the conventional mold and emerged as a groundbreaking new style of multiplayer cooperation. Based in a variety of outer-space colonies and bases in the far future, Natural Selection saw a battle between the Frontiersmen and the Kharaa, who were space marines and aliens, respectively. The environments were large and full of atmosphere, with sounds and effects adding to the sense of loneliness and isolation that was often the feeling when your teammates were killed one by one. The innovative Commander Mode and branching development and technology trees for players to take advantage of made the game an exercise in quality teamwork, as specialized units were needed for many tasks and no one player could win by themselves. When Half-Life 2 was released, Natural Selection 2 was on the horizon to be enjoyed as a Source mod, but since then the dev team has formed their own company, Unknown Worlds Entertainment, the game has been shifted onto a custom-made proprietary engine named Spark and will be released as a stand-alone commercial title.

Many changes are in store for fans of Natural Selection, some revisions of existing mechanics, and some wholly new ideas. A cool new feature is the introduction of Dynamic Infestation, which acts as a living surface that covers territory as the Kharaa expand their base. Alerting marines to its presence by causing power shortages in lights and changing the appearance of entire areas, it disrupts powered map elements like elevators until cleared by marine flamethrowers. Alternatively, the marine commanders can weld doors and bulkheads shut to keep out the alien menace for a few needed minutes to prepare.

The marines are of the conventional FPS variety, accumulating resources from constructed resource points to spend on upgrades and equipment to better battle stronger Kharaa classes. New equipment for marines in NS2 includes the exoskeleton, a form of armor that replaces the heavy armor from NS. It performs the heavy tanking duties of the marines, in that it can bring heavy firepower and rockin’ tunes through a built-in boombox to the battle. A range of weaponry allows the marines to dole out death and destruction, with tools such as flamethrowers, shotguns, and grenade launchers filling out the roster. Mobile Siege Cannons, operated by the commander, allow marines to get in some serious firepower to take down enemy hives and structures.  Players can now purchase their own weapons at the appropriate building as opposed to relying on the whims of the commander. Marines automatically join squads when unattached members are in close proximity so as to be better directed by the commander, and waypoints have integrated pathfinding to provide actual directions.

Kharaa alien classes are a much different experience than the marines, as they demand radically different tactics to be successful. Players begin as a weak Skulk, a dog-like beast that can traverse walls and ceilings at great speed to sneak up on foes. As combat experience is accumulated, the Skulk can mutate into other classes in order of size, effectiveness and health. The first class choice is the Gorge, a builder/medic that can support other classes and build defensive structures. The next is the Lurk, a flying-type that has a ranged attack and can attach to ceilings. After that, the Fade is the velociraptor of the bunch, a fast-moving bipedal monstrosity that can cloak and uses melee blade arms to rip and tear guts. The final alien type is the Onos, a parallel to an elephant which stuns building production as well as an earth-shattering charge that forces enemies to flee to avoid death.

Buildings are big part of the game: they can be built anywhere power is supplied to them (i.e. resource points and command zones); they can range from static defensive structures, to research depots, to armories for players to purchase new weapons and equipment the commander grants them. Previously, Marine Commanders placed construction zones and had to rely on responsible marines to actively push the USE key to build the respective building, whereas now they can employ NPC robots to build structures and weld doors as well. Similarly, the new Kharaa commanders utilize NPC drones called drifters to build structures around the map (previously the Gorge built all structures devoid of a higher command). The two command systems for both races are much closer than before, as they can view the entire level and set waypoints, ping alerts, conduct scans, and manage upgrades.

The requirements of NS2 will be slight, desiring A 1.2 GHz Processor, 256MB RAM, a DirectX 9 level graphics card, Windows Vista/2000/XP, mouse, keyboard and an internet connection. The plan is for it ship with four maps and intends to rely heavily on modders to provide a large part of content; in order to facilitate this, virtually all the tools used to create the game will be shipped alongside it, including a level editor, map viewer, cinematic editor, the ability to manipulate scripting and the source code. The first version of the release will be for Windows, but later is intended to be released on Xbox360, Macintosh and Linux. The alpha has been available to pre-orderers since July, but the official release date has been pushed back several times, resulting in the current “when it’s done”.  Player Affinity will continue to follow its progress and have a full review when released.

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