N.O.V.A.3: A Console FPS-lite on your Android
I slowly snuck my head around the corner, I could see at least a dozen of the damned Volterites waiting in the next room, I knew that once I started more would be on their way. I aimed down the scopes of my sniper rifle, formulating my plan as I did, and picked a Volterite on a catwalk hanging from the ceiling. “No reason to leave them the higher ground” I thought as I moved the scopes to his head and slowly let my finger touch the trigger.
The Volterites have pushed Humans from their home world, but it is a wonder how, their reaction time seems much slower than humans. I turn to my right and throw a grenade near a group of them. I don’t have to cook it because I know they won’t move far enough away from the blast to survive, despite having ample time to.
I turn to my left where a group of them have finally become aware of my presence and have begun to return fire. I pull out my assault rifle, although I have to cycle through my shotgun, pistol and grenade launcher just to get to it, I aim down the sights and take out an especially stupid Volterite who has hidden behind a sign as if I were 90 degrees to the right of him, providing him with no cover at all. His compatriot, who was behind decent cover, runs over to his dead body and right into my sights, I press the trigger again.
More Volterites are streaming in now, and I know I have to clear out this group fast before the more powerful enemies are on me. I pull out my shotgun, and run towards the three remaining Volterites of that group. BOOM! BOOM! The Shotgun rings with a satisfying authority, the aliens go flying.
I switch to the pistol, to preserve ammo, and begin picking off the first of the Volterite reinforcements. I have one near my scopes but I feel some laser blast to my right, I try to turn and look but my thumb slips off of the stick, and I struggle to recover. The camera flips out and suddenly I can’t stop looking at the ground. My shields are draining quickly as I move and jump with one hand in a panic while trying to get the camera fixed with the other. I finally get a handle on it but it is too late, a second later I fall to the ground, and all I see are “Retry” and “Main menu” buttons.
That is the story of N.O.V.A. 3, it has some amazing moments and by utilizing the Unreal 3 engine it brings with it console quality graphics, but at the same time it is mired by A.I. that would have been embarrassing in a console FPS half a dozen years ago, a few questionable design decisions, touchscreen controls and too many bugs.
In this way N.O.V.A. 3 is a very hard game to review. On one hand it provides the closest thing to a console sci-fi FPS available on Android, but on the other it’s easily correctable mistakes make it reek of lazy game design. Which is maybe unfair to GameLoft, it is possible that they simply dedicated too many resources to graphics at the expense of the A.I. However, the game’s numerous bugs, which often resulted in instantaneous death and one time even resulted in me falling through the ground into a never ending free fall through space add more credence to the thought.
These cheap deaths would be one thing if that is all they were, but N.O.V.A. 3 grades you on your performance on each mission and rewards you with currency that can be used to purchase in-game weapons, upgrades and ammo packs. When one of these bugs hit, causing you die before a checkpoint simply because your character got stuck in between a wall and some wreckage in the environment while trying to scavenge some ammo, it can be extremely frustrating; when it happens twice in a row it can be down right infuriating. Still, if you want a HALO like experience on a tablet you are unlikely to find anything else that provides such a complete campaign and full multiplayer experience.
While N.O.V.A. 3 is designed to run on a surprisingly large number of devices and phones, it is still best experienced on a tablet or phablet at worse. The overall score below reflects the tablet score because it wouldn’t be fair to judge and rate this game based on devices it isn’t optimized for. I would give N.O.V.A. 3 a lower score by one woof if I had to play it on a phone. On tablets or a hybrid like the Note, it is completely deserving of 4 woofs.
Speaking of multiplayer, you are not likely to find a more full community in the FPS genre on Android. Finding a match is easy and quick, and there are multiple modes to choose from. If this were a full sixty-dollar console experience it would be a lacking but not an unacceptable suite of options. At seven dollars (or free with a purchase of the Mogo Pro) it seems downright generous. You can hop in mechs, upgrade your character, and do nearly anything you would expect out of a current, or at least last generation, console FPS.
Unfortunately, if you are depending on touchscreen controls you can’t expect to compete with players using physical controls, but if you can stomach consistently coming in at the bottom half of the leaderboard you can still get a lot of enjoyment out of this section of the game. Even if the crappy A.I. in the campaign is too much for you to handle, the multiplayer provides more than enough content to justify the asking price.
I struggled greatly when trying to figure where to put the score for N.O.V.A. 3. It does a lot of things few other games are doing on the Android. If you want a game like HALO or Crysis on your Android device you will be hard-pressed to find a better analog on the GooglePlay store. At the same time I can’t help but feel like an opportunity to make something truly special was missed here. Touchscreen controls are clearly not preferable in FPS games, but I found that with practice it became a mostly acceptable way to control the game and only occasionally would I lose the virtual stick or have the camera tweak on me.
The Moga Pro reportedly works with N.O.V.A. 3 but plugging in a PS3 controller on an unrooted device had no effect. Game manufacturers, especially ones trying to emulate AAA console games really need to get on board with supporting as many physical control options as possible, rather than whatever device is their favorite. Still, N.O.V.A. 3 does more things right than it does wrong, and until a studio with a better QA department comes along and tries its hand at developing a Sci-Fi FPS this is probably the best option available for fans of the genre.