N.O.V.A. 3 Hands-On Preview

We get hands-on with N.O.V.A. 3, Gameloft’s premier first person shooter for iOS…

UPDATE: NOVA 3 is out now! Read our review here.

It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since we jumped into the shiny metal boots of space marine Kal Wardin. N.O.V.A. 3 was originally due at the tail end of 2011 (a year after N.O.V.A. 2), but was kept back so Gameloft could make it their best FPS so far. With Modern Combat 3 pushing the envelope – particularly in the graphics and multiplayer stakes – they were keen to attempt to one-up even that.

The game takes place shortly after N.O.V.A. 2 and seems to involve some storyline about an assassinated President, and the search for an ancient artefact. But who cares about story, we’re here to kick-ass and take alien names!

The first level we were shown took place back home on earth, in San Francisco. After meeting up with a squad of troops, it wasn’t long before we were engaged in a fire-fight with the enemy Voltarites. Being set in a city it felt a little like the opening level to Modern Combat 3 (though it’s not created by the same Montreal development team inside Gameloft), and a lot more open, expansive, and less claustrophobic than previous N.O.V.A’s. Much of this of course is nothing more than a visual trick, with much of the environments cordoned off by physical barriers, such as rubble, crevasses and forcefields.

Gameloft don’t seem to have added anything off-the-wall or new in terms of gameplay, and have instead focussed on delivering what fans of N.O.V.A. have come to expect, and enhancing it with bigger and better production values.

The game seemed more focussed on FPS action this time around, rather than trying to shoehorn in any multi-touch style mini-games. It’s not confirmed that there are none of these, but I didn’t experience any of the weapons storage puzzle-sections that appeared in the previous games. Instead, there seemed to be more objective like sections – for instance, making your way to the top of a building, and keeping the enemy at bay while your AI-controlled team get the power system online.

Unlike stealth-based shooters, there is no crouching or cover taking available to you, so it’s much more about running and gunning your way through the enemy horde. Gameloft have added iron sights though (previous NOVA’s didn’t), which allows you to get a better aim on distant foes.

Like many Gameloft action titles, N.O.V.A. 3 does feature QTE-like sections (Quick Time Events). However, there is more interaction involved than a few touch gestures. These allow for more choreographed set pieces to increase the cinematic feel. So, for example, you may leap through a door in slow-mo, and take out all the enemies by tapping on them.

While the opening does begin with earth, you’ll also visit other environments, including ice and lava themed planets. After playing through a few of the early earth levels, I was transported to some rocky/dessert-like levels (think Tatooine from Star Wars). This seemed to be some kind of prison planet, and as well as the usual Voltarites, there were also humanoids present to. Though I wasn’t sure whether these were friends or foes. The voltarites come in various sizes and types, and much like previous entries in the series there are flying ones, teleporting ones, strong brutish ones, and as our exclusive screenshot shows, hot lava ones!

As well as your typical weapons stash, including the assault rifle, shotgun, and RPG (Rock Propelled Grenade), there are also special items for Kal which give him abilities such as force push, and stun powers. I was able to freeze a giant brute on the spot, and satisfyingly took him out with an RPG.

Gameloft are forever improving their graphics engine to push iOS devices to their fullest potential, and N.O.V.A. 3  is no exception (No, it is not running on Unreal Engine 3 folks!). Environments and character models are full of detail, both in terms of geometry and texture work, and the action is super smooth.

The graphics engine is dual-core optimised, with dynamic lighting and shadows (though we didn’t see any character shadowing in this build). It boasts the largest draw distance yet – and for those with iPad 3′s, everything will be in crisp retina quality.

Now, this wouldn’t be a TouchGen preview without a comment on the voice work. The quality – or lack there of – of Gameloft’s voice acting is somewhat of legend now. Here it isn’t as jarringly bad as their past efforts. In fact what I heard was pretty standard game VO fare. Certainly not as bad, or in your face, as Gangstar Rio. Here’s a sample: “Dip my peanuts in butter and throw me in jelly”… Nice!

The 10 levels of the single player campaign should last around 5 hours on hard or difficult mode, which I think is very reasonable considering the relatively low price of these games (generally $6.99).

Many iOS gamers will be happy to know that Gameloft have not chosen to go the freemium route with N.O.V.A. 3. And while there is some evidence of in-app purchasing available, it’s not required to finish the game. Instead, it is for those who get stuck and wish to add additional armour, grenades, claymors (though you can pick some of these items up as you progress) to give you a boost, or if you want to forgo the assault rifle in favour of an alien plasma gun from the start.

Perhaps the area where this game will get the most play is with its multiplayer offering. N.O.V.A 2′s multiplayer was crazy fun, and N.O.V.A. 3 promises to be even better. We didn’t get to experience it first hand (we should be getting another hands-on with that at a later date), but there are six game modes in all, across six maps. More importantly, they’ve upped the player count to 12.

With a setup more in-line with Modern Combat 3, you can customise the colour and texture of your character (you cannot play as the alien races, which is a shame), the class, weapons, perks, items, and add-ons – which can be unlocked as you rank up. These add-ons include faster reloads, extended magazines, chemical grenades, barrel enhancements, and perks such as shield regeneration – all of which can be saved as character pre-sets.

However, the gameplay is still very much in the same vein as Quake 3 arena or Unreal Tournament, with random weapon spawn points giving it a faster and more hectic experience.

New to multiplayer are vehicles. There have been vehicles present in the single player campaign, but never in the multiplayer too. Here you’ll be able to jump into an armoured buggy – in either the driving position, or jump on the back to man the gun. But, by far the coolest vehicle we saw, was the Mech – a big two-legged machine that looked a cross between a Scout-Walkers from Jedi, and the mechs in Avatar. Unfortunately we couldn’t grab any footage, or images of that in action… but we can’t wait to get our hands on one. And finally, jet packs are also available. I can’t wait to snipe some of you guys out of the sky!

Overall, we came away impressed with what we saw, and are hungry to get our hands on more – particularly the multiplayer. Expect N.O.V.A. 3 to hit the AppStore sometime in May (no exact date confirmed yet).

Stay tuned to TouchGen for more details as we get them. In the meantime don’t forget to check out our hands-on video of the game in action, below:

[UPDATE] Gameloft have posted this Multi-Player trailer, check it out:


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  • Travis

    Awesome! Really excited for vehicles!!

  • Novaro456

    The Mech vehicle was in NOVA 2 I believe

  • Mark

    yes, but only in the singleplayer.

  • Peterwhittington

    The video also shows you using a sprint button which I believe is a new feature ..

    This was a good read for my lunch break at work , thanks :)

  • Skarick

    Is there a Sniper Rifle ? And how many Gb is it?

  • nigelwood

    Won’t know how big the file is until its release.

  • nigelwood

    You’re right. That is new. :)

  • Bobby

    In multiplayer does your shield re-generate in a few seconds or do you have to find health packs? 

  • Matt Dunn

    This looks pretty good! Loving the ragdoll and lighting.

  • Ifu Shurtugal

    Hey i cant tell but is there a jump button still or is that gone? if there isnt a jump button then this game is just a futuristic mc3 game that disappoints me.

  • Jerryarthur

    This looks leaps and bounds better than Resistance: Burning Skies on the Vita, and that game costs 50 dollars. Gameloft will sell NOVA 3 for under 10 dollars, and it’s probably going to be a better game.

  • Skarick

    Yeah…i didnt see a jump button
    It looks like Modern Combat with aliens and futuristic guns
    oh and Kal looks like robocop
    i still like it :)

  • Djblack

    iPod 4G is dead :(

  • Ifu Shurtugal

     lmao it isnt dead dude. not until iPod 5G is released. which they are going too. it would have been released last year but then Steve Jobs died so everything got delayed.

  • Ifu Shurtugal

     :facepalm: its quite obvious what the size will be around. i say around 2gb considering the graphics and all the multiplayer content.

  • nigelwood

    I think there was a jump button

  • Jckenli19

    Does it have gyroscope aiming like Gameloft’s previous shooters? I find gyro aiming to be the best way to control touch screen FPSs so it would be disappointing if they took it out!

  • Ifu Shurtugal

     This right here is a dumb question. ofc it will.

  • nigelwood

    I played it with regular virtual stick controls, but I’m sure it will have gyro support. I personally couldn’t play a whole game like that, but you are right, it is a great control option.

  • Maxisoda

    I’d like to know if I will can play this game on my IPod 4G?

  • Skarick

    I hope theres one or it would look like a futuristic modern combat
    And just wondering….have you tried the sniper? is it good ?

  • nigelwood

    I don’t see why not. Can you play MC3 on it? If yes, then I’m sure you’ll have no problems.

  • nigelwood

    Didn’t try sniping, no. We only had an hour with the game.

  • Skarick

    oh ok :) well i think it will be good, its a big difference between the 2 and this one
    a new way to play
    i just hope its as fluid as N2 running on an iPod 4G, not as Mc3 :l

  • Guezcoast

    Looks awesome! After playing mc3 and shadow guns new updated graphics i was looking foward for another shooter with retina ready graphics. Getting it as soon as it hits the app store.

  • Wajalama

     Wtf makes you say that?? There are new games that are compatible with the 2nd and 3rd gen iPod Touches. iPod 4g is FAR from being dead.

  • Oceanridalbert

    1.57 Gigs

  • 해중 김

    What divice in gaming video?? ipad2 or ipad3

  • nigelwood

    iPad 3

  • bboypeter11

     so like 2.5?

  • christina thomas

    NOVA 3 is such a bada$$ game; my nephews can’t stop playing it. We hooked it up by hmdi to the 55 inch and the resolution still looks amazing! Games have come so far these days…