It seems appropriate that N.O.V.A. shares the same number of letters (and the two same vowels) as another major first-person shooter franchise; after all, the game is a fairly shameless (albeit legal) rip-off of the Halo games. If you ever wanted to experience a piece of that blockbuster series on a non-Microsoft console, I can’t recommend this Playstation minis title. While it might offer the chance to step into a Master Chief knockoff’s shoes, N.O.V.A. pales in comparison to games that came before the original Halo, much less its contemporaries.
The plot is generic: a sassy but experienced soldier is pulled back into active duty to handle a situation. Cue aliens, guns, explosions, and predictable plot twists. I don’t expect high literature, but it would be nice to have a plot that’s not propped up by every cliché in the book (I realize that “every ____ in the book” is itself a cliché). The main character is voiced with all the acting ability of a high school stage performer, and the voices of the various AI companions manage to be more lifeless than an automated speech synthesizer.
Graphically, the game looks like something out of 1997. I suppose the platform could be blamed: after all, creating a 3D engine that runs on the PSP and PS3 in 150Mb or less must surely constrain the developer’s ability to render modern-quality visuals. Excuses aside, the game looks dated. Low-resolution textures and low-polygon models attempt to represent the various spaceships, jungles, alien cities, and “Xenos” that populate the linear corridors of N.O.V.A. Occasionally an in-engine cutscene will play out, reminding you that this is indeed a game in a post-Quake II world. The load times, however, will drive home the limitations of the minis platform for delivering even this level of first-person shooter.
Truth be told, the real test of such a game is not its graphics or its narrative, but the strength of its gunplay. N.O.V.A. earns a black mark right out of the gate due to its platform limitations: because it is a mini, it is forced to use the face buttons for movement controls (even on the PS3). Normally that restricts movement controls to the left analog stick (or nub) and forces players to aim awkwardly with the face buttons. This game, however, allows you to swap those functions, letting you aim with the smoother action of a stick or nub. Adjusting to left-side aiming might require some practice (especially for right-handed gamers) but I found the option made a significant improvement to a bad situation. The remaining controls cannot be reconfigured, alas.
Gameloft definitely checked off every item on the “guns required in every FPS” list: there’s the usual Pistol (with the requisite infinite ammo), Grenades, Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Rocket Launcher, and Exotic Energy Weapon. There’s also a Stasis ability that freezes a single enemy for a short period of time, which draws power from the player’s rechargeable health; since the enemy AI is limited to “run left, run right, run towards player, & shoot” options, the Stasis is actually pretty useful and makes the game feel slightly less Halo-ish (because it’s ripped out of Dead Space instead). In the end, I didn’t have much fun mowing down Xenos with this uninspired arsenal.
There aren’t many shooters available on the Playstation Network for $5, but if you’re dying for some frags, save your money for something that feels like it was made this decade.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Portable version of the game.
What I Like:
- Able to reconfigure controls, somewhat.
What I Dislike:
- Shameless Halo "clone".
- Unimaginative weapons & gameplay.
- Long load times.
- Terrible voice acting.