N.O.V.A. is a mediocre first-person shooter that brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
“Imitation is the most sincere way of flattery” the old saying goes. During the past few years, mobile developer Gameloft seems to have perfected that art and Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance is living proof of that. But is N.O.V.A. just a blatant rip off or does it have some unique qualities that make it stand out from other science fiction first-person shooters? Unfortunately, N.O.V.A. adopts some of the most distinct features from popular titles such as Halo and Metroid to make a merely entertaining first-person shooter. The result is a subpar title that’s hackneyed, slavish and intensely forgettable.
The game’s set in a recreational colony in space. Apparently, people couldn’t live on Earth anymore, so they started building satellites known as “Near Orbitals.” In this uninspired setting, you assume the role of a disobedient marine who’s sent on a rescue mission to a space frigate called Colonial Pride. But what does this all mean? Basically, your main objective consists of running straight and shooting everything in your path until you see a loading screen. All of this with the promise that you can eventually watch the credits and hopefully, move on to a more entertaining game in your collection.
Since N.O.V.A. is heavily inspired on Halo: Combat Evolved, the latter is likely to come up a couple of times in this review, so let’s get this out of the way at once and mention some of the allusions to Bungie’s critically acclaimed series. These are some of the elements that N.O.V.A. “borrows” from Halo: there’s a computer AI called Yelena, the main protagonist is equipped with a Mobile Armored Suit which has a regenerating shield, you fight alien enemies known as Xenos, you’re a space marine, there are vehicles similar to warthogs and the list of similarities goes on and on.
But at this point, you might be asking: does N.O.V.A. do something new? Interestingly, N.O.V.A. does feature some new mechanics. In order to obtain ammunition, crates need to be hacked. The way in which you hack them is by playing a simplistic minigame where you guide a laser beam through a grid with the help of mirrors. Another nice touch is that some of the bigger enemies have the ability to hold you in front of their faces for a few seconds, at which point you can use your pistol to shoot them in the face. Finally, you can paralyze enemies by conjuring up balls of energy, but this consumes a significant chunk of your shield.
The rest of the game is extremely hackneyed and repetitive. Each mission follows the same pattern: the AI gives you the mission briefing and you shoot enemies. Most of the times, shooting enemies involves no skill whatsoever, since they tend to come towards you in a straight line. To be fair, the PSP isn’t the best console to play first-person shooters and even if the enemies were smarter, the game would be frustratingly hard (due to the lack of a right analog stick.)
It’s worth pointing out that some missions have a few secondary objectives, but sadly, you don’t get anything from your efforts. For instance, at one point during the game you rescue a group of soldiers. When you do, they tell you how grateful they are and stay motionless in the same spot you found them. Shouldn’t they prove their gratitude by joining you? Shouldn’t they at least go somewhere? I assume they need to stay there due to technical limitations, but moments like these make the game feel overly contrived. Furthermore, deviating from your path isn’t something the game encourages, since most of the environments are really constrictive. In fact, most levels are composed of claustrophobic corridors where you shoot enemies pell-mell.
From a technical standpoint, N.O.V.A. is rough around the edges. Loading times plague the experience and constantly break down the pace of the game. On top of that, the leaderboards and multiplayer options from the iOS version are nowhere to be found in the PSP version. To be fair, no PlayStation Mini can go online, so this isn’t the developer’s fault. Then again, taking into account that the multiplayer is one of N.O.V.A.’s best features, omitting this particular aspect seems unfair. Finally, the game suffers from noticeable slowdowns when there are many enemies in the same place which totally disrupts the pace of the game.
In the end, N.O.V.A. is a mediocre shooter that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. Technical issues, poor controls, constrictive environments, simplistic minigames and a humdrum story make N.O.V.A. a forgettable shooter that’s hard to recommend.