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.

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