N.O.V.A. Review

N.O.V.A. (v3.5.4) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-4
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: December 16, 2009

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: N.O.V.A., or Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (who came up with that one?!), closely resembles Halo in that you control a space marine who goes toe-to-toe with the xenos aliens. Players encounter sci-fi violence and mild alien blood, but it’s nothing to throw up your arms over.

Review Basis: Finished single player campaign onNormal, a few missions on Hard; participated in a couple online (wi-fi) competitive matches.

Captain Kal Wardin, a retired space marine with a reputation for reckless behavior, is forced back into active duty to tackle a hush-hush mission that apparently only he can handle. A derelict space station has suddenly reappeared outside Earth’s orbit (the planet is no longer habitable, so humans live on space stations), and it’s up to our hero to investigate the cause of the vessel’s destruction. It’s not a mystery for long.

The Great:

Entertaining gunplay. Captain Wardin’s arsenal is comprised of an infinite reload pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher and eventually a most fun alien weapon. I’m always partial to the boomstick especially, and putting down one xenos after another with pump-action blasts to their faces is sublime. It’s a shame that you fire only one alien gun over the course of the game, and at its end furthermore, but overall Gameloft starts off their Halo-inspired franchise weaponry on a good foot.

The Good:

+ Believable characters. Interaction between N.O.V.A.’s personalities isn’t extensive, but Yelena (think Cortana) thankfully wasn’t annoying like I thought she’d be. Most of her comments avoid being intrusive. In fact, she proves more helpful and insightful than not, so we don’t have another Navi on our hands. You also meet Prometheus at the end of the second mission, and he makes for an interesting character. Everyone else is forgettable.

+ Boomstick. I can never over-emphasize how much it delights me to run around FPS games with an auto or pump-action shotgun. They rarely disappoint, and I loved seeing many an alien blood shower up-close-and-personal. N.O.V.A.’s shotty is an action and audio pleasantry.

+ Visual effects. It’s neat to witness the portals that the xenos pour through. Weapon reload animations are also well-done, and it’s nice to watch xenos execute their mix of battle tactics.

+ Freeze ability. At the expense of shield energy, Wardin can throw out what looks like a ray of light to temporarily paralyze a single enemy. It lasts for a few seconds, and can mean the difference between life and death in certain skirmishes. It’s critical to be wise with it however, as you don’t want to become an easy kill.

+ Aim-assist. I won’t cease to be thankful for an aim-assist feature in first-person shooters that play exclusively with a touch screen. N.O.V.A. proves a blessing here, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

+ Right between the eyes. The brute xenos have the propensity to pick Wardin up off the ground if they come close enough to him. It’s nothing to fret about though, as he conveniently whips out the infinite ammo pistol. Spam the shoot button, and smile.

The So-So:

+-  Visuals. My HTC Thunderbolt is more powerful than the DS, and N.O.V.A. doesn’t look much better…if at all, than a first-person shooter that appeared on Nintendo’s portable. I don’t mean that the game is ugly, but it doesn’t particularly impress either.

+- Multiplayer. N.O.V.A. supports four-player simultaneous competition that takes place in understandably small arenas. You can choose what color scheme of marine to appear as, and the rest is the classic weapon pick-up deathmatch formula. The service by default allows the aim-assist, but disables health regeneration. The maps come equipped with warp portals and long jump pads to make things more interesting. It’s an OK experience, but veterans can make easy pickings of newcomers, and you’re not able to hide much with the close-quarters spawning. Still, I landed some cool acrobatic kills that I didn’t even anticipate pulling off.

The Bad:

–  Subpar optimization. N.O.V.A. sadly isn’t smooth when it matters most for me. I’m sure iPhone users don’t experience this, and I don’t know if other Android gamers do. Often in battle, the virtual stick would literally stick and the game slowed a little. I had to work extra hard to maintain my bearings. This usually wasn’t the case with foes not around.

– Glitchy audio. I can’t recall a single instance where I restarted after dying or from a checkpoint when the music continued to play. I was forced each time to return to the main menu, where the music also wasn’t heard, and the sound effects of navigating the options disappeared too. So I exited the game completely, rebooted, and finally heard the goods again. That’s not very encouraging for gameplay continuity.

The Ugly:

A dumb ending. I think the final boss encounter mostly made sense, given the overall scope of the campaign. I didn’t understand, however, what takes place immediately after claiming victory. It gives the game an unnecessary religious overtone, and honestly offended a bit what I believe. It also seems that the situation is influenced in part by a few moral decisions you make during the course of the game. It’s just strange.

The Lowdown:

N.O.V.A. is a nifty sci-fi shooter for iPhone and Android phone users. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, given its Halo inspiration, but a nice experience for wireless gamers. The game’s performance seems to differ (i.e. suffer) depending on what hardware you’re using, but it’s still a very good game.

Average Score Scale: 7.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 7.5/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: The performance issues mentioned don’t affect you.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: If you want more weapons, and don’t like Yelena.

Leave a Reply