Review by nzgamefaqs

Reviewed: 11/20/03

Microsoft brings online Basketball to Xbox.

I've been a fan of basketball games for as long as I can remember. I grew up with titles like Arch Rivals: A Basket Brawl, Double Dribble (both NES) and the original NBA Hang Time in the arcades. These games set the standard for what later became a basketball free-for-all with Sega, EA Sports and Acclaim all bringing out basketball games of one type or another. Some were good, others were down right awful and only a handful managed to capture the essence of basketball like those older titles did way back when. Basketball is a pretty hard game to make into a videogame and striking the right balance between defence and offense, arcade and simulation is a tough ask – like it is with all sports titles, just ask the developers of Rugby 2004. Some titles like NBA Street lean heavily to the arcade experience with a solid focus on action whilst NBA Live 2004 takes simulation basketball to the extreme not offering up much for those who want a bit of arcade flair with there on court action.

NBA Inside Drive 2004 marks the return of the series that was born just a few years ago on the brand spanking new Microsoft Xbox system. This title established a successful mix of arcade and simulation b-ball gameplay but failed to include vital aspects like a franchise mode and it left the game with the shell of a good game - but nothing overly satisfying. The follow up, NBA Inside Drive 2003 was also disappointed and was widely criticised for lacking online play and a deep franchise mode. A lot has changed since that first release and with even more competition around than ever developers High Voltage Software really need to step up their game if they want to woo basketball fans into there hood for a game of b-ball. The good news is that the successful formula of last years version has been bought back for another tour-de-force. The on court action has had some tweaking and to many it will appear a lot different but after about an hours play a lot of the changes could be deemed superficial and the brilliant game engine from last previous versions shines on through. The most major changes serve the title well and they include:

-Online play through XSNSports.com and Xbox Live!
-Dynasty mode i.e. A franchise setup like EA's NBA Live 2004
-A new hip-hop sound-track
-Reworked visuals
-Updated rosters, players and statistics fresh for the new NBA season
-Exciting commentary by Kenny Smith, Kevin Calabro, and Marques Johnson

The most exciting upgrade is obviously the online play. Through XSNSports.com players can use their Xbox Live! gamertag to build up rivalries and alliances in the world-wide ranking system based on official leagues and tournaments. If you aren't up for the pressure of competition play you can always just kick back and play a friendly match or search for a friend and challenge them. The online developments with this title also mean players will be able to download updated rosters, uniforms and stats which are all updated in real time from the NBA Drive database that is keep up-to-date with the latest NBA happenings. The downloadable content makes NBA Drive 2004 a basketball fans dream and is certainly something that should be worked into other sports titles on Xbox.

Dynasty mode is Drive's answer to the franchise setup in NBA Live 2004. This mode was first bought in for NBA Live 2003 and it was very no frills. Whilst is let players in on player and squad management it didn't offer much more and it was no where near as deep as what some of the competition was offering. Learning from their mistakes High Voltage Software have made plenty of improvements. These include the ability to make unbalanced trades, conduct a rookie draft, and trade draft picks to build the ultimate NBA team. Basketball is heavily focused on the player draft system and these new options certainly give the mode the depth it was lacking last year. The changes to the dynasty mode give players a great level of flexibility when it comes to developing players for the future and will be an integral part of any campaign.

Technically NBA Drive 2004 is solid. It's Xbox exclusivity means that the developers can put all their efforts into creating a game that uses the strengths of the Xbox hardware to create an engaging basketball experience. Visually Drive is unmatched with beautiful player animations, detailed faces, uniforms, crowds and court details. The soundtrack is also impressive with a selection of hip-hop flavoured beats that fit in appropriately with the game that is basketball. But the highlight of the audio is definitely the commentary though with stylish play by play comments as well as in-depth analysis from the courtside team, simply amazing.

NBA Drive 2004 is a satisfying simulation-style basketball that packs an arcade punch with the flair and creativity of a game like NBA Street 2. It certainly is a worthy contender for basketball game of the year and thats saying something with so many b-ball titles floating around. Drive is perfect if you are growing tired of the arcade styling of NBA Street but also if you don't want a game that leans to much towards the simulation side of things – it's a nice balance. I just can't wait to get back on my Xbox with this game, sit down and open a can of whoop ass on Shaq and his L.A Lakers. Yes, it's going to be glorious!

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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