Updated: N.O.V.A. 2 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance Review

N.O.V.A. 2 received an update that adds the ability to buy a map pack that gives you three additional multiplayer maps. If you’re a fan of the game’s multiplayer component, this is an in-app purchase you’ll definitely want to pick up.

The three maps included offer a healthy variety of terrain on which to have your fragging and flag-capturing fun. Graphically and structurally, all three fit right into the N.O.V.A. universe, which is to say they wouldn’t look at all out of place in the Halo series.

One map, Acquarius Beach, is a huge fort situated on a beach that will look familiar if you’ve gone through the single-player campaign. The beach part offers a trench and several big rocks to hide behind, while the fort contains a dark basement, wide-open rooms, windows, and a multi-level roof, where you’ll find a sniper rifle and a view of the beach. Since this is a large map, it’s best to play with as close to 10 other people as possible.

Icy Bridge is a map that’s a lot longer than it is wide. The map’s lower level has a solid floor that runs the length of the structure, while the upper level is composed mostly of smaller platforms connected by jump pads and relatively thin bridges. Also, on this map you can fall to your death.

The last map, Floating Rocks, is a smaller metallic structure almost like an airy parking garage, with more vertical space and lots of ramps, jump pads, and weapon pick-ups.

One of the cool new additions in these maps is that some of the bridges and sections of the floor are made of energy fields that you can stand on, but also shoot (and be shot) through. This adds an interesting dynamic to matches and adds a disadvantage to anyone trying to get splash damage with a rocket launcher. Overall, the new maps are carefully constructed multiplayer arenas, and they’re well worth a download for anyone interested in going once more into the firefight.

When the original N.O.V.A. came out last year, it was the premier first-person shooter on the iPhone. It had better graphics, a more impressive multiplayer mode, and more varied gameplay than anything else on the App Store. Since its release, however, the FPS crown has been passed around to other games that outdid it in one way or another. Now N.O.V.A. 2 has launched, seeking to take back the crown and restore honor to the N.O.V.A. name. So has it?

Hell yes it has.

N.O.V.A. 2 is the prettiest of Gameloft’s offerings to date, with bright colors and gorgeous textures everywhere you look. Each level brings something new to the table, whether it’s the organic purple structures on the alien planet or the astonishing water effect you’ll see in the jungle streams. On a Retina display in particular, this game is a beauty to behold.

Locked and loaded.

The gameplay is no slouch either. The single-player campaign consists of 12 chapters packed to the brim with action set-pieces. You’ll place turrets to defend generators from waves of enemies, you’ll cross treacherous terrain on foot, you’ll pilot a giant mech, you’ll man a turret in an on-rails jeep level… And just when you think they’ve run out of ideas, they drop you in a puzzle minigame to unlock a door. The only thing we’d like to see is a more interesting story. The plot seems tossed together simply to provide the glue to put one level after another.

But for the most part you’ll be too busy fragging enemies to notice the storyline. And the enemies are smart in N.O.V.A. 2. They dive behind cover when you shoot at them, or bombard you with missiles, or hack at you with melee attacks as the situation requires. New, tougher baddies appear this time around, too, including a particularly crafty breed equipped with Predator-like cloaking shields and telekinetic powers. Thankfully, the controls are as tight as ever and you’re armed to the teeth with both human and alien weaponry.

Purple is back in a big way.

This time around they’ve also added some customization to the mix. In each stage you find hidden credits that you can spend on upgrades between levels. These upgrades are of the traditional sort that let you increase your health or the size of your guns’ magazines. Unfortunately, the credits we earned in our playthrough were only enough to buy three of the 10 or so upgrades. We like the idea of character progression through the campaign, but we’d like to earn enough credits to progress a little further next time around.

Of course, the single-player campaign is only half of the experience in N.O.V.A. 2. The multiplayer mode offered here is bigger and better than ever. You get 10 maps, five modes, and 10-player matches. Each map is suitably different from the others, so you’re bound to find a few that cater to your particular shooting style. Wide open maps are great for sniping, but the vertical levels with lots of jump pads are better for close-quarters combat. Like in Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus, the 10-person multiplayer matches are incredibly exciting because there’s almost always someone in front of you to shoot at.

Seeing red.

You also level up and unlock new weapons as you make kills in multiplayer mode, which gives you an incentive to keep coming back for more. And if you played the first N.O.V.A. online, you get a little bit of a head start, with 400 experience points as a ‘thank you’ from Gameloft.

So undoubtedly N.O.V.A. 2 is a great game. The biggest complaint we can really level at it is that it’s not a significant leap beyond Modern Combat 2. Sure, the games vary in setting and details, but their major gameplay features are largely similar. It would be nice if each new Gameloft FPS pushed the envelope even further. Again, both games are at the top of our list for best iPhone FPS, so this isn’t a major complaint. But if you played Modern Combat 2, nothing here will blow your socks off. If the original N.O.V.A. is the last iOS FPS you’ve played, then you’ll find this sequel to be better in just about every way.

As far as shooters on the iPhone go, N.O.V.A. 2 nails it. It has an exciting single-player campaign mode that will keep your heart pumping from start to finish, along with one of the best multiplayer modes we’ve seen on an iOS first-person shooter so far. It may not be a huge step forward for Gameloft, but that doesn’t diminish their achievement. N.O.V.A. 2 rules.

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