Also available on: N/A
Genre: First-person shooter
As Gameloft's inspired pedigree and its four-lettered name will tell you, the similarities to first-person shooter series Halo are everywhere in N.O.V.A.. Humanity fights for survival against a multi-racial alien threat, armed to the teeth with chunky assault rifles and being hunted through lush green forests and secret alien worlds, while taking orders from a transparent female artificial intelligence. It's such an imitation that's almost off-putting at first, but it ends up becoming its own beast when it boils down to core mechanics.
Rather than adopt the sandbox mechanics and wide open spaces of Halo, the game wisely focuses on a more streamlined run-and-gun approach to its gameplay. Seemingly blind enemies will wander into your path and rarely attempt any strategic manoeuvre, only posing a threat in great numbers. It's more akin to Doom or Quake than anything deeper, with a set of distinguishable but basic enemy types that require basic strafing to kill as they rush or fire projectiles at you.
While the firefights are straightforward, there's a formidable arsenal to back it up; assault rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and sniper rifles can be selected, and all have a considerable presence when firing and are always satisfying to use. However, the list is somewhat unbalanced: the shotgun (and later an alien blaster) can down pretty much anything at close range, rendering the array of other weapons practically useless. An additional paralysis attack will hardly be used as a result, and you'll only whip out the pistol when enemies cinematically hold you by the scruff of the neck for a short-lived but exhilarating face-to-face encounter.
The lack of weapon balance and enemy intelligence renders the game rather easy, and thanks to a linear series of stages, incredibly straightforward. Enemy onslaughts are catered well to their design, often tasking you with clearing areas before progressing or holding off waves, but the variety arrives in throwing you new environmental dangers, such as leaking steam pipes, asteroid showers or busted air locks. It breaks up the action further with simplistic laser puzzles to open crates. There's even a hint of platforming from time to time.
While none of the levels are stellar in design or particularly noteworthy in content, they're always solidly paced and constantly engaging thanks to excellent controls. The controls are undoubtedly the best seen for the genre on the iPhone, with movement that isn't mapped to a particular on-screen stick, and weapon changes performed with a handy swipe of an icon. Movement is done with precision and a comfortable sense of speed, which add to the empowerment given to you by the satisfying weaponry.
It's also excellently produced: although areas can often be empty, the visuals never fail to impress, especially with its flawless framerate, and it's surrounded by a roaring orchestral score during heated battles. The only downsides are the uninteresting story and the quality of the voice work, which is generally favourable but occasionally grating, especially when it comes to the obnoxious lead character that's clearly aiming for that brash Halo flavour.
The campaign is comfortably short, lasting a swift three to four hours, and is designed with replayability in mind as the achievements show. There's also multiplayer support through Gameloft Live, which features five solidly designed stages offering online play with up to three others. Thanks to some better balancing it's here that the weaponry really shines, but the mode lacks any of the customisation, experience systems or incentives that make modern first-person shooters such as Halo or Modern Warfare so compulsive to play, which is a shame considering it controls so wonderfully.
There is no doubt that N.O.V.A. is a solidly constructed first-person shooter, especially when you consider the touch-only qualities of the platform. Its level and enemy designs play to the strengths of the straightforward but highly adept control scheme, and despite lacking length or challenge, it doesn't stop it becoming an enjoyable experience. It's a game that shows off what the iPhone is capable of, and even though it lacks many of Halo's finer qualities, you'll be satisfied by the end product.
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