N.O.V.A. 3 Hands-On Preview and Video

Since Gameloft released Dungeon Hunter 3 as a freemium, casual action game last year, some of us have been slightly concerned that the N.O.V.A. series might get the freemium treatment as well. But don’t worry– not only is N.O.V.A. 3 a premium-priced, graphically-intensive action game like Modern Combat 3, but it also shares Modern Combat 3′s game engine and some of its gritty, war-torn atmosphere.

N.O.V.A. 3 kicks off with your character, Kal Wardin, in a surprising new location: Futuristic San Francisco. Having conquered alien planets and spaceships, Kal’s starting point may come at a surprise, and the realistic plazas, skyscrapers, and parking garages don’t look anything like N.O.V.A.’s brightly-colored sci-fi landscapes.

Gameloft’s updated graphics engine, which also powers Modern Combat 3, offers loads of visual tricks that make N.O.V.A. 3 appear incredibly realistic. You’ll see heat distortion blurring the scenery behind your gun barrel, and flecks of ash floating down from a burning skyscraper when you’re outside. Light reflects convincingly off your guns, and in the underground garage level, engine smoke drifted from under the hoods of abandoned cars.

These first few missions introduced NO.V.A. 3′s new gameplay mechanics bit by bit. For the first few seconds of gameplay in the tutorial, you only have to press the fire button before being able to move and look around on your own. You’ll also learn how to activate special powers, including a Jedi-like push move, time slowdown, and paralysis.

We also played a mission from two-thirds of the way through the game, where Kal finds himself on a desert-like penal colony planet called Boreas. In this level, giant sandstorms obscured your vision (and your enemy’s vision), making firefights even more frantic than usual.

As much fun as we had playing the single-player game, we suspect N.O.V.A. 3′s online multiplayer will continue to be the series’ big draw. Not only can you play with 12 players online in six different modes, but N.O.V.A. 3 will finally let you use vehicles in online combat. Stomping your opponents looks like it’ll be a lot more fun if you’re riding in a giant mech, jeep-like warbuggy, or jetpack.

Even though N.O.V.A. 3 will have optional in-app purchases for upgrades, Gameloft’s not turning the series into a freemium farm, and they haven’t forgotten about core gamers. Between the substantial single-player game, advanced graphics, and expanded multiplayer modes, we’ve got high expectations for N.O.V.A. 3 when it launches in May.

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