Review: N.O.V.A. | webOS Nation

Review: N.O.V.A. 13

by Robert Werlinger Tue, 01 Jun 2010 11:05 am EDT


3D gaming titles have been coming to webOS at a rapid click, and we’re starting to see the platform get titles just as soon (and sometimes even before) the iPhone does.  N.O.V.A, or Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, is one such example of a hotly anticipated first person shooter hitting the webOS platform not too long after becoming available to iPhone users , and it's absolutely on the forefront of what’s possible in smartphone based gaming. 


The plot of N.O.V.A, like so many other phone-based games, is really less than remarkable.  You start the game as a retired marine in the power-suit wearing Marine Corps of the future, and you’re reluctantly forced back into duty when mysterious aliens decide to attack.  The game lauds its voice acting and superior plot, but more often than not you’ll find yourself skipping through cut-scenes and communiqués, opting instead to continue with your killing rampage.  If you’re looking for a game with a compelling plot line, N.O.V.A is not the title you’re looking for.


The graphics here are great for just about any handheld device, offering a rich and immersive experience - in fact, I haven’t seen anything quite this good on webOS thus far.  Textures are intricate as foliage, interiors of ships, and landscapes all pop off the screen, and the cut-scenes throughout the game are of cinematic quality.


This is a place where N.O.V.A generally shines, and I’d like to see other game developers emulate what’s done here.  At a fundamental level, there isn’t much of a departure from other first person shooters with the virtual direction pad and on-screen controls, but what sets N.O.V.A apart is the ability for users to configure the layout of their controls however they want - you can drag each on-screen control to where you’d like it to live on-screen.  Another nice touch is Weapon switching is also smartly implemented here – unlike most games where you have to open a menu to select a different weapon, N.O.V.A allows you to quickly swipe inside of the weapon box to select a different weapon, making the entire gameplay experience more fluid.


The controls were generally responsive, but when the previously mentioned performance issues are in effect, frustration would sometimes ensue: the D-Pad would become intermittently un-responsive – annoying when you’re in the heat of battle  On a quick side note, I did notice considerable tendon fatigue during extended gameplay sessions, something that seems endemic to these kinds of games on these smaller touchscreen devices 


Performance on my Sprint Palm Pre ranged from acceptable to sluggish.  There were times after first starting the game where the game would bog down causing a temporary and significant drop in frame-per-second performance.  So long as there wasn’t much going on in the immediate scene, frame rates were smooth and gameplay was fluid, but as soon as enemies started to spawn and action started to become intense, my device would sometimes noticeably slow down.

Pre Plus users need not worry, though, as I’m convinced that I wouldn’t run into these issues on the Plus version of the Pre – it doesn’t seem that raw processing power is the issue here, but the lack of RAM and third party applications maybe not playing nicely with system resources.  

Like most of the 3D titles on my Pre, after one or two launches I was greeted with the “too many cards” error, which necessitated a restart of my phone in order to remedy.  The Pre, as I’m sure many of you know, doesn’t exactly break any speed records when it comes to boot time, so I downloaded the homebrew utility JSTOP to use its task management abilities in lieu of restarting my phone to be able to play games.  After getting the utility up and running on my phone, I discovered something interested: the main culprit behind the “too many cards” issue were 3rd party programs that used the dashboard to run persistently that weren’t sharing resources sufficiently to allow for the more memory intensive programs to launch – an issue that’s probably encountered a fraction of the time on the Pre Plus due to the increase in memory.


The game takes you through 5 unique environments, and each is immersive with rich graphics, sounds, and other terrific atmospheric effects.  The enemy UI is challenging but not impossible, and a well implemented assisted aiming system goes a long way in keeping gameplay fluid.


 Throughout the game, the overall gameplay model stays same: move into an area (a cargo hold), solve a puzzle (press the correct switches to make a bridge across a toxic spill), and kill enemies that increase both in number and difficulty as you progress though that level.  It generally works well, but the formula does tend to get dull during extended play sessions.

Online/Multi-Player Play

N.O.V.A also brings multi-player death match gameplay through either a local WiFi connection or online through Gameloft Live.   Account creation is done in-game, and is performed in landscape mode on what can be described as an atrocious on-screen keyboard.   Once your account is created, you can manage your Gameloft Live account and find online games to join, or you can create your own lobby where you can select the level, frag limit, time limit and other usual suspects.  

Throughout my testing, unfortunately, I was rarely able to successfully join or create a game. Connected to the internet via WiFi on my very capable Comcast cable connection, I would always be greeted with some variation of "unable to connect" or if I did manage to connect, the server would time out after only a few moments.  


On the rare occasion that I actually was able to find a stable connection, the  deathmatch gameplay was generally enjoyable, but being not able to communicate via voice or text to the other players in the server was a significant drawback to the overall experience.

Wrapping up

While the plot is unimaginative and eminently clichéd, N.O.V.A is easily one of the best 3D first person shooters in the App Catalog with compelling graphics, great gameplay and an ingenious control scheme.  However, those non-Plus Pre users should keep in mind that their lower spec’d phones may deliver a less –than-stellar gameplay experience overall.