Gameloft previously developed Modern Combat: Sandstorm, which many considered to be the best single-player first-person shooter on the iPhone. N.O.V.A. is based on the same engine and uses many of the same gameplay mechanics--and it trumps its predecessor. Though it takes obvious inspiration from the Halo series, N.O.V.A. not only smoothes over many of the rough edges of Modern Combat, but it also adds more new features to enjoy.
N.O.V.A.'s single-player game includes 12 levels, plus a brief tutorial. In each level, you're directed through a series of short objectives, with checkpoints saving your progress along the way. The levels take between 15 and 20 minutes apiece to complete, bringing the campaign mode to about three-and-a-half hours. This is a good, healthy length for a single-player game on the iPhone, and the objectives are so varied that the campaign never becomes repetitive.
N.O.V.A.'s controls are just as tight as those of Modern Combat, though it's a bit disappointing that you can't remove the fire button from the screen--there's no tap-anywhere-to-shoot option. But because the game does have three selectable control schemes and drag-anywhere buttons, you'll be able to find a setup that fits your style.
One major improvement over Modern Combat is that the enemies in N.O.V.A. are a lot smarter. They've always spawned in the same place, but now, they'll follow you all over the map, attack intelligently, and even react to your attacks. There aren't a ton of different types of enemies, but they're all distinct from each other.
In a larger sense, N.O.V.A.'s single-player campaign has a lot of variety. In one level, you must traverse a spaceship, moving quickly from room to room so you don't run out of oxygen. In other levels, you must cross wide-open spaces on alien planets or use turrets to mow down oncoming enemies. In addition, the campaign has minigames that let you earn additional ammo crates.
Better still, N.O.V.A.'s excellent multiplayer solves all of Modern Combat's issues. Matches are easy to enter and load stably and reliably. The game has five multiplayer maps that come in all shapes and sizes. There's a good variety of terrain between them, and each one requires a different strategy for success. N.O.V.A.'s multiplayer is limited to free-for-all Deathmatch for up to four players (with no team modes), but it still offers a great experience. Each map has health packs, weapons, and various power-ups that appear in various places. Although some of the weapons (like the plasma rifle and the sniper rifle) may take a bit of getting used to, there's a good variety of different guns. Annoyingly, each time a multiplayer match ends, you're booted out of the Gameloft Live service. To keep playing, you have to sign in again and find a new match. In addition, there's no real persistency to your multiplayer profile (you don't have a character that advances in levels of skills, like in other games), but even so, N.O.V.A.'s multiplayer is still a lot of fun.
As a matter of fact, N.O.V.A. offers a great first-person shooter experience for just about anyone, even newcomers to iPhone first-person shooters. And if you're an iPhone shooter veteran, you'll definitely enjoy sinking your teeth into the substantial campaign and fast-paced multiplayer.
This review was provided by GameSpot mobile content partner SlideToPlay.com.