NovaRift: Arena is a 2D multiplayer space combat game by Monster Gila in which up to 16 players collide in the black of space, vying for survival and supremacy. The game is loosely based on real-world physics. Your ship’s components take damage separately, meaning that you may lose all or some of your weapons or thrusters in the course of battle, affecting your offensive capabilities and maneuverability. This can lead to some intense battles and triumphant tales as you strive to defend yourself against other players in a partially disabled ship.
There is also a single-player arcade mode for offline play which pits players against wave after wave of drones. Waves become progressively more difficult, with an increasing number of drones appearing, and new, more powerful drones being introduced at regular intervals.
In either mode, players may choose to pilot one of four ships, each distinctly different from the others:
The VF-72 Viper medium fighter is well armored and highly maneuverable, making it a good choice for beginning players. The ship steers well even when damaged, and is armed with four plasma rifles — two forward firing and two rear firing — allowing it to attack foes both ahead of and behind it.
The FS-12 Comet light fighter is more fragile than the viper, but also more nimble. Its arsenal includes two forward-firing plasma rifles and a spreadfire cannon capable of devastating clustered opponents. The comet is one of my two favorite ships; it’s fast and its shotgun attack is very effective.
The TB-13x Dragon heavy torpedo bomber is my other favorite ship. The dragon is reasonably well armored and packs a powerful punch with its proximity torpedos. The power comes at a trade-off, though; the dragon carries only a single plasma rifle and can be difficult to maneuver when damaged.
The FX-32 Sidewinder light fighter is the weakest ship in terms of firepower, carrying only two plasma rifles. But what it lacks in punch, it makes up for in maneuverability and speed. The sidewinder is the fastest ship available, and the only craft capable of lateral movement, or “strafing”. While a poor choice for starting out, experienced players can do serious damage in a sidewinder, the preferred craft of space ninjas everywhere.
The game’s online mode is dependent upon OpenFeint for sign-in and statistic tracking, and implements the social network very well. There are leaderboards for all modes and difficulty levels, as well as achievements to be unlocked.
Ships: Each of NovaRift’s four ships differ in firepower, maneuverability, defensive capability and structural integrity. The differences are significant enough to require adaptive strategies depending on which ship you are piloting, as well as which ship(s) you are battling. While the ships adhere to a common aesthetic, they are each distinctly and functionally designed, and very cool looking. The drone ships are pretty nice looking as well.
Effects: Despite being played in a 2D field, NovaRift’s backdrops bear the illusion of three-dimensional space. There’s a lot going on in the background with the requisite planets, moons and starscapes being accounted for, but also with asteroids and ship debris floating in the distance. The thruster effects on ships are nice, and so are the explosions and warping effects when ships enter and depart the battle.
The Score: I adore the music in NovaRift: Arena. It just sounds epic, and very much reminds me of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. It really makes you feel as if you are locked in a desperate, grand struggle for high stakes.
Desperate Kills and Tall Tales: Your primary thrusters and main plasma rifles are all offline, your shields are down; you can do little more than spin in circles, firing your secondary weapon when your weapon energy is sufficient enough to do so. Enemy ships in full health are closing for the kill, and yet somehow, inexplicably you manage to fend them off. They’re wheeling around for a second assault, closing fast. You have enough energy remaining for only a single shot, but your torpedo connects with one ship, destroying it outright. The blast damages the second, but it waves off and manages to survive the strike. It turns, ready for another attack run. You’re spinning out of control, but your shields have replenished a little and your weapon energy is regenerating. The final opponent is on top of you now, but your shields are holding if only for another few seconds. At the last moment, you have the energy for another torpedo and launch it point-blank into your enemy’s bow. You’re battered and reeling, adrift in space, but you’re alive and you are the victor.
HUD: The thrust and firing controls are in the right place, but other HUD elements are poorly positioned at the top center of the screen, including your shield and weapons readouts, OpenFeint notifications and chat dialog. However you may fly, your ship always faces upward on-screen, meaning that all of these elements obscure your line of attack. As the game is played from a top-down perspective, your range of visibility is already limited, and further limited by these items getting in your way. A better layout would have placed the self-destruct button in the game menu, freeing up the space at the bottom of the screen for notifications and incoming messages. The gauges would probably work well positioned to the sides. However it gets done, the top center of the screen should be open so that you can see your opponents to shoot them.
Asteroids: Indestructible and coming in a variety of inconvenient sizes, NovaRift’s asteroids are just a pain. Whether on the attack or on the run, the game’s limited field of view guarantees that you will eventually collide with an asteroid, unable to maneuver quickly enough to dodge the rock’s sudden appearance in your path. And when you’re hanging on to dear life by a thread, struggling to fend off attackers, it can be a real pain when an asteroid moves in for the kill.
In-game Stats: There is presently no way to see statistics — kills, deaths, time remaining — while playing. These statistics are only presented at the conclusion of the deathmatch round. It would be great to be able to access this information from the in-game menu during combat.
Under-populated: Sadly, there’s just not many people playing NovaRift: Arena at the moment, making it very difficult to get involved in multiplayer matches. While the game supports online battle of up to 16 players, I have yet to engage in a battle numbering more than four fighters.
NovaRift: Arena is a quality title and a lot of fun to play. I just hope to see more players taking the plunge and the online battles becoming more frantic. According to Monster Gila, the game’s first update is already in the works and will be adding two new ships with two new weapons, and a team deathmatch mode. Future updates will continue to add new ships and modes to the game, and so NovaRift only stands to become better as time goes on.
Presently, the game is available at the introductory price of $1.99. There is also a free lite version available which limits players to 36 single-player stages of offline play and allows up to 30 minutes of online play. The full version allows unlimited play online and off, and is definitely worth dropping a few bucks on.
NovaRift: Arena provides a fantastic arena for online battles and a solid single-player mode. With new ships and game modes already in the works, players have much to look forward to with this title. I highly recommend the game and hope to see more players joining the fray, as I look forward to making you all dead in the dead of space soon.
NovaRift: Arena is developed by Monster Gila and available for $1.99; a free lite version is also available. Reviewed at version 1.0.0 on an iPhone 3G.