N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance Mini-Review

I am constantly on the lookout for new apps for my iPhone. Usually, I look through the Featured category in the iTunes store for what’s new or hot, but I also watch the iPhone Game Reviews and New iPhone Apps sections on MacRumors. Those links take you to the MacRumors related TouchArcade and AppShopper. I am not looking for a word processor mind you. I am looking for something to pass the time when I am at the car wash, or for some interesting tech utility.

NOVA Capture 1A few weeks ago I ran across N.O.V.A., which stands for Near Orbit Vanguard Allience, from Gameloft. I always browse for some online reviews before I buy anything, and in looking at the reviews on N.O.V.A., I kept seeing the phrase ‘HALO-like’. That was enough for me, I had to try it. The day I went to buy it, the iTunes App Store showed over 500 reviews, and this thing was still five stars! As of this writing, there are 2976 reviews and it still has a 4.5! Considering there are always unhappy, borderline nutty, reviews I thought it looked good.

This game is very fun, and there is a lot of game play for $6.99. There are 13 single-player levels, as well as online or local multiplayer support. The multiplayer games support up to four players in online or local WiFi play, and up to two players via a Bluetooth connection.

During my review search, I noticed some comments on the voice-overs. Having done voice-overs for over 25 years, I agree that these are cheesy. I don’t mean funny cheesy by the way. It feels like Gameloft didn’t take their own game seriously. I think some changes to the voice work could greatly effect the immersion of the player into the game. I am not faulting the V.O. talent, they accomplished what was obviously the idea of the director. I just think it sold the game short.

On the controls, I am not the best reviewer. I am an old Quake player, and never really got comfortable with the dual thumb-stick style controls present in most console systems. That said, I feel like I am now. The game play just made sense to me. Although there are multiple control setups to choose from, I have it set so that the left joystick moves the player forward/backward/left/right, while the general screen area controls looking up/down/left/right. The controls do have some issues. There have been times when, simply walking along a path, the controls have gone crazy. Suddenly I am looking at the floor, then the sky, then into a wall. This never fails that it happens while I am being shot at. Very frustrating. The worst glitch has been when, in the middle of a fight, the left stick seems to want to control the look instead of the movement. This could be more of an issue with the nature of touch screen controls than the game, but it hurts to get shot because you could not move.

NOVA Capture 2Both the single-player, and multi-player maps, are nicely done. There are a selection of weapons, health and power-ups throughout the levels. The levels are multi-story, and use transporters or escalators to get you moving up. The graphics look very good, but are often glitchy. I walked near the edge of the jungle and ended up in the trees, well, actually on top of the trees. That would be cool in a Deathmatch, but I was unable to move anywhere and had to exit the game, causing me to return to the last progress/checkpoint. This happened maybe 10 times throughout the 13 level game, way too much.

The game play progresses nicely, and there are checkpoints often. It does have a bit of repetitiveness to it, but I didn’t seem to mind. Ammo is well placed in the maps. On multiple occasions, just as I felt I would run out of ammo, like a gift there was some waiting for me. Well done. There are also mini-game puzzles used to unlock storage containers. I found these weak. It felt like an interruption of the game play, and a waste of time, to make me try to unlock something that is so easy. If I can always solve the combination in 10 seconds then just remove these. I would like to see either some real puzzles, or none at all. I’m not talking MYST hard, but something game worthy.

The multiplayer system works. I have not tried the online system yet, but I tried local games over both WiFi and Bluetooth. Oddly enough, the Bluetooth was more stable. On WiFi, my son had a very hard time staying connected. He would join and drop almost instantly. On Bluetooth we were able to complete a few 5 minute/5 frag games (I’m not saying who won). I experienced no lag at all, but he did. It could be that I am on a 3GS, while he is on an older 3G iPhone. He did not like the game enough to complete the single-player mode due to the lag. I never had that problem on the newer hardware. The one complaint my son brought up was the display of user names in multi-player games. I could see where my kid was, from across the map, as soon as he spawned, because his name was over his head. I wish that could be turned off. It made a fast test game easy, but in serious play could make it too easy.

All-in-all I love it and suggest, if you like first-person-shooters, that you spend the $6.99. It’s a very addicting game, unfortunately for my family. Now onto the Hard setting.

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