First person shooters are complicated beasts. On the major consoles, they employ virtually every possible button on the controller — and there are a lot of buttons on those things these days. So how do you translate this popular type of game to a device with no buttons? While there are a few games out for Apple’s devices that attempt to answer this question, the best example is probably Gameloft’s Nova. That’s not to say it’s perfect by any means, but it makes a bold statement in declaring that yes, you actually can have this kind of game on the iPad.
Nova (yes, it’s actually N.O.V.A., but I have precisely zero tolerance for acronyms) was originally released, like so many other iPad games, on the iPhone, and was praised for its slickness while simultaneously denigrated for its derivative nature. Let’s get that one out of the way right now: this is Halo in all but name. Actually, that’s not fair: this is like a B-grade, schlocky version of Halo, like a misty reflection on clouded glass. If you get annoyed at games that blatantly rip off other games, stop reading now.
But if you can get over that, you’ll find a title that is competent in almost every aspect. Its gameplay is passable, its controls adequately useable, its graphics pleasantly shiny. I didn’t give a toss about the story, but then I seldom do when it comes to this genre.
Let’s start with the controls, because they are often the most important aspect when it comes to touch screen devices. To my surprise, FPS controls have been ported over to the iPad and largely come out… well, battered, but very much alive. A virtual left analog stick controls movement, while scrubbing your other thumb aims the camera. Other buttons control grenades, shooting, reloading, and so on, but most importantly, you can still aim the camera while shooting with your right thumb. It might not sound momentous, but it makes all the difference in the world.
Having said that, accuracy and fast reaction times are still sacrificed. To compensate, you’re given a healthy amount of ammo, and are generally pitted against large, easy-to-hit enemies. For the most part, this helps nullify most control issues.
Mostly everything else is standard FPS fare: you’ve got your pistols, your shotguns, your automatics, your grenades, and every other offensive archetype you might be able to think of. The enemies also tick off most cliches: you’ve got the small fast ones, the big lumbering ones, and the big lumbering ones who blast fireballs at you. To Gameloft’s credit, the action can get pretty fun at times, and different environments and tasks help mix things up. And overall, this kind of game is much better suited to the iPad than a lot of other recent iPhone ports.
Let’s talk about Nova from a port perspective for a moment. Yes, this is the same game as the iPhone version with higher resolution graphics. Yes, it costs NZ $9.99 instead of the iPhone’s $6.49. But in this case, I’d say it was worth it: the larger screen size not only means nicer visuals, but also less of the action obscured by your fingers and a higher degree of fine control. In a game like this, that’s very important.
Nova is one of the better titles to show to people if you need to justify the purchase of your iPad, and for good reason: it looks purdy. Sure, low polygon counts are more obvious on the bigger screen, but the action is smooth as butter and the environments are nicely detailed. If you want eye candy, you’ve come to the right place.
Did I mention there was a plot? Well, there is.
Unless the game I’m reviewing is absolutely top notch, I always end my articles with a list of “if’s”. Nova isn’t top notch — although it is completely proficient at what it does — so here’re its own conditional statements: if you’re a first person shooter fan, and you have an iPad, and you care much more about blasting mindless aliens with a shotgun than being immersed in a riveting story, then Nova could well be for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a demo for the iPad version, but you can still download the iPhone demo to get a taste of the action. If you like what you see… well, in the end there are much worse ways to spend $10.