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

NEWLY UPGRADED FOR iPHONE 4 with optimized graphics for the Retina display & gyroscope support for innovative controlling and aiming precision.

**IGN - Best Action Game of the Year: "A slam-bang action game that draws a new line in the sand"...


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Game of the Month, December 2009: NOVA

The rate of big new games ramped up again in December, and several of our favorite brands like Need for Speed, The Simpsons, and Pac-Man appeared in Must Have games. However, a new brand also emerged which was comfortingly familiar. That game is the Halo look-alike, NOVA.

We have no qualms with Gameloft putting out extremely high quality clones of our favorite games. After all, we couldn’t play Grand Theft Auto 3 or Diablo on our iPhone, but we could play Gangstar: West Coast Hustle and Dungeon Hunter (both of which took home Game of the Month honors). We may never see Halo on the iPhone, but we loved every minute of NOVA.

Combining a tight, varied single-player experience with a smooth online multiplayer experience is no easy task, and Gameloft should be commended for delivering this much value with two distinctly different modes. But we also noticed marked improvements over the last FPS from Gameloft, Modern Combat: Sandstorm. NOVA’s artificial intelligence is much improved, and we appreciated the variety of objectives that keep the story moving.

Our runner-up for Game of the Month, Need for Speed Shift, is no slouch, either. The Need for Speed series is top of the line, and Shift gives players the option of making it an aggressive, combative racer, or a precise, professional one. The gorgeously rendered vehicles and thumping licensed beats (like “Wegue Wegue”) make this one of the best driving games available.

We hope you get a chance to try out these magnificent games, or some of our other Must Have titles from December 2009, like Jungle Style Pinball, Glyder 2, and Avatar. Now, let’s see what January brings.

Reviews

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

Gameloft won lots of well-deserved praise for Modern Combat: Sandstorm, the game we considered to be the best single-player first person shooter on the iPhone. With N.O.V.A., based on the same engine and using many of the same gameplay mechanics, they have topped themselves. Taking obvious inspiration from the Halo series, N.O.V.A. smooths over many of the rough edges of Modern Combat and adds a few shiny new elements to the mix as well.

The single-player mode is composed of 12 levels, plus a brief tutorial. In each level, you’re directed through a series of short objectives, with checkpoints saving your progress along the way. The levels take between 15 and 20 minutes apiece to complete, bringing the campaign mode to around three and a half hours. Not bad, considering that you’re kept busy completing such a vast array of objectives that fatigue never has a chance to settle in.

Careful, you’ll catch a death of cold.

The controls are as tight as ever, although we’re a little disappointed that you don’t have the option to remove the fire button from the screen. There’s no tap-anywhere-to-shoot option, as there is in Modern Combat and Eliminate Pro. But with three control choices and drag-anywhere buttons, rest assured that you’ll be able to find a setup that fits your style.

One major improvement over Modern Combat is that the enemies in N.O.V.A. have AI. They always spawn in the same place, but now they’ll follow you all over the map, attack intelligently, and even react to your attacks. There aren’t as many different enemy types as we would have hoped, but each type is suitably different from the others.

Get some!

Also, the gameplay is nicely varied, which keeps things fresh. One level has you trekking around a spaceship, working your way down a corridor on the outside of the ship. You have to move quickly from room to room so you don’t run out of oxygen. Other levels have you traversing large open spaces on alien planets or manning turrets to mow down oncoming hordes. Ammo crates can only be accessed by completing “direct the beam” minigames that escalate in difficulty as you progress.

Many people are interested in this game for its multiplayer mode, and with good reason. First off, it has none of the problems plaguing Modern Combat. Matches are easy to enter, and our game hasn’t crashed once when trying to access one. Five multiplayer maps are available, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There’s a good variety of terrain between them, and each one requires a different strategy for success.

Purple, the official color of evil alien civilizations.

Four players can compete at a time, and there are no teams, so everyone is always trying to kill everyone else. To help you succeed, powerups and weapons are strewn around the maps. There are health packs, damage boosters, and items that increase the height of your jump, among others. The weapon variety is nice, but often the more obscure weapons (like the plasma gun and sniper rifle) are cumbersome to use in hectic firefights, at least at first.

Annoyingly, each time a multiplayer match ends, you’re booted out of Gameloft Live. To keep playing, you have to sign in again and find a new match. And after playing Eliminate Pro, in which you can level up your character and purchase new weapons and armor, we find the lack of character continuity between matches somewhat disappointing, but it’s still a very enjoyable mode that adds lots of replay value to the game.

Overall, N.O.V.A. is a smart purchase that you can’t go wrong with. If you’ve never played an iPhone FPS before, you’re in for a treat. If you’re already an expert FPS marksman, this game adds enough new features to keep things interesting. We definitely recommend you pick this one up.

Previews

NOVA Updated Hands-On Preview and Video

NOVA, Gameloft’s answer to Halo, has come a long way since we first played it at Apple’s 9/9/09 press conference. The game’s later levels now look a lot sharper, including a snowy sniper scene and crawl through a claustrophobic ship’s corridor. While we didn’t get to try out the game’s online multiplayer, we can now confirm that it will be in the final game.

NOVA stands for New Orbit Vanguard Alliance, the space army that protects a human race which can no longer live on an uninhabitable Earth. You play as Karl Wardin, a former NOVA soldier who now works as a bounty hunter. Karl is forced to enlist again after a ship is lost in space, with no communication with the crew.

In what Gameloft calls their “space opera”, you’ll explore diverse areas like a jungle colony, a spaceship under siege, and an alien city. There will be ten levels in the single-player game, with five different environments.

In addition to an arsenal of half a dozen weapons, like the conventional assault rifle, pistol, and shotgun, you’ll also have access to a rocket launcher, plasma rifle, sniper rifle, and fragmentation grenades. Later in the game Karl will gain psychic powers that let him freeze enemies and move fast enough to slow down time. These extra powers will also drain a little bit of life, so you can’t completely rely on them.

Like we saw in our first encounter with the game, enemies seem to move in small gangs, with little grunts often supporting a bigger leader. You ignore any of them at your peril– focus too much on the little guys, and the leader may make his way over to you, and pick you up. Your only recourse at this point is to empty your pistol clip into his face from point-blank range.

Additionally, the alien enemies in NOVA should move with a bit more aggression than the terrorists in Modern Combat: Sandstorm, Gameloft’s last first-person shooter. While Modern Combat was more about taking cover, you’ll find yourself a lot more mobile when engaging the aliens in NOVA. After all, you can’t circle-strafe a terrorist, but it’s no problem when fighting swarms of aliens.

A few other notable additions to the single-player game that were new to us include a jump button (missing in Modern Combat), a boss battle against a big mechanical spider, and a hacking minigame to break into ammo boxes around the levels. In these minigames, you have to solve a quick puzzle that requires you to bounce a laser beam into locks using mirrors and splitters.

The levels we played introduced some great variety, like a climactic battle in the jungle colony where you have to break crystals to stop an enemy assault, and a few moments in the ongoing ship battle where you have to man a mounted machine gun. The game is also looking very sharp, with much more visual polish and a smoother frame rate than we saw back in September.

What everyone wants to know about is how the multiplayer mode will play. Well, we didn’t get to try it ourselves, but Gameloft did tell us that NOVA will feature local and online deathmatch over wi-fi. It’ll also have two player Bluetooth deathmatch.

There are three multiplayer maps planned– a ship, jungle, and bunker level– and we’re told they’re smaller levels, with a focus on verticality. You’ll also have to pick up health, ammo, and weapons in the levels. The producer compared the fast feel to that of Quake or Unreal. Worldwide leaderboards will also be included.

Lots of people are excited to see a good Halo clone on the iPhone, and our close encounter with NOVA now has us counted among them. Even if the online multiplayer isn’t as expansive as, say, Eliminate Pro, the single-player storyline, with its hulking alien monsters and mind-controlling “xenobiotics” (whatever those are) looks like a lot of fun. NOVA will be out later this month.

Previews

NOVA Hands-On

At the Apple Press Event yesterday, Gameloft presented a very familiar-looking sci-fi first-person shooter. Like many of their recent “unofficial remakes” of games like GTA3, Call of Duty 4, Soulcalibur, and Diablo, NOVA looks and plays a lot like a popular game series. This time, it’s Halo.

We got some hands-on time with the game after Wednesday’s Press Event, at a backstage demo. All five weapons were unlocked: a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, and plasma cannon.

We played through the first part of the jungle level shown in the stage demo. It starts with your dropship leaving you on a grassy landing next to a lush waterfall. Immediately we were greeted by knee-high, triangular shaped aliens, just like in Halo. Later on, we fought bulkier, muscular aliens, and one round tank creature.

The game controls just like the recently-reviewed Modern Combat: Sandstorm, with a movement analog stick on the left and a free-look activated by touching the screen. Grenades are activated with an icon in the upper-right, like in Modern Combat.

A slider on the bottom lets you switch between weapons, and a blue energy shield at the top lets you know how close you are to death. Just like Master Chief’s, this shield recharges if you spend a few moments out of the line of fire.

After only a few enemy encounters of increasing size, the jungle level ends. A space marine in blue armor remarks on your ability to make it so far. And just like in Halo, this marine is wearing armor that could be Spartan in origin.

NOVA is still several months away, but we are told the game will have wireless and Bluetooth deathmatch and team multiplayer, plus 3.0 features like push notification, iPod access, and voice chat.

If you did a double-take on that last feature, you’re not alone. Why would you need voice chat if the game features only local wifi and BT multiplayer? Clearly NOVA has online multiplayer in the works as well, which makes a lot of sense, if they’re really copying the Halo playbook.

Overall we liked the controls and visuals in NOVA a lot. What we’re not convinced of yet is that the story will be interesting, or that the level designs will go any further than a surface-level copy of Halo’s maps. We’re still waiting to see any one aspect that really sets NOVA apart. Maybe it’ll be in the multiplayer, which we still haven’t played.

While we’re disappointed at Gameloft’s apparent lack of creativity, at least their execution and production values seem solid. NOVA will be available this holiday season.