[Insert Halo comparison gag here]
Imitation, as everybody knows, is the sincerest form of flattery. Whether Bungie are flattered by Gameloft’s iPhone FPS inspired by their renowned Halo series is another matter however, as to the untrained eye, N.O.V.A Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance could easily be mistaken for one of Master Chief's Covenant cleansing outings. The weapons, the vehicles, the enemies, the armour, the environments – there’s even a holographic sidekick who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cortana – everything in the game is lifted straight out of the Halo universe. N.O.V.A clearly has no shame in being a carbon-copy Halo clone, which will undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers with the core gamer, but I’m keen to get this negativity out the way early on, as there’s a lot of praise that needs to be lavished on the game.
N.O.V.A’s armour clad hero comes in the form of Kal Wardin, a retired soldier who is reluctantly drafted back into service to do battle against an alien threat known as the Xeno. The game spans 12 campaign missions (13 if you include an introductory training level) which will lead Kal to the very heart of Xeno territory in order to thwart their undesirable plans. Throughout these 12 levels there is a pleasant diversity to the environments and enough variety in the gameplay to keep things fresh and exciting. Each level lasts a good 20 minutes or so, meaning the game will keep players busy for up to the four hour mark, which is as hearty an experience as you’re likely to find on the App Store.
Gameplay boils down to your usual run-and-gun FPS experience, which is nothing to be sneered at considering how successfully Gameloft have brought the formula to the iPhone’s little touch screen. Shooting feels solid, epic set pieces carry across the action well, a wide selection of guns and grenades keep combat interesting and the game is paced well enough to remain fresh throughout. For anybody who remains dubious about playing an FPS without real buttons, get yourself a copy of N.O.V.A to see firsthand how it can be done successfully.
Controls were of course the biggest obstacle in the way of success, but Gameloft have hurdled this problem with a few refinements to the Modern Combat scheme which shares the same engine. Controls are tight and are mapped to the iPhone’s touch screen more or less perfectly. Your movement stick is in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, exactly where you’d expect it to be. To aim, all you need to do is drag your finger anywhere you fancy, and to fire -- a quick tap of the fire icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Gameloft were obviously aware that the first person shooter doesn’t work perfectly on a device without buttons, and were kind enough to include an aim assist feature, which intelligently snaps your crosshair to the enemy when you’re trying to aim.
In addition to the copious amounts of shooting the game has on offer, there are several other action orientated gameplay mechanics that add depth to the gameplay. For example, as you stroll around the exterior of an abandoned spaceship, a barrage of asteroids will hurtle through the darkness of space towards you, requiring quick reflexes to avoid in time. Locked ammo crates also introduce a nice little mini-game into the mix, where little deflectors must be placed on a grid in order to carry a light beam to its destination (RPG fans will recognise this puzzle immediately) .
You’ve seen all the screenshots to accompany this review by now, and hopefully you’ll agree the game looks incredible. It’s the little things the screenshots can’t capture too; the way water sparkles or rays of sunlight burst through the trees. It’s touches like these that help N.O.V.A feel more like a console game than any iPhone title before it. Gameloft have set a new bench mark with N.O.V.A, and not just graphically either, but as an entire sensory package. The sci-fi melodies compliment the environments and action perfectly, and a beautiful intro sequence and slick menu screens enforce the incredibly high production values.
I love and hate N.O.V.A at the same time. To deny it’s the definitive FPS and one of the best looking games on the App Store would be plain stupid, but at the same time it’s also one of the most shameless clones I’ve ever played. This may not bother a lot of people, but originality is an incredibly important aspect of a game, and regardless of what anybody else says, should be taken into account when reviewing a game. Ignoring this however, the game is a glorious rollercoaster ride of gun-slinging space action. In closing, you won’t find a better FPS on the iPhone, and if you haven’t played Halo before, or aren’t bothered by the unoriginality of N.O.V.A, feel free to add an extra point onto our already respectable score.
- Sound: 9
- Graphics: 9
- Gameplay: 8
- Longevity: 8
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