N.O.V.A.: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance review

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Let’s tackle the hulking great elephant in the room first shall we? N.O.V.A. isn’t just a lot like Halo, it’s exactly like Halo. Gameloft hasn’t so much taken inspiration from Bungie’s intergalactic epic as it has swiped a blueprint.

The Master Chief has been replaced by the Commander, the AI guide Cortana has been replaced by Yelana and the Halo’s entire menagerie of foes has been copied and pasted, beast for beast from lumbering Brute-like titans and sinewy sharp shooting Elite wannabes to diminutive Grunt types that attempt to swarm you in that all too familiar way.

But it doesn’t end there. The locations, the music, the weapons, even the objectives and scenarios themselves have been sliced out wholesale from Halo and re-imagined here in pocket sized form. Wherever Halo comes up short on ideas, N.O.V.A. merrily steals them from elsewhere, dipping liberally into the likes of Dead Space and Resistance: Fall of Man for various scenes.

Playing as retired marine Kal Wardin, you are coerced back into the armed services by the intergalactic marine corps when a starship orbiting the colony New Ceres ceases communications amid fears of an alien attack.

Cue a spiralling space opera where zero gravity capers on the exterior of a spaceship during an asteroid storm, (a la Dead Space) and desperate starship escapes while the self destruct clock counts down (thanks to Halo) are topped off with a host of other stolen scenes.

The thinly veiled plagiarism is crass in its execution, but what is evident is that the team that worked on N.O.V.A. does at least have exceptional taste. By cherry picking Halo’s best bits and using its tight design as a template, Gameloft has crafted a first person shooter on the iPhone that is both balanced and high on eyebrow raising spectacle.

That’s the game’s first achievement. The fact that it actually manages to make it work on the iPhone with very little in the way of obvious concessions is its second feat. Make no mistake, N.O.V.A. is as good a handheld FPS as has ever been released to date.

Thanks to hard-won experience, Gameloft has finally managed to wrestle, not just a workable FPS control set-up out of the iPhone, but an accomplished one. The answer, it seems, is duel stick movement.

The left side of the screen features an analogue nub style object for movement, while the right side of the screen features a fire button that doubles as a free look input. This means you can aim while shooting simultaneously, turning this into a genuine run and gun affair, instead of a choppy stop and pop one. There is also the option to use any part of the right side of the screen to free look without firing, which also works brilliantly.

Many have tried and failed with this approach before, but here it’s responsive, sensitive and is finessed with an auto aim that, while generous enough to glaze over any inherent clumsiness in the iPhone’s interface, still demands a rewarding level of precision from the player. It’s hard to see where this control scheme could be improved on in future.

Visually, though unoriginal, N.O.V.A. is a startlingly pretty game. Smoke and steam billow out of the corners, shadows play dynamically on every surface and the detail never dips. On a 3GS, the game is particularly smooth, setting a new benchmark for the platform and providing Gameloft with a well deserved victory.

Besides the genuinely gripping 13 mission single player campaign, there is also local (WIFI and Bluetooth) and global multiplayer (WIFI) which are no doubt destined to become quite competitive, given how conducive the tight controls are to skilfully fought battles.

This rounds off a thoroughly impressive if shamelessly derivative package. N.O.V.A. has literally no ideas of its own, but it does have respect for the ideas it steals. Combined with the slick control set up and eye popping visuals, N.O.V.A. is easy to forgive as the best first person shooter to arrive on iPhone yet. Highly recommended.

Score – 4/5

About Marinas Fencers