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E3 2012: Natural Selection 2 (Hands-on)

by: Travis -
More On: E3 2012 Natural Selection 2
I have fond memories of countless hours spent playing the Half-Life modification Natural Selection, which was originally released in 2002. After five years in development and a switch of game engines, Natural Selection 2 is nearly ready to launch as a standalone release from independent studio Unknown Worlds Entertainment. What began initially as a one-man project has transformed into a team of eight that are committed to building an unique and thrilling online multiplayer experience. Described as a combination of Counter-Strike and StarCraft, Natural Selection 2 incorporates elements from both the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres.

The premise of gameplay places players into either the role of a marine or alien in a hectic battle to destroy the other team's base. Each side is completely asymmetrical in regards to their style of gameplay and unit types, which are still designed to maintain a balanced match for both teams. The various alien units have individual movement and attack types that can range from flying around the map to clawing at enemies. In contrast, marines have a single unit type that varies with the equipment used in matches. By visiting an armory, marines can equip a variety of items that range from flamethrowers to jet packs.

The real-time strategy component is incorporated into gameplay through each side's commander role. By selecting either of the primary base structures, the player will be given commander abilities that include issuing orders to players and building structures around the map. The commander roles continue with the game's asymmetry by providing each team with differing structures that lend themselves to particular play styles. Depending on the structures placed by commanders and which strategies employed by individual units, matches can range anywhere from 15 to 40 or more minutes. Some of the structures include turrets for defending positions or portals for quickly jumping to different locations on a map.

The game begin development on Source and later transitioned to the studio's in-house built engine called Spark. With the Spark engine, the developers can avoid limitations of the aging Source engine. Spark allows for the use of advanced lighting and other dynamic visual effects that would have required an immense amount of work with the Source engine. Even more impressive is the fact that Spark was built by a single person from the development team. Since the project was born as a result of beginning in the modding community, the team has decided to release the source code for free that allows for editing any of the game's files. Described as being the most moddable game ever seen, the modding community has already been highly-involved with the game's development. A particular map from the modding community has been included in the actual game because of its high level of quality. As well, a couple of modders even built their own spectator mode that has inspired the developers to include their own.

With an in-house built game engine, stunning visuals, specialized alien units, balanced 6v6 gameplay, new equipment and structures, and a more accessible and in-depth game, Natural Selection 2 is an all-around improved experience from the original. The team is now dedicated to finishing an initial release of the game and then focus on additional content updates that will be released in similar nature to Team Fortress 2's free add-ons. Natural Selection 2 incorporates a rare development process that focuses directly on community feedback and even including content created by dedicated modders. I had a difficult time walking away from the game at E3 and am eagerly awaiting to hunt more aliens with my flamethrower and shotgun.

Natural Selection 2 is scheduled for release in late August to early September for Windows PC. Eager fans can visit the official Natural Selection 2 website to pre-order the game and gain access to its current beta on Steam.