Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Game Controls Rating:
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Gameloft are back with the biggest entry in their console-style FPS N.O.V.A. franchise yet, and I mean that literally: N.O.V.A. 3 is 1.57 GB of FPS action for iOS. Make sure to have some free space handy.
For those unfamiliar with the running storyline of the N.O.V.A. series, don't expect to know much of what's going on with established characters and plotlines. There's an gruff intergalactic super soldier named Kal Wardin who's known throughout the galaxy for his brave efforts, though he really just wants a day off, but he keeps getting caught in the middle of intergalactic warfare where he's the only one that can save the day. There's some typical FPS storyline stuff about evil aliens, Judgers, artifacts, terraforming, and a support AI in an inappropriately-dressed android form.
However, all that is really irrelevant when the general goal is "follow waypoint to objective, kill all who stand in the way." Occasionally a crystal needs to be put in a special slot, but it still follows the "connect the dots" objective formula. Along the way there are cutscenes to explain who, what, where, when and why Kal Wardin has to shoot at the next set of enemies, with occasional sequences in vehicles and giant walking robots. There's new weapons to pick up and new enemies to fight, as the game just rolls along to its destination.
N.O.V.A. 3 is definitely a looker. The details and visual effects are among some of the best on iOS. The game may not look as clean as Infinity Blade 2 does, but considering that this is an a live action game and not a collection of choreographed set pieces, it's a fair tradeoff. The game feels somewhat generic compared to the popular console and PC shooters it takes clear inspiration from – by my rough calculations, it's like 2 parts Halo, 1 part Call of Duty – but for a mobile game? It is remarkably impressive.
The online multiplayer, which follows a similar mix with weapons to pick up and player upgrades that can be earned, works extremely well. I jumped in to some 12-player games with presumably international players since it was before the US launch, and found the experience to still be extremely smooth. Sure, because of the fact that these are touchscreen controls, it feels kind of like the generic brand cola of online deathmatching (much as the whole game does), but the experience was far smoother than the console Halo games I was playing the night before. The whole experience feels awfully familiar, but that's thanks to the underlying tech being so impressive.
Controls are the issue here. Namely, there's just way too much going on. There are too many virtual buttons to use, and in the midst of a firefight, reliably trying to jump or use an ability then go back to firing, or aiming quickly at an enemy, it's just far too difficult. The auto-aim when zooming in on enemies will shut up any PC gamer who ever complained about the generous auto-aim in a console FPS. Weapon and ability switching may be conveniently swipe-based, but with more than two of each to switch to, it becomes inordinately difficult to figure out what is what in the heat of battle. Didn't Halo introduce a two-weapon system just to solve this very problem of weapon switching without keyboard and mouse? While the game's AirPlay Mirroring and display output support works well enough (the framerate does chug a bit when powered by the iPad 2 on a remote display, but on a positive note latency through AirPlay is minor), the controls are even more challenging to use when not looking at the screen.
N.O.V.A. 3's audience is clear: it's for the FPS fan who wants a big, console-style game on their iPhone or iPad, and is willing to tolerate some control issues in order to get that experience. It can feel corny at times with the way it shamelessly borrows elements from bigger, more established titles, but a lot of work has clearly been put into this to make it work as best as it can on mobile.
This is the demarcation point between consoles and mobiles. It's increasingly possible to get a big console-style game on mobile, but the inherent drawback of touchscreen controls and the lack of tactility are really the only aspects that hold N.O.V.A. 3 back. Those who are prepared to look past them are the ones that will have a great time with this.
N.O.V.A. 3 is scheduled to go live in the App Store at midnight tonight, at the link here: N.O.V.A. 3