Review - N.O.V.A 3

Posted on May 25, 2012 - 5:25pm

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The Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance games have always served as time capsules of mobile gaming. They are each the pinnacle of the platform’s abilities at the time of their release, giving players the best experience available as well as letting future gamers see how far we’ve come in retrospect.

I, along with tens of thousands of fellow fans, awaited the third installment of this franchise with eager anticipation for an agonizing seventeen months, which is quite a while considering how young the platform is. So does NOVA 3 continue the series’ legacy by creating another milestone in mobile gaming?

Hell yes.

In NOVA 3, you once again step into the high-tech armor of Kal Wardin, cliché space marine #406. After receiving an urgent message from his AI friend Yelena to return to Earth, he crash lands in the futuristic San Francisco. After a tutorial-filled battle with Volterite forces (an enemy alien race), Kal reunites with Yelena and Prometheus, also an AI. He promptly sends Kal on a galactic journey to hunt down numerous powerful artifacts before the Volterites can harness their power for themselves. Throw in some alliances, new and old, some banter, some mystery, and, of course, some action, and you’ve got a decent plot, though nothing to write home about.

Like most Gameloft games, NOVA 3’s story is large in scale, which makes it at least mildly interesting, but it is obviously there just to give you a reason to move from level to level. The characters, however, are actually pretty fun. Admittedly, most of them are fairly stereotypical, but they are still likable. On a few occasions, their dialogue even made me laugh out loud.

If one thing can be said for Gameloft, it’s that they know how to craft a shooter. It is the genre that they have had the most experience in; experience that is beautifully obvious from the first burst of ammunition to the final kill. This is because every aspect of NOVA 3’s combat is remarkably seamless, from the largest to the smallest scale.

The pacing of NOVA 3 overall is definitely the game’s biggest strength. The way you flow from firefight to firefight is amazingly fluid. The consistency of activity keeps you in the game, refusing to ever give you a good point to put it down. The lack of puzzles and frequent turret sections, which were quite common in its predecessors, also helps the game move without interruption. For the most part, it is straight-forward first-person shooting.

Throughout all of these hostile encounters, no two play exactly alike. Each fray is different through changing enemy types, distance, position, cover, etc., so it never feels repetitious. It is truly a commendable achievement in level design on Gameloft’s part. Too often shooters rely on lengthy bloodbaths, small areas where enemies just keep coming like a shooting gallery. Luckily NOVA 3 is above that, which leads to an overall more engaging game.

Your weapons are standard sci-fi shooter ware, including an assault rifle, pistol, shotgun, and rocket launcher. A few special weapons are also available, such as a alien plasma gun, grenade launcher, lightning gun, and flamethrower. Your suit compliments these by offering three unique powers. The freezing ability is helpful for paralyzing powerful enemies, the push ability is helpful for forcing foes out of cover, and the time-slowing power is helpful for feeling badass. Most shoot-outs will require the use of multiple weapons and powers as different enemies are best dealt with with certain weapons. The skill to combine the use of these in a smooth way leads to a brilliant experience that is simply a joy to play.

The new physics engine really shines in NOVA 3. The way your enemies react to your bullets, gravity, and their surroundings is very impressive for the platform, setting the standard for mobile shooters to follow. Sending an alien across the room with a power push and a shotgun blast is about as satisfying as it gets. Small moments like these add a “wow” factor to NOVA 3 that, while incredibly shallow, is undeniably enjoyable.

With all the great does come some bad, unfortunately. Bugs are surprisingly common throughout the single player, most of which consist of a door not opening when it should, forcing you to restart the checkpoint, or an enemy being able to shoot through the occasional wall. A lot of reviews focus heavily on these bugs, but they don’t significantly effect this score because I know that Gameloft will fix them very soon.

There are also a few problems with difficulty. First off, there is only one difficulty, which came as quite a surprise. To be fair, though, it is a pretty normal difficulty. Secondly, NOVA 3 gets very hard very quickly. A challenge is always a good thing, but not when its as sudden as it is in this case. Smoothing this out would greatly benefit the experience.

If you’re looking for a great mobile multiplayer, look no further than NOVA 3. While there are only six maps, they are all huge. From a multi-level base to an entire valley with numerous buildings in it, NOVA 3’s maps give you plenty of area for gunplay. Twelve player matches and battle-ready vehicles keep the frantic action of the series intact online despite these large spaces.

When it comes to game modes, NOVA 3 has all the staples with a few extra thrown in for good measure. Free-for-all is as frantic as ever, Team Deathmatch is solid, and Capture the Flag is a blast with good teams. On top of this, Gameloft added a new Capture the Point mode, which has teams fighting to control three points across the map. If a team can hold all of the points for 20 seconds, they score a point. This mode is actually the most team-oriented, as you have to communicate with your team and work together to win. Much to my personal delight, two fan favorite modes have returned. These are Freeze Tag, in which you freeze in place instead of dying, forcing you to wait for a teammate to come by and unfreeze you, and Instagib, where a one-hit kill Plasma Gun is your only weapon.

Personalizing and equipping your NOVA soldier for online duty adds yet another reason to continue playing the multiplayer. As is standard, leveling up unlocks new weapons and items for use. You can purchase these with credits, which are separate from the single player currency, but can also be bought with real money. You select a primary and secondary weapon, as long as an item and two perks. There are over a dozen of these perks, covering nearly any type of attribute you may want boosted. You can also buy attachments for your guns, such as reload speed and extended clips, further letting your customize your marine to your play style. The icing on the cake is a large selection of kill signatures, scores of lines that will be heard by your victim after you defeat them.

The NOVA 3 multiplayer is simply phenomenal. Fine-tuning your character, taking out tanks, getting massive kill streaks with power weapons, ambushing enemies with your team -- all the good times one would expect to have in a FPS multiplayer are present and only a few taps away.

NOVA 3 combines the cooler tone of the original NOVA while maintaining the vivid colors of NOVA 2. Throw in some impressive texture detail and NOVA 3 looks simply stellar, no pun intended.

As mentioned before, NOVA 3 is boasting Gameloft’s new engine, and it really shows. The depth on character models is especially welcome, a noticeable improvement over the previous entries in the series. Your weapons are also nicely detailed, all fitting the style of the game.

Lighting is a huge technical aspect of NOVA 3, one that Gameloft has implemented even more so than in their previous FPS, Fallen Nation. Most apparent is the simple darkening of your weapon while walking in shade, but even this adds to the atmosphere and realism. The little things also help, such as your guns and explosions casting light on enemies, and the occasional lens flair. Some sections even have you wander through utter darkness with only a flashlight attached to your gun to see, feeling almost like Doom.

Environments are diverse, ranging from an abandoned San Francisco to a ruined Judger ship to a hostile planet of lava and glaciers. All locations are colorful, have a distinct feel to them, and certainly make you feel like you’re in space (except the San Francisco levels, obviously), though I doubt any will really stick with you. One downside that is pretty noticeable, at least on my device, was a rendering distance too small for some levels. A gray mist appeared in only a few spots, but it is very distracting.

NOVA 3’s audio does everything that it needs to. The music is fitting when you’re in combat, but fades away gracefully to ambience when you’ve dispatched the last foe in the batch. Your guns sound powerful and just like you would expect them to. Voice acting is decent, but more impressive is the distinct sounds of the more powerful aliens as they enter the melee, giving you that split second to react that may save your life.

NOVA 3’s campaign will last you the standard 5-8 hours. In it, you can earn points by completing levels or just buy them with real money. These points can be used to unlock some power-ups, ammo packs, and new weapons, which make a second playthrough more enticing if for some reason the quality of the game isn’t quite convincing enough. 

This goes for pretty much every shooter made in the past decade, but the multiplayer is what really lets you get your bang for your buck. I was playing the NOVA 2 multiplayer up to the day NOVA 3 came out, and with NOVA 3’s online being even more robust and addicting, its safe to say that it is the best on the device and will last you a very long time.

NOVA 3 is a fully-featured FPS, more than worth the $6.99 price tag. If this seems too pricey for a mobile game, think of it instead like a downloadable title through Xbox Live Arcade or PSN. It is definitely of that caliber, and only half the average price.

There are a few games that just need to be shown to people who look down on mobile games, such as Infinity Blade II and Dead Space. NOVA 3 now sits proudly near the top of this list, showing skeptics that the mobile platform can run engines as advanced, display graphics as gorgeous, and support games as rewarding as any on a dedicated system. Console owners looking for a quality experience on the go as well as mobile gamers looking for a console-grade game will both find what they’re looking for. While it isn’t a “killer app”, I’m certain that NOVA 3 is a game that will be talked about in the mobile gaming community for years. It gives me confidence that my preferred platform is nowhere near slowing down, and that our best days are still very much ahead of us.

9 / 10

(9s represent excellence. Any issues it may have are minor or easily forgiven for what is a fantastic experience.)

Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of A cynic and apsiring film editor, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.

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