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SummaryAn open-ended, wonderfully-plotted space adventure with some annoying technical problems.
The GoodFirst off, the graphics should be mentioned. Ambrosia is not a large company yet the two-dimensional models are all distinct and of high quality. The factions all have wonderfully unique ships and weapons. It is a fixed-angle (about 3/4 view) isometric game. The pyrotechnics are great for a game of this type and so are the projectiles. It's not meant to be like freelancer or homeworld two and if you enter the game expecting simple graphics, you won't be disappointed. I have noted some minor graphical issues below.
The gameplay is fantastic. The Escape Velocity series has always been about open-ended plots, trading, galactic domination, and creativity. Nova stays true to this form while improving graphics and overall presentation. Like most games of this genre, you start with a terrible ship, get a brief introduction to the game, and then are sent off on your merry way. Depending on your inclinations you can trade, fight, or pursue plot lines for any of the six factions or multiple subfactions. But for the most part you have absolute freedom in the way you play this game, though the various factions do react to your actions and your 'criminal record.'
The stories for the various factions are fun if hackneyed. The development of these plots is accomplished entirely through text, so be prepared for a great deal of reading as you play this game. They are engaging and immersive and most follow the standard 'nobody-turns-into-great-warrior/hero' formula for video games. No real surprises there but the stories are pleasant. Additionally, the factions themselves are unique and have a great deal of character. The Escape Velocity universe is quite well crafted post-colonization and civil war human-only civilization. It's an easy universe to get interested in and if you follow the plot lines, you'll end up changing the very fabric of this universe, which is great fun!
The BadWeaknesses simply must be addressed in this game.
Firstly, the sound is uniformly terrible. The weapon sounds are bland and hollow with 'red alert' sounds they very well might have taken from Star Trek. This is perhaps excusable since Ambrosia is such a small company, but I would be remiss to not mention this. There is no music in the game either which is a major drawback to this game player. While it's no problem to turn on winamp in the background, it's a bit incongruous to listen to my music library while playing a sci-fi game. Even a bunch of classical music would have been better than nothing. Indeed, with a total lack of game music and bland and unimpressive weapon/explosion noises, I got quite sick of the sound in this game, which is quite uncommon for me as ordinarily I'm quite tolerant of poor sound.
Technical problems also mar this game. Crashes are fairly common and totally inexplicable. It is also necessary for every user to download quicktime and enable certain additional options in quicktime. While ambrosia's website has information about this step of installing EVN, it is wholly unclear precisely why quicktime in necessary to play this game. And if it's so necessary, why is it not included in the download?
As a further and much more annoying technical flaw, it is common for mission strings to not pick up. That is, you'll complete a mission, return to where you're supposed to, and nothing will happen. This happened to me twice for every plot line I completed! Mind you I did not fail the missions, rather, I double-checked with a mission walkthrough. Words can not describe now frustrating it is to have spent a few hours building up the money to buy a new ship and a few more hours to follow a plot line only to have the thing fall apart on you as some script or trigger fails. It's just sloppy and I found it unacceptable, especially since your pilot file is saved every time you land on a planet. So, if you do a mission but the trigger isnt' set off, then you land on a planet, your game is over-written and it's permanently impossible to get the trigger to acknowledge you've completed a mission. So it becomes necessary to manually back up your pilot files periodically when you know you're doing ok in the missions. This shouldn't be necessary.