Saturday, March 23, 2013

Steam Weekend: Natural Selection 2 - First Impressions

There is a very strong possibility that we will discover extraterrestrial life within the span of the next century. As a people, we have had a long time to think about what's out there, and come up with a million variations. Very few of these ideas are able to tear through a marine base like an Onos.
An Onos (pictured left, in case you missed it) about to tear through a marine sans base.

Unknown Worlds Entertainment has created a unique shooter, based on a mod for Half-Life of the same name. Players pick either Marine or Alien and duke it out in a unique game mode like a cross between domination and StarCraft. One person from each side chooses to become a commander before the match begins, and is granted special necessary powers to assist their team. At the same time, the commander's death is the victory condition of the opposing team, which makes them the most scrutinized player on the team.

The other players on each team choose roles through in game options. Marines have access to an Armory to switch out various guns, as well as a prototype lab, later in the game, to acquire jet packs and mobile armors. Aliens have access to evolutionary traits and several specialized species. All of these weapons and genetic blueprints cost Res(short for resource). Res is acquired through various in game actions, but primarily through killing other players. Base objectives reward a large sum, but the Res per minute is higher from going on a spree. It sounds snowbally, but the expenditure of Res is kept in check by your commander's progress.

The commander has an RTS perspective on the match and spends the majority building structures to aid the other players. There are very few units directly controlled by the commander. This reinforces the teamwork aspect of the game, but it also has the down side of players not always knowing what a commander is doing. Anyone that has played a team oriented online game that matches people anonymously can figure out where this leads to: RAGE.

Players having a bad game will turn on their commander and attempt to vote kick them. Fortunately, it takes more than a few votes to kick someone out of the command chair. Otherwise it would be like France during the 1800's.
"Perhaps now you will understand what I meant when I called for a drop."
ACTUAL ADVICE TIME: I'll share with you what a player I met named Nightmare taught me. If you're the Alien Commander, spread cysts quickly to plant harvesters. Grab a second hive ASAP, then research Celerity and begin building more upgrade structures. Second upgrade should be Carapace, and then go crazy from there. Oh and someone kept shouting about Lerks needing their upgrades (which requires two hives).

What I learned playing against Nightmare as a Marine Commander is that you also want to expand quickly. Res acquisition can not be underestimated, especially when it comes to marine upgrades. The armor and weapon upgrades are perhaps the best expenditure of Res a marine commander can do, so try and time your Res expenditure to have enough for each upgrade when the previous tier finishes. I like going armor first, because marines are much squishier than they look. For build order, I like to rush Shotgun (Armory then Res for Shotgun research), as it gives a big advantage, early on. Then Observatory, Arms, weapons/armor research, flamethrower and Robot Factory. If you get the second base, get the Prototype Facility and research jet packs. Jet pack + shotgun/flamethrower make skulks trivial. Most likely, it will get to late game when everything has been researched except the last two expensive armor/weapon upgrades. Work on those and spend the rest in Tanks. They are really useful for assaulting and one of the few ways to have a direct impact on the battlefield.

In case you can't tell, I liked being a Marine Commander more than an Alien Commander. I don't think there's anything wrong with the Alien Commander game play style, so much as it is a personal preference. Speaking of personal preference, playing an alien was a lot more fun than playing a marine. The sense of speed with the aliens is intense, which also meaning less wandering around not sure if there's going to be someone around the corner. Instead, it is running past that corner and the person and then turning around and chomping on them before either of you know exactly what is happening. Add ceiling climbing in and the possibilities are endless, although many of them involve face-hugging marines.

Natural Selection 2 is currently on sale for 50% off on Steam and is free to try until 1PM PDT Sunday.