Hands on with N.O.V.A.: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance on iPad

iPad control schemes and planned enhancements detailed

Hands on with N.O.V.A.: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance on iPad

After securing a spot as one of the top 10 iPhone and iPod touch games of 2009 (shown in screenshots), the prospect of playing N.O.V.A.: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance on the more expansive, higher resolution iPad touchscreen sounds alluring.

Out of this world expectations make coming back down to Earth hard, and following hands time we're not so confident it's the right game for the device.

The game's fundamentals remain untouched from its original iPhone release. As space marine Kal Wardin, you're sent on a suicide mission to prevent humanity's demise at the hands of an aggressive alien race.

With their massive space station bearing down on a human colony in the fringes of space, you run and gun through 13 levels to save the race from utter annihilation.

It's a compelling hook, but the controls aren't where they need to be to keep the action flowing.

Dual unwieldy

On iPhone and iPod touch, dual virtual analogue sticks work well. However, this configuration doesn't function as admirably on iPad.

Firstly, the border surrounding the screen means you have to draw your thumbs in farther than on the smaller handsets. That means you're more reliant on the space between your thumbs and index fingers to prop up your iPad than when using an iPhone or iPod touch.

When you're exploring a level, this isn't a problem at all. In fact, the controls are quite competent. Moving the left analogue stick to move and swiping anywhere else on the screen to adjust the camera works nicely.

It's when context-sensitive actions are prompted at the far reaches of the screen that the controls show weakness on iPad.

Having to move a hand from its seated position at one of the screen's corners every few seconds is exasperating. The screen is so large that you literally find yourself moving your hand a significant distance from its position in the corner. Moreover, the larger iPad has to be adjusted to be held up by one hand during those few moments.

For a twitchy shooter, that's a serious disruption to the flow of combat.

Planned enhancements

Producer Mark Hickey pointed out that the game has been worked on for less than two weeks. A great deal of optimisation is planned, along with a slew of features designed to take advantage of iPad features, namely the larger touchscreen.

New multi-touch locking mechanisms for doors will be incorporated, a multi-touch targeting system enabling you to fire at multiple enemies is expected, and graphical embellishments are all promised.

We're keen to see some new control options added too, as we're not hot on the scheme inherited on iPhone and iPod touch.

Gameloft hasn't set a release date for N.O.V.A., although we anticipate it being available sometime around the launch of iPad in March.