As part of our 50 Best Game Series on iOS, we’ve covered Modern Combat and Dungeon Hunter, both Gameloft knock-offs of popular console and PC franchises. Gameloft’s sincere flattery extends to the Halo series, which they have reverse-engineered like a piece of alien technology, bringing their own epic sci-fi first-person shooter series to mobile devices.
N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance
We received our first hands-on demo of N.O.V.A. at Apple’s 9/9/09 press conference, and right away we could tell that this was more than just another console clone. At the time, there was nothing nearly as epic as Halo on iOS devices, so we think Gameloft made the right decision in launching before any established brands could gain a foothold on the App Store. N.O.V.A. used the same control scheme as Modern Combat, but instead of terrorists, you had to fight aliens, and you fought with plasma rifles instead of machine guns. N.O.V.A. is more than just a reskin of Modern Combat, though– the first N.O.V.A. featured intelligent enemy behavior (they’d work together to try to flank you or flush you out of cover), plus wildly varied story missions and a sizable multiplayer mode.
Key Quote: “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.”
N.O.V.A. 2 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance
For the sequel to N.O.V.A., everything had to be bigger and badder. N.O.V.A. 2’s visuals were updated to take advantage of the iPhone’s Retina display, introduced in late 2010. Mission variety became more important as well, with huge set-piece battles taking place on foot, in a jeep, or even in a giant mech. N.O.V.A. 2 also added hidden credits that you could collect to upgrade your alien weaponry, and the multiplayer deathmatches were bumped up to ten players online at a time. N.O.V.A. 2 was a strong follow-up for a series that already stood out among the best shooters on the mobile platform.
Key Quote: “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.”
N.O.V.A. 3 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance
By 2012, there were several new shooters cropping up on the App Store, like Shadowgun and Epoch, so N.O.V.A. 3 made a slight course correction. Instead of neon-colored alien worlds, N.O.V.A. 3 featured slightly grittier, more realistic graphics, like the ruins of San Francisco after an alien invasion. The visuals were significantly upgraded, and stood up well next to Unreal Engine games like Infinity Blade 2, but with more freedom of movement. Even better, you could hop into vehicles and pilot them around in 12-person deathmatches, just like Halo. The only downside were some slight bugs, but even those couldn’t mar the thrill of this ultimate iOS first-person shooter.
Key Quote: “Even if N.O.V.A. 3 didn’t have such appealing visuals, we’d still flip for the action. Gameloft’s level designers are experts at keeping up the momentum, and in the single-player mode you’ll race from one over-the-top shootout to the next.”
Tomorrow, we’ll cover the history of the most popular iOS series of the last five years: Angry Birds.
This article is part of a series about the best games on iOS, 2008-2013. You can read the rest here.