A Deep, Satisfying Multiplayer Experience
(If you want to skip the nostalgia trip and the mandatory Unknown Worlds Entertainment story, go to the fourth paragraph.)
Unknown Worlds Entertainment have come a long, long way since 2002. In October of that year, on Halloween specifically, they released a mod for the Half-Life engine (Gold Source, if you know your game engines) called Natural Selection. Three tremendous versions (1.0 -> 3.0,) a myriad of updates and balance changes, and many thousands of players later, the mod fell victim to the tides of time. At first, it seemed that Unknown Worlds Entertainment would share the same fate-- something great dying off due to old age. This was not in the cards, however.
Charlie "Flayra" Cleveland and Co. decided to put up Natural Selection 2 for preorder, far before they actually had anything to show for it. Think of it as a Kickstarter, before Kickstarter was Kickstarter. Using this and some money from a few angelic investors, they funded the actual development of the game. After six years, the game has been released on Steam for $24.99, and boy, that is a bargain. I preordered the game in 2009, and I paid $34.99. Over the years, that investment was shown to be a wise one, I had access to the development betas alongside around 60,000 other players. It has been an absolute blast, despite the fact that the game wasn't always balanced or even had all of the features that this final build has.
When you purchase NS2, you are getting lifetime updates. They have stated multiple times that they are supporting the TF2 model of free, frequent updates. What these updates entail are up in the air, of course, as their massive stat-crunching system eats up hundred of hours of gameplay from the official release, giving them a nice readout on who wins and how often and myriad other things. Right now, despite this games asymmetrical design, it's pretty evenly split. Both teams win around 50% of the time, so balance has been achieved. An impressive feat for a game that has such a wonderful mash up of RTS and FPS, especially with teams that are so vastly different from each other.
Now, about this gameplay. How does Natural Selection 2 play? Well, the gist of the game is as follows: There are two teams (Marines, and the Kharaa, or Aliens). Both teams have their own strengths and weaknesses, Marines have ranged attacks and a slurry of hightech equipment to help achieve their goal of killing all of the Alien hives. The Kharaa have mostly melee attacks, far superior mobility, five distinct alien classes (that cost personal resources to upgrade into,) and wonderful upgrades to each alien that get more plentiful as the game progresses. They have the goal of killing the command station wherein the commander resides. Or stop them from respawning by eating all of the infantry portals and subsequently eating all of the marines. That works too. The name of the game is map control and resource nodes.
Early game usually has marines with rifles trying to rush around and build the Commander-placed structures while being cautious and paranoid about the Skulks (the base alien life form.) There is a nice vibe surrounding this part of the early game, where you are never quite sure if you are safe, and you are trying to build structures while keeping an eye on doors and vents. Skulks can run up walls, travel through vents, and move quickly. They tend to rush the marine base to try and slow their progress as the Alien Commander attempts to capture resources on his own (Or with a Gorge, the fat, cuddly healer/engineer class of the aliens.) Mid-game can have aliens with wings (Lerks) that have a ranged spike attack that can prove quite troublesome to inattentive marines, or a few teleporting aliens (Fades) that can do serious melee damage. At this point, both teams usually have upgrades. Depending on the commander's choice of tech trees, Aliens could have invisibility perks (stay still/walk slowly and you are invisible, or be completely silent in all of your actions) speed upgrades (run faster, recover stamina faster,) or health upgrades (more armor, or regenerating health,) or some combination of these, depending on what kind and how many in terms of hives. The marines usually have Weapons 2 and Armor 2, which provide bonuses to both your damage and ability to survive. Additionally, they probably have shotguns, grenade launchers, flame throwers, jetpacks, or some combination of these things. They probably also have two bases, which the aliens are actively seeking to destroy, and teleporters linking them together. Late game is complete chaos. If one team hasn't outright lost by now (which can happen at any point in the match,) then this is where the biggest and most important encounters in the game will take place. Aliens can have every upgrade available to them, so long as the commander has secured three hives. This means a simple skulk can become a silent, more resilient assassin and the bigger, badder aliens become very, very powerful. Aliens, at this point, ideally have several rallying points where there are whips (alien structures that slap players around and can even bat their grenades back at them!) and crags (a structure that outputs a healing mist.) The best thing is when the commander places all of these structures within the influence of shades. Shades will turn nearby aliens and structures completely invisible to the Marines. This has obvious implications for the Marine commander, requiring him to "ping" an area to render these structures and enemies visible for a limited time. Aliens have the nastiest creatures at their disposal at this point, including Onos and Fades, so if the Marine commander hasn't researched the best equipment for his Marines, they will be overpowered by the Aliens. Similarly, the Marines could have Exosuits. These large, mechanical suits have dual miniguns (or one minigun and a punching-fist) and are quite the pain to destroy, particularly if they have welders following them. They do massive damage to aliens and hives, and shoot somewhere between a thousand and a trillion bullets before the over-heat cooldown comes into effect. These are the final moments of the game, and let me tell you... This shit gets intense.
Each team has one player that sees the game from an overhead perspective. This guy/gal is the commander. He's responsible for research, structures, and general leadership. New players should probably stay away from this duty until they have the basic game mechanics down. I command regularly as the Alien commander, and it's easier than you would think. The interface may seem to be impenetrable, but playing around in the game's built in tutorial mode (called Explore) will help you get accustomed to this in a few minutes. The biggest hurdle is strategy, and supporting your team mates. Marine commanders are often called upon to drop ammo and health, which costs resources. It's important to attend to your team's needs, but these resources could be spent on Extractors to get more resources, or other upgrades to help the team survive for longer. It's a balancing game - keeping your team happy while realizing the behind the scenes stuff like research gets done. A commander should typically have a microphone. His communication with his team is absolutely crucial for victory. Your players need to know where the enemy team is, furthermore, your players need to have objectives and places to go. It is a high demand job, and can get pretty intense when you're trying to juggle Marines between Alien onslaughts, or juggle Aliens between front lines. It's tough, but successfully commanding a team to victory nets you much praise and a utterly unmatched sense of victory. It really is the ultimate team experience.