The only NBA Inside Drive experience I have had before this was when the Xbox initially came out and I was at Toys ‘R Us for a bit and I got to play it. I thought the game was pretty cool, but really nothing to stand up to Sega’s 2K series of games on the Dreamcast in relation to gameplay mechanics. The graphics were quite good, but for some reason I had trouble getting a good shot off or even getting it in the bucket from what I remember. Now I come into NBA Inside Drive 2004 with a fresh outlook even though reviewers all over are calling it more of the same. Let’s see how I like this game.
The graphics are good when you’re talking about the major stars of the NBA, but for those lesser known players the graphics are just okay. My home team is the Minnesota Timberwolves, so we have quite a few well known players in the starting lineup this year. Players like Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell all look like their real-life counterparts in Inside Drive 2004, but players like Mark Madsen, Michael Olawakandi, etc. look generic in appearance. I played as the Cavaliers once to play with Lebron James and it was obvious he got special treatment while his no name teamates didn’t.
Animation isn’t very smooth once you get into the half-court game. Yeah, your player moves pretty well, but when he tries to do special moves (like jukes) the animation is very stilted. The courts aren’t necessarily anything special and I’ve seen better looking courts on other basketball games from last year. Overall the graphics do their job, it just doesn’t seem as great as it could be.
The commentators are just okay. Kenny Smith, Kevin Calabro, and Marques Johnson are the commentators here and they just seem to be going through the motions. Often times they go silent for a number of seconds or they give out false information. An example is that Szczerbiak missed 7 three pointers and then I brought him into the inside of the arc to shoot and he shot better, but one of the announcers said, “Szczerbiak is on fire from the outside!” after hitting one three pointer. Uh, yeah…he’s hot from the outside alright.
The sounds of the game are an up and down affair as well. The PA announcer says some funny things and the general sound on the court is fantastic, but the fans are a finicky bunch. They can be loud when you’re doing well at home, but if you go down by even a point and a new quarter begins you can hear a pin drop in the arena. They just get so quiet even when your team is only down by 1 point, I mean that isn’t a big lead to overcome, right? Even going to some of the louder arenas (like the one in Sacramento) has the same effect.
Control is pretty good in this game, although the animations of the moves seem a little slow. The passing game is set up much like Sega’s basketball game in that you hit the Y button and it brings up icons for each player to pass to. The X, A, B, black and white buttons correspond to your players (they are position-centric, so you’ll always know the white button goes to your center for instance). You can also pass with just the A button, but I am so used to icon passing that it seems second nature to me by now. Shooting is done with the X button. You hold down the X button and let go of it at around the apex of your jump to get a better shot. In the options menu you can turn the shot meter on or off (it fills up the same bar that your “turbo” bar is on), even with it on I never paid much attention to it. The R trigger is for turbo and the L trigger is to pivot.
On defense things are also set up much like the Sega basketball series. A button switches players, X button jumps up to block, B button swipes at the ball, L trigger puts you in a defensive block stance, R trigger does turbo, etc. This game is quite easy to pick up because of its reliance on the Sega basketball blueprint of controls.
The bulk of your single-player gaming will be in the Season mode. It’s actually a stripped-down franchise mode in that you are able to go through 25 seasons, it’s just that your options are not as varied as you might find in EA or Sega’s basketball offerings. There’s no scouting for instance and the draft at the end of the season becomes moot for the most part because of that. You are also able to set times for both your team’s game and simulated games, so you can set yours for 5 minutes and simulated ones for 10 min. to get accurate stats. What we do have here though is a fun game that is easy to pick up and play.
This game seems to rely a bit much on the low post players (centers for the most part). You can basically put the ball into someone’s hands in the low post and be able to score a great percentage of the time. Outside of this problem, the AI seems to play quite well against you, at least on the highest difficulty level. The first two difficulty levels will give you very little challenge. The AI also loves to take advantage of that low post ability as well, so it works both ways. Even a lowly center could probably dominate in this game without much of a problem.
Some players on the floor will have special abilities on them. For instance, on the Timberwolves Sam Cassel and Tim Hudson (the point guards) have a lightning sign that shows they are speedy, Szczerbiak has a pinpoint icon showing he is a great shooter and Kevin Garnett has a star icon showing that he is indeed the “Big Ticket” (as we call him up here in Minnesota) or star of the club.
The Xbox Live online play is really the only thing that saves this game from being a game you can pass on because the single-player part can only take you so far. I played a few games and it went well with just a couple hiccups here and there, but they were after play had stopped. There is a good deal of camera angles to choose from and the first one I played I did not like and got my ass handed to me. Once I got into the “Action” camera things got better for me, it’s the camera that is most like the one I like on Sega’s title.
You are also able to play in XSN Leagues through either a season or tournament. I have not set myself up for a league as of yet, the only title I’ve done XSN stuff in so far is Top Spin and I am thinking about possibly doing something in Amped 2 as well. These just heighten the value of this title because you aren’t going to get much out of it on the single-player side of things unfortunately.The value is only high because of the Xbox Live compatibility. I had a lot more fun playing people online than playing against the computer. Is this game worth $50? It all depends on if you have Xbox Live or not. Although I have not played them, by past year’s iterations both EA and Sega’s offerings are probably better than this game. At least the Microsoft sports games are better than Sony’s offerings. They can be proud of that.