With roots in one of the most successful, most-modded games of all time, Half-Life, the original Natural Selection had a pretty solid base to build from, spawning its own dedicated community of players and modders. Released in 2007, the original mod eventually spawned a sequel, Natural Selection 2. A blended-genre “first-person strategy” released in 2012, this unique and compelling title drew and built upon the existing community. A small team of dedicated modders have now gone mainstream with a standalone title focusing on the more visceral parts of the game’s history; and so, NS2: Combat was born.
Much more a pure first-person shooter experience than its predecessors, NS2: Combat flourishes by knowing exactly what it wants to bring to the table. While early mods worked to keep things interesting with a mix of strategy and combat, this title puts a keen eye on one part of the experience. Pitting Trans-System Federation Space Marines against deadly alien foes known as Kharaa, this gorgeously-rendered twitch/stealth title has a lot to offer. There are still some strategic elements here, but the battle between opposing forces certainly takes center stage.
What NS2: Combat does well, it does very well. The combat is fast-paced, frantic, and unforgiving. Even in “practice” matches against AI-controlled bots, deaths are plenty and the fights are fierce. Marine forces have the clear advantage at range, provided they’re able to keep the Kharaa at bay. The aliens, in the meantime, command an unrelenting superiority in tighter areas. The differences between the two sides in this conflict are vast; aside from weapons, the style of play for each is entirely unique and takes some definite acclimating to get the hang of.
Marines in NS2: Combat can make use of a number of helpful technologies, with upgrades including weapons such as shotguns and flamethrowers, as well as grenades, stationary guns, and high-powered assault armors. Upgrades require character levels to unlock, so you’re going to have to get some damage done with your basic loadout to explore the trees. Your chosen upgrades can be reset, as well. While doing this will result in a death, it’s often worthwhile if your strategy just isn’t panning out. You’re going to start from scratch in each game, too, so getting good with your assault rifle is a necessary key to success.
The aliens of NS2: Combat, the Kharaa, trade technology upgrades for biological evolutions. Levels will allow you to make your attacks more fierce, grant cloak-like invisibility for sneaking undetected into enemy territory, and full-blown evolution into new deadly creatures with their own formidable powers. Wall-crawling, flying, and sheer brute strength give the Kharaa some serious edge against hapless Marines, which they’ll need to use well to overcome the machines and firepower they’re up against. With these upgrade systems, both sides seem pretty evenly matched on the whole, a definite point in the favor of Faultline Games, who’ve struck a great balance between two very different forces.
I’ll be the first to admit that NS2: Combat isn’t within my usual genre preferences, but I still enjoyed it. Some lengthy load times bog the experience down, and there are some rough patches still. Clipping problems when trying to navigate walls and ceilings as the Kharaa can make it difficult to gather up evolution points, and Marines have a tough time keeping a target. All that aside, there’s a ton of fun to be had here, and it’s a clear addition to the multiplayer FPS collection for fans of games like the Aliens vs Predator series. I spent most of my time with bots, as I’m much more keen on a single-player experience; the AI isn’t great, but it’s good enough to help newcomers get the hang of things.
Ultimately, NS2: Combat may not be my cup of tea, but it’s still a very well-made, fully-featured multiplayer FPS. With a pleasant $14.99 price tag on Steam, it’s pretty accessible, and there’s a “buy three, get one” four-pack available for $44.99 making it an easy group purchase. With a budding community springing up from fans of the original mod versions of the game, there’s sure to be plenty of unique and interesting maps to explore, and more than enough active players to keep the matches rolling in. I’d give it a hearty recommendation to anyone that’s into the genre, and a gentle nudge for those with a passing interest looking for something new and innovative.