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.