If someone had told me a while back that I would be playing a first person shooter on the iPhone I would have told them to shove it. How could someone used to the mouse + keyboard or the dual analogue stick controller control a character with a virtual joystick? Sounds ludicrous right? That’s what I thought too and then I met, N.O.V.A. a science-fiction themed shooter from Gameloft games.

If like me you’re a bit late in jumping on the iPhone gaming bandwagon, N.O.V.A. (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance) is the not-so-new shooter from Gameloft, best known for porting various Ubisoft games to handheld platforms. The game is a mish-mash of other, more popular games from the sci-fi genre like Doom 3, Halo, Unreal 2 and even the more recent Dead Space. But even though it emulates these games and incorporates some of their gameplay elements, N.O.V.A. is fully capable of holding its own ground, which is no easy feat.

A huge part of the game’s allure comes from its insane production values that could rival pretty much anything you’ve seen on a console till date. Initially the game will tie you down to a desolate space ship that’s been taken hostage by hostile life forms. During this segment the claustrophobic confines of the ship give out a strong Doom 3 vibe but after that the game really opens up and transports players to a plethora of locations from an alien planet to lush forests (that felt like they’ve stepped straight out of Avatar).

N.O.V.A. is plain A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

Gunplay is also one of the game’s bigger strengths and my terrible grasp of the controls aside, is absolutely air-tight. The game packs in a varied arsenal of weapons all of which pack a punch. Blasting an alien life form in the face with a shotgun was exactly what it should have felt like. Satisfying! And if like me you’re really at sea with the controls it even features a subtle lock-on system that snaps onto your enemy as and when you hover the cross hair near them.

While a gripping plot may not be N.O.V.A.’s strongest point, it’s not terrible either. It’s the usual “space marine saves Earth from the hostile invasion” fare but it’s interesting enough to propel you through the game’s twelve odd levels that could take you anything from five to ten hours to complete. And after the campaign you can even indulge in some deathmatch online or via Bluetooth. So as you can see N.O.V.A. offers plenty of bang for your buck.

My only gripe with the game stemmed from my inability to control the character’s movements and shoot simultaneously. This is something I can now do blindly on consoles or on the PC but for the first hour of N.O.V.A. I felt like Forest Gump… with a blind fold. On top of that the iPod Touch has these fancy gyroscopic controls that are supposed to emulate motion gaming but all they did was make me want to break the touch. But I hung in there, axed the gyroscopic controls and a few levels later, I wasn’t dying that much. In fact I was really enjoying the game shooting alien scum in the face.

So yeah even though I’m a bit late jumping on the whole touch screen gaming bandwagon I’m really glad it’s moving away from casual stuff to include titles that’ll appeal to hardcore gamers. Getting used to the controls may take some time but it’s a small price to pay for gaming on the go.

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