Review: N.O.V.A. 3 (Xbox Live)
Pushing the envelope for Windows Phone gaming is the Xbox Live title N.O.V.A. 3. Along with Modern Combat (also from Gameloft), the title is a fully featured first person shooter. Can the modern smartphone handle something as complex as a home based console? Almost...
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11
N.O.V.A. 3 makes use of the same gaming engine as Modern Combat, which is a smart use of technology from Gameloft. If you've played one title and found the control system awkward, it's going to be the same here.
The love of first person shooters has meant that developers continue to try and port console style games (which invariably use controllers with a surfeit of buttons, d-pads, and analogue sticks), and the only available control is the touch screen, and a virtual mix of sticks and buttons that provide very little feedback.
Because of the demands placed on storage and processor time, N.O.V.A. 3 will only run on the higher specification Windows Phone 8 handsets, and this means the game does not have to contend with the smaller touch-screens on devices like the Lumia 520. Even on the larger screened devices such as the Lumia 925 and 928 I have a feeling that there are just a little too many on-screen controls.
The secondary controls are grouped tightly on the right, including the targeting/sniper mode, grenade launchers and 'force push' option, and are quite hard to hit in the middle of a game, plus it's not helped that the icons are very similar.
There are three control layouts available, so you can switch to have moving and looking as the two virtual analogue sticks, with fire anywhere else on the screen, or have the fire button fixed and you can use anywhere on the screen to guide where you are looking. The former is the most comfortable, but to be clear, none of the options are very comfortable.
I'd also like to see an option to alter the sensitivity of the controls - even a small amount of movement results in a huge amount of movement on the screen. With the detail available in the maps and the fine, almost pixel level control you will need when sniping and taking out enemies from a distance, the gross movements on offer make me feel rather clumsy when moving around the maps. It's manageable in the first few levels, but as you progress the learning curve on the controls is not fast enough and I feel the controls are fighting against you, rather than helping you.
Replicating the control scheme from a console quality shooter may have been a courageous move that doesn't quite come off, but pushing the graphical envelope has come off. N.O.V.A. is one of the slickest looking 3D shooters on Windows Phone, and it's certainly in the top bracket of FPS titles on any smartphone.
There's a clear differentiation between background, walls, and rubble on the ground. Walking around, it's clear what everything is meant to be. When the aliens come into view, some of them are clear as day, others blend into the background because they have camouflage and like in nature, they have evolved to have a level of concealment in their colour schemes. I also love that they all move differently, so there is a real feeling of 'difference' between the various enemies you see. Although most of the time they're shooting at you...
N.O.V.A. 3 also brings over a number of other features that are rife in console games, one of which is long loading times. While everything is smooth and lag free in playing the levels, the time it takes to load the levels into memory is very much noticeable - and magnified because this is a mobile device that almost screams for people to keep watching the screen.
Truth be told, N.O.V.A. 3 is nothing special in terms of FPS games. It has a functional plot that serves its purpose of linking together various levels with an almost coherent story. The graphics look crisp and distinguishable, but they don't push what is possible artistically. Level design is functional at best, with no real exploration required - just follow the only path open to you like a good subservient player.
What makes N.O.V.A. 3 stand out is the lack of FPS games on Windows Phone. If we were awash with similar titles then N.O.V.A. 3 would be little more than average. But there are very few titles like this for Microsoft's mobile platform, so by virtue of a lack of volume, N.O.V.A. 3 will probably do very well.
But that success will come with a warning. Any FPS titles that are going to come in the future will not have to do that much to beat the mark set by N.O.V.A. 3.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at