NOVA 3 preview The handheld FPS that could be the next Infinity Blade

We’re no strangers to FPS games on our phones, or how underwhelming they can sometimes be. RAGE felt like a glorified mutant shooting gallery, and COD Black Ops: Zombies was more House of the Dead than Left 4 Dead. Needless to say, our expectations for NOVA 3 were lukewarm at best – so imagine our surprise when we laid eyes on graphics that looked less like Quake and more like Crysis. It’s got the same magnetic presence of Infinity Blade: watching someone play it makes you itch to try it yourself, and seeing the gorgeous graphics on a miniature screen never ceases to impress.

Crysis comparisons will spring to mind for anyone who’s played it – the protagonist’s body armor looks nearly identical to the nanosuit, and the half-robot-half-red-alien-tendrils enemy designs could easily be stunt-doubles for the baddies of EA’s blockbuster franchise. But if you’re going to copy something, then Prophet’s cityscape adventures aren’t a bad place to start. Whereas the earlier games in the NOVA series looked more like Unreal 2, Gameloft’s proprietary engine pumps out beautiful graphics that rival the techno-wizardry Crytek uses to craft their games.

You play as Kal Wardin (no, he’s not a Green Lantern), the hero of the previous games who finds himself shipwrecked in the alien warzone known as San Francisco. Voltarites (the brutish extraterrestrials in question) are tearing Earth apart, and the NOVA team is doing their best to defend it, one checkpoint at a time. Though it looks like Crysis 2, the gameplay felt more along the lines of Duke Nukem 3D (the classic PC shooter, not the recent trainwreck Forever). With plenty of indoor and outdoor areas, shootouts that make each shotgun blast to an alien’s chest feel fulfilling, and a grip of use-them-or-don’t power-ups, it’s got all the soul of Duke’s run-‘n’-gun action with a much shinier coat of graphical paint.

When it comes to playing first-person shooters, nothing comes close to the control afforded by a mouse and keyboard. That said, the touchscreen controls aren’t too shabby: left thumb for running and strafing, right thumb to look around, aim down the sights, reload, and activate your powers (okay, perhaps the right side of the screen can get a touch too hectic). “Powers” in this case mean the same canned abilities we’ve seen in previous FPS games, though it doesn’t make them any less fun. The force push, paralyzing shot, and bullet-time powers break up the pace of gunning down enemies, and come in handy when fighting the hulking Voltarites known simply as Skullcrushers. We also got our hands on a multitude of weapons, with the shotgun, plasma gun, and rocket launcher making it particularly satisfying to vaporize aliens into a fine red mist.

While Gameloft wasn’t ready to talk price, this definitely-not-free app will come packed with 10 levels (totaling around six hours of gameplay) and 12-player multiplayer complete with six modes and unlockable perks. From our playthrough of two levels, it already felt like it could be the next big thing on iOS and Android, and with a release slated for May, it won’t be long before you’re able to get your fingers on it.

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