Rating: ★★★★½

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Bungie is just one company that should be flattered then, because while the first NOVA borrowed reluctantly, the followup really took to heart Pablo Picasso’s saying that “great artists steal”. With Gameloft’s sequel, the similarities are no longer an afterthought. They are immediately noticeable. But what the heck, who cares, we’re looking for the best game on the iPhone, and NOVA 2 does not disappoint.

The first person shooter, developed by Gameloft, pits players six years after the original game as the same super-soldier badass, now fighting against a puppet government under alien influence. In his usual way, Kal Wardin takes all the guns he can get, drops onto whichever planet needs to be cleaned up, and runs the gamut of enemy lines until there’s nothing left but bodies and ash. To keep this review brief and concise, I’ll leave out portions of NOVA 2 that are ripped from other games. That’ll save us both plenty of time.

That funny AI looks awfully familiar…

This mid-paced shooter isn’t so different from the original from a gameplay aspect, yet everything is fine tuned and added to. More and larger enemies, two major driving sequences, several new alien weapons, and a larger emphasis on tactics as opposed to just straight shooting…these are just some of the major improvements. Graphically, NOVA 2 employes new unique and colorful environments, and all of our favorite characters return, crisper and cleaner than ever.

Most of the plot is a throw-away, a method of getting players from one location to another, and it’s not memorable or important. Cutscenes are generally short, though a few were surprisingly well done, with slow-motion scenes and amazing feats. In fact, there are a handful of very neat moments in NOVA 2, but they are rare and all too often are gone as fast as they came. The opening cinematic is also quite spectacular, and it’s worth watching when the opportunity arises.

Combat is like any console first person shooter, utilizing two (digital) analog sticks and several key (virtual) buttons. Players can shoot the selected weapon, reload/switch weapons, use an alternate attack, and jump. Movement is controlled on the left side of the screen while aiming and all secondary buttons are on the right side. These buttons include a secondary attack (which there are now multiple attacks, including a stun and melee), jump and shoot. Shooting can be done while turning by clicking on the shoot button and, without removing your thumb from the screen, sliding it in the desired direction.

Vehicle sections are particularly treacherous, but also surprisingly fun

Graphics have received a slight boost, but the bigger change is the art design. There are more colors in NOVA 2, better rendered environments, and a far better opening cinematic. It’s not a stunner like Infinity Blade or Rage HD, but on the scale of high-quality iPhone games, NOVA 2 is right up there.

Gameloft also included support for the gyroscope built into the iPhone 4/iPod Touch 4th gen, which you may or may not love. For certain gamers and certain scenarios, it’s a very useful feature, allowing players to turn their phones slightly (or far) to actually change the direction of aim. That said, unless you have 360° of movement, turning through sliding a finger on the screen is the main way to aim, but now players can keep their finger on the trigger and turn their phone’s slightly instead of actually sliding that finger across. Its use is completely up to the player. I found it extremely annoying at times, and just couldn’t aim with it. Why? Because I felt like it should be inverted, but there is no option to invert the function. It’s a cool feature, that’s for sure.

Now where do I know this game from?

Multiplayer on NOVA 2 is…hectic, to say the least. It’s almost like a bunch of Xbox 360 gamers playing competitively, but with their feet on the controllers. Everyone’s doing their best to shoot and kill opponents, but it’s not as easy when the game isn’t helping you shoot or when the bad guys don’t stand still and take your bullets. That said, most players are just downright awful. Others are disgustingly good. The problem is on a handheld like the iPhone, it’s so easy to just drop the game when you’re doing poorly that people do it all the time.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of gamer you are, NOVA 2 is one of the most intense, fast paced and well-made games on the iPhone. You would be remiss to skip out on it, unless the only games you play are Angry Birds and Solitaire. In which case, why are you reading this review? Seriously, go back to your real life or whatever.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.