Every generation of gaming has one game that sets a standard for the rest of the industry for whatever reason. Pong for the Atari put the home console movement in, well, motion. Super Mario 64 defined what a 3D game should look and play like. More recently, Crysis--a sci-fi shooter released in 2007 that took some serious hardware to run well--set the standard for what PC games are capable of. N.O.V.A. Elite by Gameloft is Facebook's Crysis. Frankly, this is the most stunning social game to date, visually speaking. Of course, some praises are in order for the Unity 3D game engine itself, but it's Gameloft who took those tools and crafted a game that looks as if it could fit in on today's handheld systems. Then again, every beauty has a few blemishes.
Everything from the game's particle effects to lighting is a technological feat on Facebook. It's simply enthralling to launch a rocket into a squad of enemies, watch the plume of fire turn into one of smoke and move on to the next victim. These are things you simply cannot accomplish with standard Flash-based social games, and it's exactly why N.O.V.A. sets a standard for future Facebok games that decide to take this route.
Of course, gameplay happens in real time, randomized death matches of 12 players. For a first-person shooter, the gameplay is essentially standard fare: Run around the map looking for targets, shoot said targets until they die, reload, and repeat. If you've never played a first-person shooter before, this will all feel extremely alien. On the outset, you'll only have access to a few weapons and what you can scavenge while playing a match, but there are plenty of guns available for coins or Facebook Credits.
While many traditional social gamers were already off-put by strange words like "first-person shooter" and "Unity Engine," N.O.V.A. is a fine entry point into this burgeoning genre of social gaming. And it's all thanks to your friends. Despite being a real-time combat game, Gameloft has integrated the common social game tropes like gift giving. However, the developer has taken that one step further by allowing friends to join one another in matches. This isn't your usual visit to your friend's farm, but you and your buddy going head-to-head in an all-out skirmish.
We've all been wondering when social games were going to become more social. Well, you're looking at it. At least for the moment. By allowing players to interact with one another in real time, N.O.V.A. has accomplished what only a few other games could: truly social gameplay. Unfortunately, making such a far leap to the opposite end of the social gaming spectrum has its drawbacks.
Gameloft is asking quite a lot of its audience with N.O.V.A. First of all, the game states its own system requirements, something that will certainly scare away plenty of potential FarmVille converts. (Not to mention it's something I don't personally agree with.) Second, while a veteran of franchises like Halo and Call of Duty will pick the gameplay up from muscle memory alone, this game is terribly complex for the average social gamer. And third, it requires an external install (the Unity player) and up to 1 gigabyte of storage to keep game files on your system for quicker load times.
These are a few of the major reasons why casual gamers stay away from games like N.O.V.A. And while it's possible that Gameloft isn't even looking at those folks as a potential audience, it definitely should consider them. Especially when there are 300 million of them. Regardless of Gameloft's focus, N.O.V.A. is a step forward for social games in both visuals and social interaction.
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