Gameloft’s latest dip into someone else’s IP is first person shooter N.O.V.A which bares a striking resemblance to the Halo series. It’s not uncommon to be influenced by another game but Gameloft appear to be making a habit of it. I’ll give you a few examples; Kal Wardin is the playable hero of Near Orbit Vangaurd Alliance who is conveniently dressed in Spartan inspired armour much like the military organisation that discharged him. He is accompanied by a holographic lass who talks him through procedures, helping along the way – a lot like Cortana. Now imagine Brutes from Halo 2, in different coloured armour and the ability to shoot blue or orange orbs. They are just some of the ideas harvested from Halo but to claw back a bit of credit for Gameloft, they’ve managed to make a brilliant FPS for a system that isn’t best suited for the genre.
The story isn’t all that original but gets the job done. Something to do with Kal being reenlisted to the service he was previously discharged from in order to find out why a space station has reappeared above Earth and what happened to all the crew inside. The journey will eventually lead him to the Xenos home world – a race of aliens who will be the enemies of this mission. Nothing all that memorable but towards the end of the game it does pick up to where you’d become interested. Most if not all of the time the on screen compass is what got me through levels rather than following mission objectives. Still, the last to worlds I visited had me more interested in why I was actually there in the first place.
Controls are similar to previous Gameloft shooter, Modern Combat (no prizes for guessing what that’s based on), and for the most part work really well. There are 3 setups to chose from but the one that I found most comfortable was a left virtual stick to move, right stick to shoot and sliding anywhere on screen to move the camera. A nice touch was how the stick to shoot also can control the camera if held down. Aim assists also contribute to a smooth control system and a replenishing shield stops N.O.V.A from becoming a run-and-gun affair. Sadly though like all iPhone games, the virtual control scheme can never quite reproduce the precision of a real controller and when the pressure mounts, N.O.V.A becomes a little frustrating leaving you hitting that retry button more times than you’d like. Because the action is delivered in bursts, a lot of enemies can attack at once so quick reactions are needed to proceed. The aforementioned aim assist does do a good job of compensating but there were times when I died through no fault of my own. It feels really pedantic to criticise such a thing since N.O.V.A is the closest the iPhone will get to a true FPS but worth mentioning none the less.
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Graphically, Gameloft have produced an incredibly good looking game that could easily be compared to a very early Dreamcast title. The hand-holding-a-gun which represented my character looked really impressive and the enemies animated well. N.O.V.A has three main forms of Xenos; a armoured dog-like creature, humanoid gun-touting soldiers and the Brutish orb-shooting chaps. These all had various wardrobe changes in each level making them appear a little different but a few other enemies awaited the further I progressed. I only fought two bosses with the latter being more enjoyable and even with the added processing needed from my iPhone, everything still looked great. The five worlds visited each had their unique appearance and where split into 12 levels riddled with checkpoints – very handy indeed.
Multiplayer may only have one game type – Deathmatch – but it plays remarkably well. I suffered no lag or graphical issues while playing and it didn’t even seem like the visuals were sacrificed for such a privilege. You may have to sign up for a Gameloft account to play online but it took literally seconds to do and even less time to join a match and start fighting.
When things get really hairy, the controls can not quite work as well as they should and the engine behind it feels held back by the iPhone’s limitations. But N.O.V.A should be praised for an affordable price of £3.99, a decent length campaign of around 5 hours (some console FPSs don’t last that long) complimented by online multiplayer, fantastic visuals and an all round solid, enjoyable shooter. It’s the best FPS I’ve played on the iPhone and hopefully the start of many more. I only wish now that Gameloft would use their skills to make more original IPs rather than sampling other peoples.
I’ve changed from a 1-5 rating to a grading system because so many games seem to be of a 4/5 quality. This new system should make it a bit clearer as to what I mean when I assign a score. Here’s how they work:
A= An outstanding experience that goes above and beyond expectations.
B+= Highly commendable with some great ideas making for a brilliant game.
B= Very Entertaining and enjoyable. It may have one or two troubles but for the most part it’s a great game.
C= Worthwhile and fun but still room for improvement.
D= Okay but not a lot more. Fans of the genre/franchise may be more sympathetic.
F= Avoid at all costs.