N.O.V.A. 3 Review

N.O.V.A. 3 (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-12
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: May 31, 2012

Played on ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 w/Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Sampled on HTC Rezound running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: N.O.V.A. 3, with its technical polish, is unsurprisingly the most explicit installment of Gameloft’s sci-fi franchise. Kal Wardin swears, the combat is more visceral, and there are suggestive themes. The game overall is the most ‘mature’ of the series.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal; participated in several online (wi-fi) competitive matches.

Our old A.I. friend Yelena has beckoned N.O.V.A. hero Kal Wardin back to Earth. He doesn’t know what for on the way in, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover that Volterites have assaulted his home planet. Why? There’s supposed to be a ceasefire between humanity and the alien race. That matters not however, as Kal quickly joins a ragtag N.O.V.A. team working to repel the invasion. He ultimately learns that the humans have done something very foolish, and Prometheus steps in to force our hero into his final mission. Let’s just say things don’t look good for humans or Volterites.

The Great:

Eye-popping! When N.O.V.A. 3’s teaser trailers emerged, everyone agreed that Gameloft was once again raising the bar for visual polish in a mobile game. That’s what N3 has done. Our Executive Director Jarrod and I agree that the game could easily pass as a first-generation Xbox 360 or PS3 title. It’s not exactly shocking given the ongoing technological evolution of mobile devices, but I don’t think anyone anticipated a game like N3 arriving so soon. I can only imagine what it looks like first-hand on the iPad’s retina display. Yet no matter your device, the N.O.V.A. and Volterite models, environments, and effects are second-to-none. N.O.V.A. 3 is in the top three prettiest mobile games.

The Good:

+ The cast. Kal Wardin, Yelena, Prometheus, and a couple newcomers come together to deliver the most enjoyable and emotional plot in this sci-fi series. I cared more about each than in the previous two installments. That’s always good.

+ The weapons. Kal’s arsenal is fun to play with. I’m sad that the dual-wield pistols and auto-shotgun were given the boot, but the rest of Wardin’s toys are entertaining.

+ More skills, again. Melee has been inexplicably removed, but at least replaced and supplemented with ‘slow motion’ and ‘repel’ abilities. Thus, you can either send enemies flying (a la Jean Grey), or enter what is unaffectionately known as bullet time. Both are fun and useful, along with the mainstay freeze power.

+ Piloting a mech. It’s more or less identical to doing so in N.O.V.A. 2, except flashier.

+ Grenades. I’m often unimpressed with the results of explosives in games, especially shooters. Yet N.O.V.A. 3 makes every grenade toss a wonderful anticipation of a loud and pretty boom, not to mention a dramatic scattering of any Volterites caught in the blast.

+ Flamethrower! OK, I suppose I can forgive the omission of an auto-shotgun. It may not arrive until later in the campaign, but you can’t help but smile while burning Volterites to a crisp.

The So-So:

+/- Gyroscope controls. N.O.V.A. 3 is the first mobile game where I’ve given gyro control a spin. It’s an aid and a pain at the same time. Gyro doesn’t replace a second analog stick, but still allows you to not have to swipe across the screen to aim in battle. However, it can easily disorient you when enemies move around around a lot. You can only twist a tablet so far, thus trying to move, fire and use the gyro function in a way that feels natural is next to impossible. Where’s my Android gamepad?

+/- Voice acting. The voices sound great; the script is written well, and the dialogue is convincing. It’s too bad then, that the mouth syncing is hit-or-miss. You should never see a character’s mouth still moving when his/her lines are finished being spoken.

+/- Multiplayer. The overall structure is very well-done. There’s a healthy selection of enjoyable maps; you can customize your warrior to a great degree; you can participate in tournaments; the modes you expect are there, etc. The big problems are lag and players infrequently joining matches in progress. Lag isn’t prevalent in every match I’ve played, but very noticeable when it occurs. I wish that those who pay for 3G or 4G service could take advantage of that for online play. It’s also not fun to be consistently outnumbered…

The Bad:

–  Let me customize! I don’t understand why Gameloft’s older Modern Combat 3 allows you to choose where to place every input icon, and choose the size of each, but N.O.V.A. 3 doesn’t. You can shift everything but the reload function, which is the most important to be able to! This isn’t so bad for smartphone users, but you must completely move your hand on a 10.1″ tablet to manually replenish your weapon’s magazine. That’s unintuitive.

– Ending. I’m disappointed with how lazy Gameloft is with concluding its games. After a brief final scene after defeating the last boss, N3 abruptly ends. No closing cutscene that clarifies plot elements, nothing. I’m interested in knowing what happened to these characters, and likely never will. This is worse than the pre-DLC Mass Effect 3!

– Renting weapons, seriously? It’s very strange that the sci-fi weapons are only accessible from the in-game store. You can’t acquire them by eliminating enemies. It’s further disconcerting that it isn’t a permanent purchase. I bought a fun, new gun the moment I had a chance, and it was gone the following mission. Eh?…

– Aiming on a jeep. I thought there was something horribly wrong with my game while manning a jeep during the second mission. I even restarted it multiple times. Several minutes later, I finally discovered that shifting your reticule around normally requires swiping from one side of the screen to the other. Well, that’s plain stupid. Does this affect phones too? I don’t know.

The Ugly:

Bugs galore! It’s very unfortunate that N3 looks so good and is fun, but filled to the brim with bugs. You name a glitch, and it’s probably able to happen. I fell through floors. Key game events failed to trigger. The game force-closed. The Volterites would stop moving. I would stop being able to move. And I’m sure others encountered glitches that I haven’t. I don’t know who was responsible for the game’s testing, but I strongly question the job they did for this experience. I hope Gameloft releases a big patch job soon.

The Lowdown:

Since its teaser trailers released, I rooted for N.O.V.A. 3 to be the best of the best in mobile gaming. In the looks department, Gameloft’s product has virtually no equal. Yet in so many areas, N3 reminds you that videogames will always be imperfect. To what extent is up to the developer and its QA staff, and the extent to which this title takes you out of the experience is discouraging. Of course Gameloft can issue updates in the future, and I believe they will. For now, Kal Wardin’s final mission may be fun romp, but it may leave you feeling a tad irked when all is said and done.

Final Score: 7/10

5 thoughts on “N.O.V.A. 3 Review”

  1. Nicely written as usual. It surprises me to see efforts like this for the mobile scene. Too bad about the bugs though. And renting off weapons? Seriously Gameloft?

    1. I don’t think it’s so surprising; mobile devices are more than capable of running games like this, but we simply aren’t inclined to think that developers would be willing to create such a sophisticated experience that must be controlled by a less-than-ideal control interface. Of course there aren’t that many high-end titles like this when compared to the rest of mobile game apps, but we’re getting closer to it becoming legitimate competition to consoles and portables I think.

  2. There are some really high-end games like this on the mobile scene Ahmed. Right now, as Justin and I have repeatedly discussed, the main problem lies with the input method. Games simply don’t feel as precise as they do on console/PC. Touch controls simply can’t duplicate the tactile feel you get from actually pressing a button/moving an analog stick or d-pad. As Justin discusses in his latest episode of COE Mobility, there are gamepads supposed to be released, so hopefully this issue won’t last forever.

    Have you guys seen this before? It’s called Republique and looks awesome.

    1. Yup, saw the trailer a while ago when you first posted it… Think it was for an editorial or something. The obvious difference is that Republique was designed with intuitive touch control in mind. I’m frankly surprised that touch FPSes even do well since gamers typically demand perfect controls to play them. We must have increased in tolerance or something :) Oh well, but yeah there is a controller on the horizon, yet something that just popped up this week is another Kickstarter project that set the new record for opening-day fundraising. There’s an Android CONSOLE coming called Ouya, and I’ll talk about it during my next podcast. Pretty wild times for gamers right now ;)

      1. Yeah Justin, I already got mine pre-ordered. It looks and sounds awesome. A true, legitimate console for the indie scene for the very first time ever! I also love the forced free-to-play aspect, well at least some portion has to be FTP. I’m going to assume a lot of people will likely start with demos, but in time I wouldn’t be surprised to see everything FTP, with micro-transaction built in because that’s where the entire industry is going.

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