Natural Selection II’s combatants are opposed to each other in more ways than one. They fight, sure, scrapping to control the large interconnected maps that the multiplayer shooter calls home. But they’re different, right down to their DNA.
On one side are the humans. Marines, to be specific, clad in camo green and armed with Aliens-esque pulse rifles. The marines are tough, durable and handled from a firstperson viewpoint. By default, they’re armed with a rifle, pistol, and pocket-sized axe, and in groups of two or three form a lethal fighting force. But not all marines are equal. One will – by impromptu election or opportunism – become Commander, a position that affords them an RTS-style view of the map. From this perch, the Commander can place structures and set waypoints. Structures provide upgrades and weapons for the grunts on the ground, and the waypoints suggest where they should concentrate their firepower next.
Their war is with Natural Selection II’s aliens. Named the Kharaa, they’re in turn gooey and chitinous, distillations and amalgamations of aliens in other media. The Skulk is their basic frontline troop, a hog-sized, spine-footed ankle-biter that can climb walls and excels as a hit-and-run ambusher. Players start as Skulks, but can evolve into larger beasts. The Fade is one, a man-sized mantis monster that’s able to phase out of visibility and hurtle forward to unfurl its two-foot-long claws into a marine’s guts. Near the top of the food chain is the Onos, an elephantine tank armed with a wicked horn. One step further up sits the alien Commander. Where his marine counterpart needs soldiers to build his structures, the alien Commander takes a more direct approach, placing resource collectors and defensive towers to grow on their own.
The two sides are thrust into conflict by the need to gather finite resources, studded across Natural Selection II’s maps. In their natural state, they’re small holes in the ground spewing forth a wispy blue light. For either the humans or the aliens to capture them, they need to build a resource collection structure on one, and then defend it if the opposite team tries to take it. The more resources a team has, the more its Commander can spend on upgrades for the entire group, and the more go into each player’s personal pool to buy new weapons for marines, or evolutions for aliens.
The result is a tense battle of push and pull. You’ll need to push in groups of marines to beat back the spread of alien buildings and the glowing orange spores that sustain them; you’ll pull as the Skulks, luring fragile humans into ambush spots and leaping out en masse to surround them. Each side’s footsoldiers are easily killed when separated from the group, and it’s only towards the end of the game that your upgrades or weapons will be far enough along the tech tree to offer serious survivability. Humans get jetpacks and mech suits, while the mighty Onos takes the contents of an ammo dump to bring down.