Look, it’s not like I could make a better shooter for the iPhone. And it’s not like I couldn’t imagine someone else really loving N.O.V.A. It’s just that that person isn’t me.
I feel strangely protective of N.O.V.A. Like the drawings my daughter makes, which you want to praise except you can’t tell what they are.
I mean, it really is amazing what a complete little world they managed to jam inside the iPhone’s stainless steel bezel. Decent audio, nice textures — there’s a real sense of space. Even the outdoor scenes have a Halo-type sense of loftiness to them — giant alien architecture soaring up into the mist. I wouldn’t've thought it could be done. It’s like a TARDIS for your fingers.
But there’s something about the game that just doesn’t feel native to the platform. Shooters are a genre that evolved on different hardware, and when you try to transplant them to the alien soil of the iPhone they fail to thrive. Look at the control scheme: you’ve got a circular area on your left that’s supposed to be the joystick, which moves you around. Then you’ve got a red dot on your right, which is your trigger. Then you swipe anywhere on the screen to rotate the camera.
I don’t see how else you could have done it, but I just can’t get comfortable with it. When you’re frantically thumbing around in the thick of combat, your left thumb keeps slipping off the designated joystick area — because it feels exactly the same as the rest of the damn screen — with the result that, when you try to move forward, you look up instead. For the mighty Spartan laying about him in the press, this is not cool. I mean, thank God this game isn’t first person, so I don’t have to look at myself staring at the sky all the time while pseudo-Elites beat me to pieces. I felt like the aliens were laughing at me.
Plus all this heavy massaging of the screen just isn’t very manly. Frankly it feels vaguely sexual. There I said it.
For all that it’s a big old Halo knock-off, someone put a lot of love into N.O.V.A. It’s an insanely ambitious game. It’s even tricked out with a Bioshock-esque hacking mini-game, and some Dead Space-esque space-walking sequences. It just needs a bigger platform. Maybe somebody should make a version of it for the 360.