Gameloft throws caution to the wind and returns to what it does best… and there’s not a sniff of freemium in sight!
Campaign Mode review
I’m not entirely sure I can remember what happened in the last N.O.V.A, let alone the first one. But, N.O.V.A 3 continues the tale of Kal Wardin, a special-forces space-soldier-type dude, who keeps ending up in the wrong place and at the wrong time, with the burden to save mankind once again.
The game starts out in what’s referred to as old San Francisco – in scenes that many readers have said echoes that of Crysis 2 – on an Earth that has long been abandoned by the human race. It turns out that our female AI friend (with more than a passing resemblance to HALO’s Cortana) has acquired (or stolen) an ancient artefact that will allow the humans to terra-form Earth and make it habitable once again. This action has not only alerted the Judgers (trans-dimensional beings that police the universe) but also Human’s worse enemy, the Voltarites. Cue an action heavy romp through environments of Earth, prisons, alien ships, ice and lava planets, and the Voltarite home-world in a bid to save life itself.
Those of you familiar with the N.O.V.A series will be right at home here. The virtual dual stick controls – still the best example of a First Person Shooter touch-screen interface – work as good as ever, allowing you to take out the variety of enemies, while brandishing a bevy of weapons, with ease. Kal’s JEDI-like abilities make a welcome return too, allowing you to force push, freeze and slowdown enemies.
For once, and in a move that sees a coming of age for Gameloft, there are no gimmicky touch-based mini games. Similar to the Wii and it’s waggling, iOS games have felt the need to shoehorn in some-kind of touch interaction which – particularly in an intense shooters – does nothing more than slow down the action. The first N.O.V.A. featured these heavily, with puzzles to unlock weapons chests, and for hacking doorways. N.O.V.A. 3 features none of this. It’s a brave move from Gameloft, which sees them favouring the hardcore over casual gamers for once.
After-all, it’s action we want in our FPS’s, and in that regard N.O.V.A. 3 excels. From the first earth-based level the game doesn’t ease up. It’s probably the most intense shooter on iOS since Modern Combat 3′s campaign. The AI of enemies is still a little clunky, with it occasionally exhibiting silly Gears Of War 1-style oddities, such as enemy units taking cover with their backs to you in clear view. But the action is so intense that it’s forgivable. Taking huge cues from the HALO series – and a little bit of Metroid Prime – the majority of enemies are one of three types: grunts; elites; and brutes. There ferocity does increase as you progress, and Gameloft even re-skin the grunts as human prisoners for one of the chapters, but some of you may find the encounters and set pieces a little repetitive.
To counter this, Gameloft throw in a few vehicular-based sections. N.O.V.A. 2 had the pod-race-esque jet bike level, which, while fun, did feel a little tacked-on. N.O.V.A. 3 is no different in that regard, and in fact adds in more than one. I’m not a big fan of the on-rails Warthog-style sections, which see you manning a rear-mounted gun. This is primarily because for some reason the controls tighten up, making it hard to aim quickly (Tip: increase the sensitivity in the options menu for this section). However, new to N.O.V.A. is the mech, which is an absolute joy to control (this is also available in Multi-player). Stomping around the place and taking out enemy trucks, mechs and brutes with your front-mounted rocket-launcher and heavy machine-gun is great fun, and it works with essentially the same control set up as Kal himself.
To make more of the mech levels, and give the N.O.V.A. universe a grander sense of scale, Gameloft have crafted far larger environments this time around. Gone are the Metroid Prime-like corridor sections of N.O.V.A. 1, and there is less of a restrictive feel of N.O.V.A. 2. Instead, the levels feel more organic and natural than before. As with most Gameloft titles, markers are used to indicate where to go next. I’ve always had a problem with these, as they give a feeling of having your hand-held through-out the adventure. Sacred Odyssey was one of the worst culprits of this, and while they do feature in N.O.V.A. 3, they are less obstructive. At times you’ll need to use your own head to work out what to do next – again perhaps proving that Gameloft are taking things a little more seriously this time out.
One thing iOS gamers have come to expect from the N.O.V.A. series is the graphical grunt that pushes the iDevice of the time to their max. N.O.V.A. 3 – for the most part – does not disappoint in this regard. It looks absolutely fantastic, particularly with the scenery and textures. The lighting and draw distances are impressive too. However, the promised dynamic shadows seem to have made a swift exit. Other than those on objects and environments (which are usually baked-on), I didn’t see any shadows being cast off of characters, with just simple circular shadows on display instead. I was running this on iPad 3, and while the retina display is impressive, it’s clear Gameloft have not gone all-out with the graphical capabilities on offer, and instead have targeted the iPad 2 as the main device (which makes sense at this stage in the two devices life-cycles). Regardless of those small quibbles, N.O.V.A. 3 looks, and sounds streets-ahead of anything else on the AppStore right now.
Even the story has been given better attention. Like I said in the opening to this review, the stories in the first two games clearly didn’t have a lasting impression on me. Here though, and despite the usual hokey voice-acting we have come to expect from Gameloft, I actually was interested in where this story was going – it didn’t always feel like an excuse for the action.
There are a few gripes I have about the game, but they don’t affect the overall enjoyment. The first of these is the omission of crouching. The enemy can do it, so why can’t Kal? You can jump, and sprint this time round, but not being able to crouch and take cover feels limiting. The other is the way the weapons switch to the more powerful weapons automatically when you are out of ammo, or performing an action. If all you had left were these big weapons then that would be fine, but when your shotgun runs out and instead of switching to your assault rifle – which has plenty of ammo left – it switches to the RPG and you accidentally fire, it can be very annoying. Especially when you are trying to save those precious rockets for a special occasion.
So, has the year-and-a-half been worth the wait? Well, in terms of the campaign mode, hell yes. Like Stallone’s ‘The Expendables’ is to action movies, there is a nod and a wink to many of the premiere FPS’s in N.O.V.A. 3 – such as Metroid Prime, Halo 3 and Crysis. Gameloft have managed to capture elements of those games and cram them into a 5+ hour action spectacular, and all for much less than the price of a movie ticket.
As for the Multiplayer, well you can read that review here.