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Does N.O.V.A. 3 actually look better on the old iPad?

The latest iPad's higher resolution makes some games look better, but certain users are finding Gameloft's new title is missing a little eye candy.


Conventional wisdom suggests that putting more pixels in a video game would make it look better, but some users are saying that's not the case for N.O.V.A. 3 on Apple's third-generation iPad.

According to forum-goers over at Neogaf, iPad 2 users ended up with a better-looking version of Gameloft's latest first-person shooter than those running the game on third-generation iPad hardware. They've even gone through the effort of taking some screenshots to prove it.

The new game, which takes place in the bombed-out ruins of San Francisco, runs in the new iPad's 2,048x1,536 pixel resolution. And apparently Gameloft traded off some of the graphical effects in the name of performance to make that happen. That includes a depth-of-field effect that selectively blurs parts of the screen, as well as various lighting and particle effects that add extra detail to the game's world. These show up on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, but not on the latest iPad.

The end results are noticeable when put side to side, as Neogaf member Dacvak has done. For instance, in the below series of shots, smoke and fire are seen funneling out of damaged buildings, whereas they're nowhere to be seen on the third-generation iPad:

iPad 2:

Fire and smoke bellow out of the buildings in N.O.V.A. on an iPad 2.
Fire and smoke bellow out of the buildings in N.O.V.A. 3 on an iPad 2. Neogaf forums

Third-generation iPad:

The same buildings simply look bombed out on the third-generation iPad.
The same buildings simply look bombed out on the third-generation iPad. Neogaf forums

In this other set of photos, you can see how the depth of field affects the rest of the background, a style gamemakers have long been using on PC and console games to draw your eye toward certain parts of the screen:

iPad 2:

N.O.V.A. 3 on the iPad 2 (with depth-of-field effects)
N.O.V.A. 3 on the iPad 2 (with depth-of-field effects) Neogaf forums

Third-generation iPad:

N.O.V.A. 3 on the iPad 3 (without depth-of-field effects)
N.O.V.A. 3 on the iPad 3 (without depth-of-field effects) Neogaf forums

In the move between the second- and third-generation iPad models, Apple quadrupled the number of pixels on the display. To compensate, it tweaked its A5 chip, adding a quad-core graphics processing unit and dubbing it the A5X. What didn't change was the CPU itself, which continues to be a dual-core Cortex A9 CPU.

In a statement, Gameloft said it plans to add an option in an upcoming update that lets users pick whether they want to use the third-generation iPad's resolution, or switch down to a lower resolution to view the extra effects.

"Those who play N.O.V.A. 3 Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance on the newest iPad will be able to choose between the Retina resolution or Motion Blur and Particles effects in the next update," the company told CNET. "Both options can unfortunately not run together."

In the meantime, game enthusiasts are unlikely to care too much about missing these bits of eye candy, considering the core gameplay is the same. However, this does illustrate one of the potential drawbacks of running games at these resolutions. PC gamers have run into similar trade-offs for years, but those games often offer the option to toggle various processing effects, and pick different resolutions, to find a happy medium. In the iPad's case, there's simplicity in that end users don't have to make those kind of choices.

Update, May 11, 10:51 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Gameloft.