One of the few things which French mobile gaming giant Gameloft doesn’t do very often is originality.

Most of its recent games can be traced back to previous big-name titles from others.

Modern Combat is very heavily influenced by Modern Warfare, Blades of Fury takes more than mild inspiration from Tekken and Gangstar is basically Grand Theft Auto in everything but name.

To use a bit of music parlance, what Gameloft does is to perform cover versions of old hits, remixing the tunes and slightly rewriting the lyrics.

This might sound like a criticism but it isn’t. If Gameloft is able to steal a march on its rivals and bring these epic games to the iPhone/iPod platform before anyone else then good luck to it.

And when the cover versions are as good as Gameloft’s recent games have been then there is very little to complain about. It’s a very specialist skill to produce pocket-sized replicas of well-known huge games, and its efforts have been so good that nobody seems to mind the real things not being present.

The latest release off the “this is just like ...” production line is NOVA (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance), which is just like Halo.

NOVA is a first-person sci-fi shooter, and easily the best game in its field for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Your Local Guardian: NOVA

The main character in NOVA is retired marine Kal Wardin who is forced back into action to investigate a possible alien threat aboard a ship in a futuristic world in which Earth is no longer habitable and people live on huge satellites called near-orbitals.

Playing as Wardin you will embark on an intensely dangerous adventure spread across 13 levels. You will explore five distinct environments - spaceship, bunker, jungle, snow mountains and alien city – discovering along the way that actually your mission isn’t a simple investigation but instead a fight for mankind's survival.

The action in NOVA is almost non-stop right from the start. There is nothing very subtle about the gameplay – this is extreme running and gunning.

Tons of monsters come at you as you roam hallways, forests and other locations, and it’s your job to shoot them down using an arsenal of weapons at your disposal, which includes assault rifle, shotgun, handgun and grenades.

These are not your stand-still-while-you-blast-them types – these aliens want your blood as much as you want theirs, and you will need your wits about during tough combat sequences.

Your Local Guardian: NOVA

The challenging game barely lets you find your feet at the beginning before the battles begin and then it scarcely lets you catch your breath throughout.

Luckily you’ll be guided around the levels by a combination of arrows and corny voiceovers. The various objectives are pretty clearly explained. There are numerous and generous checkpoints to restart from when your health meter is drained.

A few mini games and puzzles are woven into the game but seem to serve as brief respite from the full-on intensity of the game rather than actually adding anything.

Expect levels to take about 20 minutes to complete as NOVA packs in a lot of action.

During the course of its recent releases Gameloft has really been refining the touch screen controls needed to make fast-paced games playable, and the controls in NOVA are very good.

Wardin is moved around using a virtual joystick, while sliding your finger across the screen rotates his view.

Buttons on the screen are used for firing weapons, reloading, switching between weapons, throwing grenades and jumping.

There are two alternative configurations but for me the default settings are the best.

A nice touch with the controls is the ability to customise the interface to your own specification.

Your Local Guardian: NOVA

The one issue I have had with the controls is that I’ve sometimes found it tricky to co-ordinate my fingers and do everything at once during moments of acute drama. For instance, when I’ve come under fire I’ve had trouble turning Wardin around, moving him out of danger and firing back at the enemy all in quick succession. This is far more my issue than the game’s, however.

One of the most appealing features in NOVA is its online multiplayer, for which you need a wifi connection and a Gameloft Live account. This allows you to play a death match against up to three other people on your choice of five maps.

Multiplayer is limited in terms of it offering only one mode and no character customisation, but it’s great to see such a solid online experience.

I’ve had some problems with multiplayer, in that I’ve been annihilated in every match I’ve plated so far. The highest number of kills I’ve managed is one. This could be down to my poor little 1st gen iPod Touch struggling for performance or to me being woefully unskilled at this sort of game. I rather suspect it’s the latter, especially as my co-ordination issues with the controls have come to the fore in online play, though I’m still inclined to blame the hardware for my uselessness!

Your Local Guardian: NOVA

NOVA has some first-class graphics and audio to go with its exhilarating gameplay. Well, first-class except for the mediocre voice acting.

The game is an impressive sight, with some very polished and detailed 3D environments. NOVA runs commendably smoothly, with very slick movement.

Sound in the game is generally good, with some suitably moody and atmospheric music ramping up the tension.

NOVA is a massive game in many ways. The intensity and quality of its single-player action coupled with the success so far of its online functionality make it a groundbreaking achievement for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

It’s one of these rare occasions where ambition and hype have combined to produce something remarkable instead of a let-down.

If you have a hankering for a top-quality first-person shooter and a desire to splatter some aliens (as well as other people, in virtual form) then NOVA is your game.

Verdict: 9 out of 10 – Original it is not, but NOVA still sends the competition into orbit and manages to achieve greatness by being the best of its kind so far for iPhone/iPod.