N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance

N.O.V.A. is a first person shooter brought to you by Gameloft, which has been known for making portable clones of popular console games. It’s very reminiscent of Halo, not just in gameplay, but in story as well: In the future, people live on huge orbiting satellites, which band together to form the Near Orbit Vangaurd Alliance. An alien race known as Xenos hijack a marine ship and threaten the alliances safety. It is up to you, a retired marine forced back into duty, to combat the alien scum.

The gameplay is like any other first person shooter, get from point A to point B and kill anything that moves in between. There is a little arrow to guide you in the right direction, ensuring you go the right way.  Instead of relying on health packs, your health regenerates when you are not under fire, ala Halo. There are six guns in all you can acquire, plus grenades, all standard FPS fare. You also have he option to sacrifice a portion of your life to paralyze opponents if you get overwhelmed.  To give you a break from blasting enemies, periodically there are computer hacking mini-games where you have to reflect beams of light into photoreceptors to acquire ammo in crates or open locked doors. These puzzles are usually pretty easy to complete. There are also certain levels where you can operate turrets, both on land and in the back of a car. Each level of the story mode can be replayed once it is beaten. There are also certain achievements that can be unlocked, such as beating a level on hard with only the pistol. There is also online and local bluetooth deathwatch for up to four players, which is impressive.

One concern of everyones with iPhone first person shooters is the controls. Well, Gameloft got it right here, and the controls couldn’t be better. There are three different control schemes, a lefty-swap option, and a sensitivity slider. Each virtual button can be repositioned anywhere on the screen, wherever you find to be most comfortable. There is a virtual analog pad for movement in the bottom left corner, and sliding your finger anywhere around the screen allows for camera movement and aiming. The fire button is in the bottom right corner, and there are buttons for weapon select and grenades in the upper right. The paralyze shock button is above the move stick on the left hand side. The controls are very smooth and there is a little bit of auto aim thrown in to make it easier to target enemies, which you can turn on and off.

The graphics in this game are stunning. The environments and weapon models are very detailed. The enemies are a little chunky looking, but we will assume this is just how the Xeno alien race looks. Everything looks polished, and there are lots of nice reflective surfaces. The developers put a lot of detail into the visuals. The sound is also quite excellent. The in game score is good, and there is voice acting whenever the characters talk to accompany on screen text from your AI assistant. There is a music button in the upper left that allows you to replace the in-game score with songs and playlists stored on your iPhone, accessible anytime. I had a little bit of trouble with this feature, as it seems a bit buggy. Certain artists would play the wrong song, but others worked fine. This is something that Gameloft can easily fix in the next update.

My only concern about this game is that I suspect it was developed with the iPhone 3G or 3Gs in mind.  I reviewed this game on an original iPhone, and it had its fair share of lag and slowdown, especially when there was a lot of action onscreen.  It is most definitely still playable on the iPhone- I still had an enjoyable playing experience. I just wish it ran a little smoother, as some parts were very difficult for me when the game starts to chug. The online multiplayer is an awesome feature, but nearly unplayable on the original iPhone because of the slowdown.

Overall, N.O.V.A. is an extremely well made first person shooter, the best I’ve played so far on the iPhone. The game oozes with high production values and screams quality.  However, be ready for slowdown frustration if you are playing on an original iPhone, this was the only major thing keeping the game from earning 5 stars. But if you are a fan of first person shooters, look no further, this is the FPS killer app.

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