Gameloft has never been shy about the heavy influence the Halo franchise had on its first two N.O.V.A. titles. Despite this significant borrowing, IGN awarded both N.O.V.A. and N.O.V.A. 2 Editor’s Choice awards, praising their intense gunplay and ambitious design.
For N.O.V.A. 3, it appears Gameloft has turned to a different sci-fi FPS franchise for inspiration. Space marine protagonist Kal Wardin has been redesigned to resemble Crysis hero Jake Dunn instead of Master Chief, and players also have a variety of revised Crysis-esque abilities at their disposal. Gameloft has also seemingly taken inspiration from Crysis developer Crytek’s technical wizards– N.O.V.A. 3 is probably the most visually impressive mobile game I have seen yet.
N.O.V.A. 3 opens with Wardin crash-landing on “Old Earth,” in the middle of a ruined San Francisco. Alien aggressors known as the Volterites have humanity on the ropes, and it’s up to (who else?) Wardin to immediately jump back into the fray to help turn the tables.
Across the 10-mission planet-hopping campaign (each stage lasting a meaty 30-60 minutes) players will use the standard gamut of shooter weaponry – Assault Rifle, Rocket Launcher, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle… all the usual suspects are here. I especially found the Grenade Launcher satisfying. In later missions players will also pilot a jeep that bears more than a passing resemblance to Halo’s Warthog, a mech and a Jet Pack.
Wardin’s special powers also return. Although it’s plenty of fun to independently paralyze enemies or slow time, these powers truly come into their own when combined with the right weapon. Knock over an enemy with Repel and then rush in for a quick shotgun blast. Slow time with Time Shift to gain the drop on a distant enemy with your Sniper Rifle.
Both lengthy stages I played were linear, with plenty of scripted moments and spawning enemies. But the levels are punctuated with wide-open set-piece arenas seemingly designed to encourage gunplay experimentation.
N.O.V.A. 3’s default control scheme will be familiar with anyone that has played previous entries in the franchise, or other mobile shooters like Modern Combat 3. A left virtual thumbstick moves Wardin, while sliding anywhere on the right side of the screen allows players to freely look around the environment. Virtual buttons for firing your weapon, sprinting and activating your selected power reside on the bottom-right side of the screen.
Gameloft has done as much as they can with just a touch-screen interface at their disposal. The controls are passable and I felt they worked with me more than against me, besides some awkward gestures like swiping to switch weapons. Details like your reticle snapping onto an enemy when aiming down iron sights do a lot to help eliminate touch screen awkwardness. But the more sophisticated and console-like these iOS and Android shooters become, the more gamers will yearn for proper triggers and buttons to fire their weapon & activate abilities.
For now N.O.V.A. 3’s multiplayer details remain largely under wraps. The company has confirmed that online multiplayer will scale up to 12 players, two more than N.O.V.A. 2. Vehicular combat will also feature in multiplayer, as will customizable character classes.
After spending over an hour with N.O.V.A. 3, I came away impressed – even in its unfinished state the game looks and plays great. The title represents a level of ambitiousness and visual fidelity that very few are even attempting to pull off on mobile devices. But will it matter? Many mobile gamers, this editor included, are becoming increasingly fatigued with virtual thumbsticks and buttons. All of N.O.V.A. 3’s forward-thinking features make me hopeful that Gameloft can become as adept at progressing mobile game interfaces as it is pushing the limits of mobile game visuals.
N.O.V.A. 3 is slated to launch in May. A final price has not been announced, but it is very likely the title will launch in the same $5 – $10 range as Gameloft’s previous premium mobile offerings.