N.O.V.A. Micro-Review: Say “Halo” To iPhone's New Shooter

Following their hit military-themed FPS iPhone app Modern Combat: Sandstorm, Gameloft reloads and sets its sites on an all new threat-aliens!-in sci-fi fragger N.O.V.A.

As with their aforementioned Call of Duty clone, Gameloft's latest shooter borrows from the best; while it's unlikely we'll see Master Chief's shiny green armour splash across the iPhone's slick display anytime soon, N.O.V.A. offers the next best thing.

Loved Hand-held Halo: Give any of N.O.V.A.'s screenshots even a passing glance, and it's immediately obvious where the developers gleaned their inspiration. From its Brute-like baddies to a sidearm that'd look right at home in Master Chief's holster, this one's busting with Halo call-outs. Dig a bit deeper and you'll discover Warthog-wannabe vehicles and an intel-reporting cyber-hottie that shares more than a passing resemblance with a certain blue-beamed babe from Bungie's franchise. Whether you see these similarities as respectful tributes or blatant ripoffs, you'll be hard pressed to deny their appeal; coupled with amazing audio, visuals, animations and effects-weapon reloads are a highlight-they complement one of the platform's most polished and engrossing experiences.

Lock, Load, Touch: Supporting N.O.V.A.'s excellent presentation are rock solid controls that keep things simple, satisfying and super intuitive. A responsive virtual pad moves your character, while finger-swiping the screen controls the camera and your cross hairs. Additionally, a well balanced aim-assist ensures you'll plug plenty of alien menaces between the eyes without ever feeling like the game's doing it for you. Tossing grenades, using stasis power (Maybe the devs played some Dead Space, too?), and jumping also feel natural and never frustrating. While the Wii still struggles to find the FPS sweet spot with its unconventional controls, it seems the iPhone has already mastered this challenge.

Hated Head-shot to Originality: From it's generic name, which stands for Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, to its forgettable sci-fi story, N.O.V.A. feels a bit uninspired. Objectives, such as activating computer terminals and clearing rooms of bad guys before proceeding, are things we've been doing for years. And, despite their stunning visuals, the levels continuously sting with deja vu as you trek across catwalks and ride elevators in familiar-feeling space stations. Although its production values are top notch and its gameplay engaging, N.O.V.A. sometimes feels like it fell off the "sc-fi shooter" assembly line.

While N.O.V.A. benefits by cribbing from some of the best console shooters, it also sticks too closely to many of the genre's growing-stale conventions. Still, its excellent gameplay and polished presentation easily make it the premier FPS on the platform, and even a worthy competitor to the PSP's and DS's best shooters. A 13-chapter solo campaign - complete with three difficulty settings - and four-player Wi-Fi and local multi-player also make it a steal at around nine space bucks.

N.O.V.A. was developed and published by Gameloft for iPhone on December 17. Retails for $US6.99/$AU8.99. A code to download the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the game's campaign on medium, difficulty and participated in several multi-player matches over Wi-Fi.

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    Not bad for an iPhone game, methinks. I'd think FPS games on the iPhone would just be too frustrating for me to play. I just prefer the gamepad responsiveness of the triggers and joysticks. But kudos to the devs who take a shot on the genre, and I look forward to further efforts to establish the iPhone as a place where you can get an FPS-fix, handheld style.

    I agree with Josh - its one reason why i believe the iPhone will NEVER take off as a major gaming device. For small cheap Apps, yes. But not GAMES!

    I'm not declassifying iPhone apps/games as games. But some people should know where i'm coming from.

    It's exactly why i don't think many games will work well in motion-control, especially that of Natal with no real controller or buttons.

      The iphone is certainly already on its way to being a major gaming device, it’s already got a huge install base, a superb online distribution module and a who’s who of top notch developers are pretty much breaking down its doors to develop games for it. The iphone has the casual on the go app market in its pocket (pardon the pun). Because the iphone isn’t classified as a gaming device is no reason to take anything away from it. I think the Iphone hasn’t even found its legs yet with games, I think in the next year the games will get much better. You may not think the Iphone is a real competitor to anyone, but Sony doesn’t seem to think so the PSPgo was made for the sole purpose of cashing in on the iphones success, and last I heard that didn’t turn out too well.

      The fact is that the iphone is here to stay, it’s not like a n-gage or a gizmondo, it’s become a real player in the market.

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