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.