When the original NOVA: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance launched on iPhone at the end of 2009, the stellar campaign, sharp visuals, and worthwhile online multiplayer battles set a standard for first-person shooters on the platform. True, it was hard to look past the obvious "influence" of the Halo series - in other words, NOVA was practically a cut-and-paste job. However, it was a damned impressive cut-and-paste of a beloved series, so we played it and liked it anyway. And NOVA 2 is looking to raise the bar just like Halo 2 did back in the day – with added variety and beefed-up multiplayer.
Like the first game, NOVA 2 boasts similarly Halo-esque aesthetics, plus environments and weapons that seem just shades apart from Bungie's fictional universe. That said, the lengthy campaign - at least a few solid hours - does offer some variety. Many of the 12 missions fall into the 15-to-25 minute range, though some stretch on longer, and the typical on-foot segments are augmented by sequences where you'll control a mech or blast away foes on a vehicle-mounted turret. While certainly not on par with any notable console or PC shooters of late, the action works well in small bursts and requires absolutely zero attention paid to the throwaway storyline.
Using the gyroscope to aid with aiming on iPhone 4 and the most recent iPod Touch is a great addition, and while you'll still need to touch the screen to help navigate the environments and make quick turns, we found the controls pretty dependable overall. But the biggest enhancement in NOVA 2 is no doubt the expanded multiplayer mode, which offers 10-player battles online or off, with five different play modes, 10 maps, and a ranking/perks system like that seen in Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus.
Firing up the iPhone and immediately hopping into a 10-player deathmatch or capture-the-flag match is surprisingly satisfying, and the servers are steadily filled with competition. And don't miss the InstaGib mode, wherein each player wields a one-shot-kill rail gun to decimate opponents. NOVA 2's online modes easily trump the four-player deathmatch battles offered in the original, and put to shame something like Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which recently launched on iPhone with only four-player deathmatch and team DM options on two maps.
NOVA 2 commands a premium price point on the App Store at $6.99, but it's a thoroughly worthwhile investment. Gameloft's sci-fi shooter may be derivative in parts, but between the solid campaign and robust, entertaining online modes, it's a portable shooter that truly justifies the entry fee and easily reclaims the iPhone shooter throne for the time being.
Jan 4, 2011