Review by Gruel

Reviewed: 01/02/04 | Updated: 01/03/04

The defining game of the NBA (2004#8)

There is something about Microsoft’s NBA Inside Drive 2004 (ID) that got to me for awhile, and I really couldn’t put my finger on it until just recently. It is really hard to explain, but the game has this authentic adrenaline rush while playing. It is like you’re down there on the court driving to the basket against the NBA’s best! Granted, ID will not get the award as best basketball game this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is already a bit of a cult following of Xbox owners naming this as their hoops title of choice this year.

If anyone else has played basketball in back in school or even out on the street courts like I, than they can relate to playing ID. The thing about it is the default “Drive” camera that captures the flair of playing right out on the court. It is not your typical default overhead camera that is found in the usual NBA Live or 2K/ESPN basketball titles. No, it follows directly behind you at all times, and rotates around you (or the ball carrier in multiplayer games) at all times! The only way I can relate the camera system to another title is that it is nearly identical to the first 3D basketball title, NCAA Basketball on SNES.

If you’re thinking right now “What the hell, the camera is that important in playing a basketball video game?” Yes, it is very much indeed so. Hands down, this is the best camera to capture the authenticity of basketball. Picking an offensive play with a quick press on the D-pad and watching the players run their routes and make screens is just marvelous to watch as it opens up a clean lane for an easy dunk, or successfully hitting an open three.

Of course, this isn’t to say that ID gets away with any of its faults. One big problem I had is that fouls happen way too often. Pushing, shooting, and blocking fouls all seem to happen at the most innocent of times. It practically makes you afraid of trying to block a shot at any given moment. Granted, there are options to tinker with the leniency of the fouls, but just be forewarned that your first few games on the default settings might be extremely frustrating.

Other qualms I have is that some of the starting line ups don’t seem to appropriately resemble the ones of team’s life counterparts. This might not bother most casual hoop fans, but once you notice some of these benchwarmers making all-star performances through the season, it will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows. Speaking of season play, there really isn’t that much depth to playing multiple seasons in ID as there is in its competitors. There are all the basic things to do like trades, picking up free agents, and the like, but it doesn’t give us that big extra punch like the off season options in EA’s and Sega’s hoop titles do. For example, drafting college players is an incredibly easy process. None of the precious time spent scouting your prospects and running down their strengths and weaknesses is required here. All that is to it is a list of players and their ratings, all that needs to be done is select which ones you desire, without worrying much from the computer picking them up from before you.

The biggest prospect of ID isn’t its single player offline features; it is the abundance of online options made available through the XSN sports network. The versatile amount of online offerings blows away at the basic pickings of what is available to do in the only other online Xbox hoops title, ESPN NBA Basketball. Besides doing the regular quick-match and opti-match play options, there is also Leagues and Tournaments that can be formed, and all the user stats can be tracked on your very own PC.

Controls

ID controls almost exactly like Sega’s basketball titles. So if you’re familiar with that series than get ready for an easy transition into Microsoft’s title. Everything has a natural flow to it. Good, open shots usually get counted on the board, while rushed sloppy shots will never have a chance of going in. The free throw system is also well done. It’s pretty much like a swing meter in a golf game, stop a cursor on two spots of a meter for proper accuracy and power. The cursor moves slower for higher rated free throw shooters, and vice versa. The overall gameplay works very well, and as I said before, has a very authentic flair to it.

The latest craze in basketball games is right analog controls. NBA Live and ESPN are in the swing of things with “Freestyle” and “IsoMotion” controls, respectively, and now ID is throwing its hat in the ring at the new control craze too. ID’s right analog system isn’t as complex, nor is there the abundance of moves you can execute as the ones in the aforementioned titles. However, the simple jukes and spins you pull off with it can either reward you by breaking past a defender into the paint, or by punishing you by drawing a charge foul.

The developers at High Voltage delivered a mix bag in the graphics department. On one side, the arenas look fantastic, and their hardwood floors all have that shiny wax coating on them that you expect. The player models are also detailed quite nicely, and all the real life tattoos and gear the pro’s wear are readily apparent in this game. While most of the starters and big name stars look a lot like their real life counterparts in the game, a lot of the benchwarmers share the same facial designs and the only thing they have in common with them is just their name. There also isn’t that many animations for unique dunks and whatnot, and some of the dribbling and spin move animations are a bit on the jerky side. However, the presentation does make up for it a bit, there are plenty of interesting statistic overlays that pop up, and the instant replays are nicely done and they help make it feel like you’re watching an actual telecast.

ID has a great hip hop/rap soundtrack of songs that have lyrics that actually have to deal with the game. It is nice when developers make sure artists get licensed songs in the game where their lyrics deal with the subject matter instead of hopping on the “let’s slab on several licensed songs for a soundtrack” bandwagon. Kenny Smith, Kevin Calabro, and Marques Johnson do a tremendous job at color commentary, and while they may sound a bit too energetic, their witty comments, along with their extensive pre and post game analysis are high and above what the competition has to offer.

Even though the Franchise mode is pretty bare bones, it is still pretty fun to stick a created player in there and increase his attributes by gaining points to distribute by performing well in games. It’s too bad there really isn’t much else available to the solo gamer because ID is begging for some extra one-on-one bonus games and an unlock system as EA and Sega has worked them into their basketball titles for a few years now. However, what the single player lacks the versatile amount of online options make up for it to a certain extent.

RATINGS

Graphics: 8.3
Sound: 9.0
Gameplay: 8.6
Replay Value: 7.0

Overall: 8.2

ID has the most true-to-life basketball experience than any other hoops title out there. It is just too damn bad that it is simply not enough to keep up with the rest of the pack. If the developers at High Voltage manage to make the Franchise mode a bit deeper, and add on enough extra single player bonus games then this may be a serious contender as top basketball title in the coming years. However, if you’ve played EA’s and Sega’s titles to death and are looking for the perfect alternative, then look no further than NBA Inside Drive 2004.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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