N.O.V.A. Micro-Review: Say “Halo” to iPhone's New Shooter

Following their hit military-themed FPS iPhone app Modern Combat: Sandstorm, Gameloft reloads and sets its sites on an all new threat-aliens!-in sci-fi fragger N.O.V.A.

As with their aforementioned Call of Duty clone, Gameloft's latest shooter borrows from the best; while it's unlikely we'll see Master Chief's shiny green armor splash across the iPhone's slick display anytime soon, N.O.V.A. offers the next best thing.

Loved
Hand-held Halo: Give any of N.O.V.A.'s screenshots even a passing glance, and it's immediately obvious where the developers gleaned their inspiration. From its Brute-like baddies to a sidearm that'd look right at home in Master Chief's holster, this one's busting with Halo call-outs. Dig a bit deeper and you'll discover Warthog-wannabe vehicles and an intel-reporting cyber-hottie that shares more than a passing resemblance with a certain blue-beamed babe from Bungie's franchise. Whether you see these similarities as respectful tributes or blatant ripoffs, you'll be hard pressed to deny their appeal; coupled with amazing audio, visuals, animations and effects-weapon reloads are a highlight-they complement one of the platform's most polished and engrossing experiences.

Lock, Load, Touch: Supporting N.O.V.A.'s excellent presentation are rock solid controls that keep things simple, satisfying, and super intuitive. A responsive virtual pad moves your character, while finger-swiping the screen controls the camera and your cross hairs. Additionally, a well balanced aim-assist ensures you'll plug plenty of alien menaces between the eyes without ever feeling like the game's doing it for you. Tossing grenades, using stasis power (Maybe the devs played some Dead Space, too?), and jumping also feel natural and never frustrating. While the Wii still struggles to find the FPS sweet spot with its unconventional controls, it seems the iPhone has already mastered this challenge.

Hated
Head-shot to Originality: From it's generic name, which stands for Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, to its forgettable sci-fi story, N.O.V.A. feels a bit uninspired. Objectives, such as activating computer terminals and clearing rooms of bad guys before proceeding, are things we've been doing for years. And, despite their stunning visuals, the levels continuously sting with deja vu as you trek across catwalks and ride elevators in familiar-feeling space stations. Although its production values are top notch and its gameplay engaging, N.O.V.A. sometimes feels like it fell off the "sc-fi shooter" assembly line.

While N.O.V.A. benefits by cribbing from some of the best console shooters, it also sticks too closely to many of the genre's growing-stale conventions. Still, its excellent gameplay and polished presentation easily make it the premier FPS on the platform, and even a worthy competitor to the PSP's and DS's best shooters. A 13-chapter solo campaign-complete with three difficulty settings-and 4-player Wi-Fi and local multi-player also make it a steal at around seven space bucks.

N.O.V.A. was developed and published by Gameloft for iPhone on December 17th. Retails for $6.99. A code to download the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the game's campaign on medium, difficulty and participated in several multi-player matches over Wi-Fi.

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