Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. franchise has always been seen as an unashamed Halo ripoff. However, the developer knows what they’re doing, and the games have always been fun to play, despite the obvious influences. This time around, in N.O.V.A. 3, the game visually borrows a great deal from Crysis 2. Kal Wardin’s suit has been revamped in the style of the Nanosuit, and the guns and HUD have been retooled with a Crysis influence. You even start the game out in a city environment, heavily recalling the urban warfare of Crysis 2.
Longtime series hero Kal Wardin is called to “Old San Francisco” back on long-abandoned Earth in this sequel, to fight lots of alien baddies. You’ll start out on Earth but work your way through various planets, including the Volterite’s homeworld.
Once you get past the visual similarities, you’ll find that N.O.V.A. 3 has quite a lot to offer. The game’s controls are as good as it gets for first-person-shooters on an iPhone, which is to say they are hardly easy to use, but are the most well-optimized I’ve played on a smartphone. After an hour or so of playing, you’ll understand the controls’ complexities and they will (mostly) be a non-issue.
There are 10 missions in the game, each lasting roughly a half hour to 60 minutes. If you do the math, that’s a pretty large campaign for an iPhone game, or a FPS in general. The robust multiplayer only adds to the value of this game. In our tests, the multiplayer was not only very fun (despite the aforementioned control issues, but in multiplayer everyone has them so the playing field is leveled), but well-designed and quite addictive. It’s very easy to jump right into a match, with plenty of people playing and multiple modes. Each match can hold up to 12 players, which is increased from N.O.V.A. 2‘s 10 player matches. In my time in multiplayer, I didn’t encounter too much cheapness going on, and all of my deaths were for the most part fair. It was humorous, however, to see all the new players trying to figure out the control scheme- with their player models running around looking at the ceiling or floor before getting blown straight to hell with a rocket launcher.
There are other standard tools of destruction as well, such as the standard-issue assault rifle, sniper rifle, Quake-style grenade gun, and shotgun. Kal also has the ability to slow time, which is very useful in single-player. You can aim down your sights, and the game will auto-focus on enemies, but I found this function to be more trouble than it was worth, with my play style mostly consisting of running and gunning while strafing. I appreciated the thought that Gameloft put into the control design, such as a left thumbstick that appears wherever you put your left thumb on the screen. The only constant issue I had was that the fire button just seemed too small. I had to constantly look at the bottom right of the screen, especially in multiplayer, to make sure I would fire when I wanted to. There’s few things more frustrating than lining up a perfect rocket launcher shot and losing the opportunity due to slightly missing the fire button.
Despite these small issues, N.O.V.A. 3 is an extremely fun, addictive first person shooter, and may well be the best FPS on the App Store. It’s also one of the best-looking, with a very impressive graphics engine and framerate. It just seems that the more advancements that are made on the mobile front, the more I yearn for a console-style controller I can plug into my smartphone. Touch screen are great for Temple Run and Fruit Ninja, but they were just not made for this sort of advanced gameplay. Until that day, though, N.O.V.A. 3 will reign as the supreme lord of the smartphone FPS. You can pick up N.O.V.A. 3 on the App Store for $6.99, and you’ll soon have the opportunity to buy it on the Android Market.