Review: N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (PlayStation Minis)

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Gameloft has become infamous for blatantly ripping off popular franchises for its generic downloadable mobile game offerings, and at this point the company almost seems prideful in doing so. Just look through the developer’s website and you’ll find unashamed knock-offs of Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted and Modern Warfare, to name a few. However, by most accounts these games have been fun despite their beyond-the-point-of-flattery mimicry, so the lack of originality and inspiration generally gets forgiven. But sorry, Gameloft, that isn’t happening this time.

N.O.V.A. (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance), first developed as an iPhone game in 2009, has been ported to the PlayStation Minis platform for PS3 and PSP, and from the moment the game begins the developer’s attempts to copy Halo are readily apparent. In similar fashion, N.O.V.A. is a generic sci-fi FPS in which you take up arms as a super-soldier and fight to rescue humanity from the brink of annihilation, an eerily familiar female AI helping you out along the way.

I have to say, for a low-budget $4.99 production, N.O.V.A. deserves high marks for the scope of its gameplay and the technology behind its graphics engine. The game’s 13 missions take a good three hours to complete on average (that isn’t a whole lot shorter than any of the recent Call of Duty games!), and there are built-in Trophy-style medals to go back for and an unlockable hard difficulty setting. The game is also quite impressive graphically (when running on the PSP at least), featuring detailed weapon models, varied level environments, and special effects touches that bring immersive depth to the game world, particularly in the jungle settings with flowing waterfalls and ‘God rays’ shining down through the canopy.

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Unfortunately, that’s where the compliments end, as the rest of the game just isn’t any good, no matter how hard you may try to use the cheap price point to quantify and forgive its shortcomings. N.O.V.A. runs on the familiar PSP shooter control scheme of using the face buttons to move/strafe and the analog nub to aim (or vice versa if you prefer), but even with aim assist on and the sensitivity slider adjusted, the targeting controls are so slow and imprecise that you have to work far too hard just to get an enemy lined up inside your crosshairs. The interface is also cumbersome, particularly later in the game when you’ve collected every gun and find that you can only cycle through your arsenal in one direction and there isn’t some form of radial selection menu to make the process more intuitive.

The game is technically flawed as well — it even crashed my system one time, which is an extremely rare occurrence for a PSP game in my experience. Sure, the graphics are nice, but the engine is so shaky that the rest of the game suffers. The targeting controls are already sloppy, but when the shootouts get heated and the stuttering frame rate begins to noticeably slow down your rate of fire and cause sound effects to delay or misfire completely, the gameplay goes even further down the toilet. Don’t even try to play the game on the PS3 either, because the graphics don’t scale well to the big screen at all and Gameloft didn’t bother to provide alternate controls to make use of the DualShock’s two analog sticks, so the game handles even worse than on the PSP.

No matter how you slice it, N.O.V.A. is a barebones, by-the-numbers FPS, with no sense of personality or distinguishing characteristics to individuate itself from other games in the genre. I really don’t fault the developer’s efforts, it’s just that the FPS genre simply does not lend itself to the type of scaling back that’s inherent in developing for the Minis platform, and this game is proof of that.

I had five bucks sitting unused in my PSN account for what had been at least a year, so I didn’t see any downside to using it up on this game. But as soon as I got the game downloaded and began playing, I immediately regretted my purchase and wished I had my money back. Please, don’t make the same mistake I did.

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Pros:
+ Nice graphics…for a $5 game
+ Lengthy campaign mode…for a $5 game

Cons:
– Lousy controls
– Unstable frame rate directly impacts gameplay
– Audio bugs and system crashes
– Looks and plays even worse on PS3
– Downsized, oversimplified gameplay just doesn’t work for FPSs

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Minis (PSP and PS3)
Publisher: Gameloft
Developer: Gameloft
Release Date: 12/21/2010
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!