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N.O.V.A. 3 is the best shooter on iOS, but it's still not perfect

The latest game in this sci-fi shooter franchise is a must download for first-person-shooter fans, but it still has a few multiplayer issues that need to be worked out.

N.O.V.A. 3
N.O.V.A. 3 looks amazing even when you're simply walking down the street.
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

N.O.V.A. 3 Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance ($6.99 -- iOS universal) is the third installment of Gameloft's first-person shooter franchise that, many have argued, bears a strong resemblance to Microsoft's Halo. Whether that's true, the game is mostly a gun-shooting good time with all the perks you'd expect in an FPS, but it does have a couple of problems.

With that said, N.O.V.A. is arguably the best sci-fi shooter franchise on iOS, and with the third installment there's plenty more bad guys to blow away in new and interesting ways. You play as Kal Wardin, and are once again charged with saving mankind -- and this time you'll start on a war-torn planet Earth.

While it's disturbing to see San Francisco destroyed (did CNET make it out OK?) in the opening scenes of the game, the graphics are beautiful and intense as you initially crash land on the planet and dive right into the action. The story leads you through 10 levels that have you traversing throughout the galaxy. The game looks and feels amazing, too -- it features real-time shadows and lighting, a particle system, and ragdoll physics to make it look as realistic as possible. I played for quite some time in my testing, and I can tell you the visuals are outstanding compared with any top-tier iOS title out there.

N.O.V.A. 3
You can find servers easily, and you can filter by game type to narrow your search. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The interface for N.O.V.A 3 is a pretty standard setup for FPS games on iOS. You use a left joypad for movement, while swiping on the right side of the screen to look around. A sprint button sits conveniently on the left, with buttons for jumping, firing your weapon, and special skills on the lower right. In the upper right you can swipe to switch weapons, touch a weapon to reload, or touch a button to throw a grenade. Your success with the controls will depend on how many FPS games you've played on iOS, and while the touch screen is difficult to compare with game controllers or a mouse and keyboard setup, N.O.V.A. 3 is very responsive and I quickly forgot about the controls once the game got moving.

Like any good shooter, N.O.V.A. 3 offers tons of weapons and upgrades to make you a killing machine on the battlefield. What's smart about the unlock system is that, though you can use real money to buy gold, only gun upgrades are available for purchase in the Armory, but you'll still need to play the game to unlock bigger and better guns. This prevents people from paying to have a huge advantage in multiplayer, but allows them to increase their gun clip size and other minor advantages with cash. I like this setup of giving a little bit of advantage to those who pay, but not letting people have everything. It keeps it mostly fair for all players who are willing to put in the time to earn the rewards.

N.O.V.A. 3
The Mech is very powerful on multiplayer servers, but it's also slow. An opponent with enough patience and a machine gun can take you down. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The multiplayer mode is a little more problematic. Gameloft does a lot of things right, to be fair -- multiple game type standards like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are all here, as are new game types like Freeze Tag. When you find a good game, stick with it, because when you find a server with a good connection, you're in for a lot of excellent shooting action. But the problem seems to be with syncing up players from around the globe. On more than one occasion I was met with terrible lag, which any first-person-shooter fan can tell you is a death warrant. I also noticed a significant wait time between games, and this seems to be largely because it allows the creator of the game session to make changes to settings between matches. Users naturally want to play and get tired of waiting, so what ends up happening is many of the people you just played with will log off in search of a server that's currently active. For the most part, the multiplayer is quite good, however, so you may just need to be patient for now while Gameloft works on a patch.

N.O.V.A. 3, overall, is a worthy sequel with better graphics, a better storyline, and better multiplayer action than the previous versions. If you're looking for some of the best first-person-shooting action at the App Store, this game is definitely worth a download.