12/31/2003 3:13:50 PM
NBA Inside Drive 2004 Xbox Review
By Zach Rosenberg
The Xbox took a big hit this year not being included in EA's online experience; because of the EA titles' lack of online play, the PS2 games generally scored better than the Xbox titles. Thus, Xbox developers had to hustle themselves into the narrow market, providing competitive sports titles that would appear on XSN Sports, and not only provide the online experience but also a single-player game that would keep up with the likes of EA and Sega's market domination. Does "NBA Inside Drive 2004" keep up? Will basketball fans turn their back on EA and Sega for the High Voltage Software-developed, Microsoft-published title? Maybe.
I've checked around and read other reviews of this game, and it's not just me--this IS a good game, but I (and other reviewers) thought it also has a lot of room to grow. And it'd better grow quickly, because it's not like this is a new series. In its fourth year of existence, the "NBA Inside Drive" franchise needs a good jolt of reality: EA will be offering online play next year for their Xbox titles, and with "ESPN NBA Basketball" already looking and feeling polished and complete with online play, "NBA Inside Drive" needs to seriously reevaluate itself.
All of this being said, "NBA Inside Drive 2004" triumphs in places that other games do not. For example, the pace of games is far more accurate in this title versus others. It is far more likely that final game scores will be in the 80-90 point range instead of the 120-130 point range. Whereas other games focus on fast breaks and run-and-gun basketball, "Inside Drive" forces a player to slow down and deliberately decide where he's going to go for the play. Sure, there's still half-court passes to an open man on the break, but even if you did that every play, the game would still feel a whole lot slower. This pace may please more die-hard simulation fans. In fact, many of "Inside Drive's" triumphs are in the smaller details that most people won't even notice. The problem is, the game's failures are out in the open, so most people won't see past them.
I found that the AI in the game was spotty. I loved that it felt like my offensive AI was on-point--my players were running around picks, struggling to get open beyond the arc, posting up, cutting through the lane when they saw the opportunity, and generally positioning themselves in good places when I had the ball. Unfortunately, though, I felt like the overall defensive AI was based on simply following the offensive players. I can imagine that it must be tough to code defense in a basketball video game; to do so effectively would entail programming five completely independent AI's thought-processes, as well as a blanket of a team playbook. It sounds tough, so I'm generally forgiving when it comes to defense. Still, it felt as if the defense was lacking, moreso than in the other titles on the market. The only impressively defensive thing I saw teams do was to dive for the ball as it fell out of bounds, which admittedly counts for a lot when you're down by two and there's less than a minute left.
Aside from the offense and defense, the individual player controls are solid. There's never going to be TOO much innovation in controls, since the game of basketball won't change rules--there will always be a shoot button and a pass button. Likewise, there's the industry-standard turbo button and a sort of shake-n-bake button. There's no "iso-motion" like in "ESPN NBA Basketball," and there's no "freestyle-stick" like in "Live." But the right thumbstick on the Xbox controller pulls off many of the same moves as the shake-n-bake button, so I just jam on both of those while holding turbo and I seem to get around the defenders. Still, I like the feeling of this game. Plays actually come in handy, and you can call them with the D-pad controls. Every now and then it'll glitch and give you the defensive plays while you're on offense, but I just picked one anyway--I was never good at basketball anyway. All I know is that if you've got patience, the kind of patience that sim-fans have, then you'll appreciate "Inside Drive's" pace and plays. If you just try to power through and dunk on every play, this game will pass you by as uninteresting and uninspired, but if you're a fan of posting-up and driving the lane, only to kick the ball out for a strategic three-pointer, then you'll have fun with this title.
The real fun of this title is in the online play. There are still a lot of people who will drop the game and disconnect if you're ahead, and there's even more who will just post a player under their basket and full-court pass to him every time they've got the ball, but if you've got friends on your Xbox buddy list who've got this game, you'll find that "Inside Drive" makes for a rewarding game to play against a friend. Because of the slowish pace, it's almost like playing "Risk" with a basketball! In addition to the online mode, players can create their own season mode, which is sufficient. It doesn't bog itself down in all of the things that other titles confused me with; I was never interested in hiring and firing my waterboy and food catering service in the season mode, so the straightforward approach appealed to me.
The graphics are just like everything else in the game: some aspects are great, and others are terrible. The dunk animations aren't over-the-top and powerhouse exciting, but you'll get a good sense of the dunk when you throw it down. The stadiums look awesome and this was one of the only games where I felt an actual sense of depth when looking at the crowd. The crowd itself, though, was a problem for me. At first I was really impressed, but then I realized that everyone in the crowd was making the same motion at the same time. As for the other game animations, they felt sufficient, but after playing the aforementioned EA and Sega titles, I can't help but feel like everyone should have learned by now how to make a player look realistic. "Inside Drive" looks as if it's a throwback to the times when you wanted to create a player and there were only 4 models to choose from: big, tall, medium, and small. But still I didn't mind--the action was still good, and the players looked enough like themselves to make me happy...for now.
The sound, sadly, was worse than the graphics. While the graphics at least looked like next-gen-console stuff, the sound strangely reminded me of "NBA Live 99" on the Playstation 1. The crowd was fairly uninspired, the sound effects were stock, and the announcing was a mixed bag. I did like some of the announcing though, at least when it wasn't repeating itself in catch phrases. Kenny Smith, Kevin Calabro, and Marques Johnson make the three-person team, along with...ummm...some woman who does courtside announcing. I liked when the announcer(s) would talk about individual players. For example, Mike Dunleavy missed 5 shots in a row, and the announcers contextually used that in their commentary, saying things like "Dunleavy with another miss, that'll be 5 missed for him." I enjoy that kind of announcing, as opposed to the in-a-vacuum stating of the facts. The game includes Dolby 5.1 sound...but I just can't imagine why.
All-in-all, "NBA Inside Drive 2004" was fun. It was definitely not NOT fun. But was it electrifying? No. I think that this series has a lot of growing up to do, and it's got to do it quickly. However, I think they're onto something special--if they can keep the pace of the games and the depth of the offense, while cranking up the defense, this game will be more popular. As for graphics and sound, they're up against tough competition. Maybe EA and Sega will fire some key programmers and artists this year and High Voltage Software can pick them up. Other than that, who knows. But I repeat: don't just overlook this game if you're into a slower-paced, more realistic basketball title. Despite its flaws, you may just be at home with this title.
Graphics: 6. I've seen worse, but I've definitely seen better.
Sound: 5. The sound was great...when it was on the Playstation 1 and in a different series.
Gameplay: 9. It's the most realistic feeling basketball title out there.
Story: 5. The story of....basketball?
Replayability: 9. Well, it's basketball, and with online play, there's never a real "end" to the game.
Overall: 7 (not an average). With fine tuning (and some major overhauls), this title would have been a major contender.
NBA Inside Drive 2004 Xbox Review