NBA Inside Drive 2004 Review (Xbox)
“Inside Drive 2003” is the reason I bought an Xbox again. As a huge basketball fan, and one frustrated with “NBA 2k3” and “NBA Live 2003”, I was looking for a realistic but fun basketball game. I kept hearing people in the forums claim that “Inside Drive 2003” was the most realistic and best hoops game out last year. After reading enough posts about this game I broke down and bought an Xbox and “Inside Drive 2003”.
So what was my first impression of the game? “This looks horrible!” And compared to “NBA 2k3” and “NBA Live 2003”, it did - and because of that I almost took the game back. So after playing “NBA 2k3” for a little while longer and once again becoming frustrated with that game, I gave “Inside Drive 2003” another shot. This time, I ignored the graphics and concentrated on the gameplay - and I loved it. Each team ran its real-life offense and focused on its best players. On defense, the AI double-teamed star players and hot players; and teams like Minnesota ran the zone just like they do in real life. I played this game until the new crop of games came out and “Inside Drive” was the game I was most looking forward to. Let’s see how the new version turns out.
Well…High Voltage has attempted to improve the graphics by making changes to the arenas, crowds and player models. The arenas are very accurate and “Inside Drive” does a great job of bringing a different feel to each arena. In previous versions, the lighting in each arena was too dark - making each arena look like a movie theatre. This has been corrected this year. Each arena has the proper lighting and looks the same as its real life counterpart. This year, the crowds are three dimensional instead of the 2D cardboard cutout look of previous years. While 3D does look better than 2D, the crowd still looks horrible. The crowd appears underdeveloped and there are few crowd animations. For an example, of how bad the crowd looks take a look at the animation during free throw attempts.
Player models are not much improved either. I have always felt that that “Inside Drive” had the worst player models among all of the current basketball games. While the models do look better than last year, the players still appear to be hunched over and the player faces are not as accurate they should be.
My last major gripe is regarding the lack of animations. “Inside Drive 2004” appears to have a small number of animations compared to the other two major basketball games. Every jumpshot animation is seemingly the same; there are very few lay-up animations to choose from, and there seem to be only five or six different dunk animations. Many of the animations in this year’s version can be found in last year’s version. High Voltage had a full year to develop this game, and I wish they had spent some time adding a larger variety of animations.
However, I must make this point: Just because this game’s graphics are subpar, do not use this as a reason to try this game. If you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.
“Inside Drive 2003” had a severe lack of atmosphere. No matter what you would do on the court, the crowd would react in the same manner. The crowd would never get loud, and it would never boo or cheer at appropriate times. This year, “Inside Drive” has improved in this area. While still not as impressive as the other two main competitors, you do get the feeling this year that the crowd is actually part of the game; instead of playing in an empty arena.
The commentary features the same announcers it did last year: Kevin Calabro, Kenny Smith and Marques Johnson. I loved the commentary last year, as “Inside Drive” was the one game where it actually seemed like the three commentators were in the same room and watching the same game. There will be times in the game where Kenny and Marques will be discussing another part of the game and Kevin will interrupt them to talk about a play that just happened. This year’s version has a lot of the same - but that seems to be the problem. I hear many of the same lines that were used in “Inside Drive 2003” being used in “Inside Drive 2004”. It doesn’t appear that Kenny, Kevin and Marques spent much time in the recording booth, and this is one aspect of the game were there was no improvement.
Now we get to the good stuff. Not only does “Inside Drive 2004” have team specific tendencies, but player specific tendencies as well. I hate that in the majority of basketball games, most players will not play like themselves. Anyone who watches basketball knows that Antoine Walker shoots a ridiculous amount of threes, even though he plays power forward. The problem with most games is that because Walker plays power forward, the majority of the shots he will take will be from the paint. The game sees a power forward, and will assume that he should take shots from the inside and not take into consideration the individual player. This is thankfully not the case in “Inside Drive 2004”. Power forwards like Rasheed Wallace and Antoine Walker will take outside shots while guards like Bonzi Wells and Jason Kidd will take shots from the post. On top of that; player tendencies are totally customizable, so you can help determine where and how often he shoots.
This year there has been a big improvement in the post game. High Voltage added a step-out move to the post game and players seem to be more active in the paint and battling for position. There’s another key aspect of this game that adds to the realism, and that’s the existence of a true mid-range game. Most games don’t focus on this part of basketball because they know most people only focus on dunks, lay-ups and three pointers. “Inside Drive 2004” is different when it comes to this - and for good reason. In most games, once someone learns to perfect his defense against drives to the basket, the CPU will begin to have trouble scoring because it refuses to take a mid range shot. That’s not the case in “Inside Drive”. The CPU will take the best shot available considering the player, offense and game situation. If you play off of Steve Nash because you think he will drive, he will pull up and drain a jumper in your face. The on-court aspect of this game is slowly getting close to being perfect. True basketball fans will be able to really appreciate this game. Hitting a three with Reggie Miller after he runs off a pick, hitting a fadeaway jumper from the post with Kobe Bryant and turnaround jumpers with Tim Duncan are all things that you can do against the computer and the computer will do against you. It simply doesn’t get any better than “Inside Drive” when it comes to on the court action.
“Inside Drive” is finally online this year with the addition of XSN. For the few of you who don’t know what XSN is, it’s a service that allows you to setup your own leagues amongst friends and it keeps the stats for you. This adds something to the overall experience of “Inside Drive 2004”, and it’s the only game that offers a feature like this on the Xbox.
Last year, the lack of fouls in the game were a huge problem. This can cause a problem with stats because it can lead to an abundance of field goal attempts. Last year, even after placing the foul slider as high as it goes, you were still lucky if you got more than 6-8 free throws a game. This year, there are fouls galore and all types of them. This is the first basketball game that I’ve seen off the ball fouls, pushing, blocking and shooting fouls called consistently. Fouls seem like such a small thing but when it’s done right, its something to behold.
While I love the gameplay in “Inside Drive”, I still have a few gripes with the game. First, the substitution patterns in the game are still horrible. Anyone who looks at a box score of an NBA game will see two to four players with “DNP” or “Did Not Play- Coach’s Decision” next to their name. Why? Because NBA teams rarely play more then 10 people a team in most games. However, in “Inside Drive 2004” you will rarely see a game where the CPU will not play all 12 of its players. This has been a problem for “Inside Drive” for the last two years and it’s a shame that it hasn’t been fixed yet. I do recognize that it’s a small gripe but it’s one that should have been taken care of.
The dynasty mode remains pretty much unchanged from the year before. While other games have added features such as training camps, improved AI, and cut scenes to their franchise modes, “Inside Drive 2004” has done none of these things, leaving the franchise play rather bland. The gameplay is enough of an incentive to play franchise mode, but it would be nice if “Inside Drive” had something extra.
Let me make this clear: “Inside Drive 2004” is not for everyone! If you’re a person who cares more about shoes and tattoos on your favorite players, this is not the game for you. If you are the type of person who focuses on graphics rather then game play, this is not the game for you. However, if you are the type of person who cares more about gameplay and is looking for a sim-like basketball experience, run out and get this game as soon as possible. No game comes closer to replicating the on the court action of the NBA than “Inside Drive 2004”.