N.O.V.A. 2 Review

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Posted on December 31, 2010, Phil Hornshaw N.O.V.A. 2 Review

It’s tough to do first-person shooters on Apple’s iOS devices, mostly on account of the fact that a phone is not a controller. Most entries use some combination of virtual joysticks and swiping at the screen, which, along with being totally, is really not very intuitive. It’s hard to match the fast-twitch experience of a console or PC shooter on a phone, and while there are some games in the iTunes App Store that are fun, they usually fall a little short of being amazing.

Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. 2 does iPhone FPS about as well as it can be done, and while it’s not of the quality of full-size games on bigger platforms, it comes pretty close. It utilizes the a combination of swiping and gyroscope controls to create a more intuitive targeting experience, but necessities like really sticky auto-aim make N.O.V.A. 2 a little too easy.

N.O.V.A. 2: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (IPhone [Reviewed], IPad)
Developer: Gameloft
Publisher: Gameloft
Release Date: December 16, 2010
MSRP: $6.99

The N.O.V.A. series is compared pretty routinely to Bungie’s Halo games (Gameloft tends to take winning console concepts and turn them into iPhone vehicles), and that’s a fairly accurate description of what’s going on here. Set six years after the first N.O.V.A. installment, the game picks up with former Near Orbital Vanguard Alliance operative Kal working running missions to stop an alliance of humans and aliens from eventually enslaving humanity — or something.

Story isn’t important — what’s important are the various instances of blasting away at enemy Volterites, and there are plenty of those. N.O.V.A. 2 gets a lot of moments right: Gameloft has piled on a lot of varying environments, ranging from open jungle to a staging yard for giant mechs. Each level has you pounding through enemies with what eventually becomes a huge compliment of weapons. Some are pretty standard — rocket launchers, sniper rifles, assault rifles and shotguns — but they all have different strategic uses and feel strong and useful.

For the most part, the gyroscopic aiming works well in all respects, except that it takes some getting used to. You’ll wave your phone around in front of you, as every motion translates to a movement of your reticule in the game; if you’re not familiar with the process, it kind of emulates moving a camera around in order to shoot different objects in the room. It’s not exactly a new development for FPS games on the iOS platform, but it’s utilized well here. Once you’re used to moving your phone in physical space to adjust your virtual aim, it becomes a pretty immersive way of fighting.

But in order to compensate for the inherent lack of accuracy with this method — it’s not like using a mouse or a controller, after all — Gameloft has installed an auto-aim system that helps out quite a bit. It’s adjustable in the options menu, but starts out at the highest level of assistance when you load out the game. It’s both good and bad; the auto-aim makes it easy to get used to N.O.V.A. 2′s aiming mechanics if you’re not already familiar with them, which is nice, but it also takes away a lot of the challenge of being a sharpshooter, which is kind of what the FPS genre is all about.

Challenge is a little bit of an issue for the game in general. The hardest difficulty isn’t accessible until after you’ve cleared the campaign mode once, and on its default setting, it’s hard to fail or die in most circumstances. Like Halo, you’re given an energy shield to protect you from enemy fire, which is represented by a meter that depletes on the top of the screen. Once that’s gone, you can take a few more shots before you’re dropped. Avoid fire for a few seconds and you’ll get both damage counters back up to full strength.

Especially early in the game, it takes a lot to kill Kal. You won’t really start to feel the hurt until the last few levels of the game. So between the auto-aiming and the overprotective shield system, you’ll have a tendency to waltz through a large portion of the game without having to really worry about it. It also doesn’t help that enemy AI is lacking in intelligence, although it’s by no means broken. Enemies are smart enough to dive clear of fire or drop behind cover, but don’t expect them to do much more than stand up and shoot you, or charge at you and shoot you, or circle whatever obstacle is in their way and shoot you. More often than not, you’ll find yourself just going toe-to-toe with whatever enemy you’re facing, waiting for them to drop first before you move on to your next human roadblock.

But while the combat doesn’t always stretch your abilities, Gameloft has come up with a few ways to make sure you’re always engaged. On-foot levels almost always direct you to your next objective with a guide arrow, which makes it impossible to get lost, and there are lots of points where you’ll hop into a vehicle or be tasked with defending a fixed position. At one point, you’ll find yourself piloting a giant mech and tearing through everything in your path, and while it’s not the most amazing sequence ever, it’s definitely a satisfying one.

One of the best ways that N.O.V.A. 2 keeps its players interested is with its beautiful visuals. Gameloft has put together a very solid-looking game — one of the better available on the iPhone, period — and that helps a lot with drawing you in and making trying to shoot bad guys on your phone easy and enjoyable.

In addition to the very capable and pretty lengthy (especially for an iPhone game) single-player campaign, N.O.V.A. 2 also packs an online multiplayer mode that can support up to 10 combatants at a time. It requires a Wi-Fi connection to run (unless you want to play locally via Bluetooth), but with a good connection it functions extremely well. What there is is pretty standard — free-for-all and team-based death matches, mostly — but again, we’re seeing a standard of quality on iOS here that isn’t usually achieved.

N.O.V.A. 2 won’t replace any FPS you’ve played on a more traditional platform, but it is the top of the line in terms of what’s offered on the iPhone. With top-notch graphics and sound, great multiplayer support, and a strong and varied single-player campaign, you’re getting a whole lot for your $6.99 price of admission. Gameloft’s FPS follow-up also demonstrates what’s in store for iOS owners; first-person shooters might not be on par with what you’d get on your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, but as N.O.V.A. 2 demonstrates, they’re not far behind.


  • Features some great visuals and sound, on par with some of the top games on the iPhone
  • Gyroscope aiming system is extremely responsive and intuitive
  • Lots of varied environments and elements — driving, defense, sniping and several weapons all included
  • 10-player online multiplayer mode is fast-paced and fun
  • Campaign is long and fully developed


  • A little too easy on the normal difficulty; can’t get the harder difficulty mode until you finish the campaign
  • Enemy AI isn’t bad, but doesn’t have a ton of intelligence, either
  • Story and voice acting are a little thin

Final Score: 90


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