previews\ Aug 30, 2003 at 8:00 pm

NBA Inside Drive 2004 - XB - Preview

"That was highlight reel material - good thing we have it on tape."

The clipped banter of the announcer lends the perfect air to the televised National Basketball Association game - however there is a difference here. The game isn’t on television, it is on the Xbox console system.

NBA Inside Drive 2004 is from Microsoft Game Studios and High Voltage, and a preview of the game was provided to for a look at this November release.

While the game still lacks a polished graphical look, it is apparent that a lot of stops are being pulled out to render a game that looks as realistic as possible. Take the Los Angeles Lakers (perhaps the most high-profile team, player-wise, in the game right now) by way of example. While Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant may be a little suspect in facial characteristics, Gary Payton and Shaquille O’Neal were immediately identifiable during player introductions.

This is a game that is a ways from being finished graphically, but the gameplay here is the thing, and in that regard, with one exception, this game seems to have nailed that as sweetly as a 15-foot jumper that hits nothing but net.

The one exception? Where is the fast-break key, the trigger that pushes the ball hard up the floor? Teams that have decent-to-good team speed, and like a quicker pace all seem to move at the same speed as others, and the ripped rebound, quick outlet and fast transition bucket seems to be missing - at the moment.

"You couldn’t ask for a sweeter jumper if you pulled out a bag of sugar!"

The sound quality of this game is, without a doubt, very well done. The announcing (by Kenny Smith, Kevin Calabro, and Marques Johnson) is solid and mixes the right blend of accurate game action with throwaway lighthearted lines. There is the squeak of shoes on the hardwood and the cheer of the crowd. The stadium public address in the background provides a variety of announcements such as the license plate number of a car being towed.

The controls take a bit of work, and it was a problem compounded by a lack of a manual. However, spend 10-15 minutes in the shoot-around and you begin to feel some measure of comfort with these elements.

Actual gameplay features a host of options from replays, to calling a timeout and substitutions to coaching strategies.

Single play, season, network play, playoffs, general manager are all pro-offered game options and the title is also branded with XSN Sports to offer players an array of Xbox Live tournament, league and one-on-one action. Through the Xbox Live connection, players will be able to download the current roster moves and players’ ratings.

The general manager mode will allow players to build a dynasty through 25 seasons, and includes the ability to make unbalanced trades, take part in the draft and even trade draft picks.

This is a game that has been revamped in the AI department. There are a series of new low-post moves which will allow the big players, like cover-boy Shaq, to dominate the game low. The game also has allowed gamers to juke the opposition a little better. And if you can’t get past the defender, one control tap brings up the list of buttons for that pinpoint pass, or you can settle with throwing the ball to the player nearest to the direction your ballhandler is facing.

This is a game that has some graphical refinement left but even months before its slated release, it plays well and has solid animation. Driving lay-ups, hooks, and that fade-away jumper all look very realistic.

NBA Inside Drive 2004 is lined up to take that game-winning three-pointer. Come November, when all the elements are in place - including the XSN connection, it will be determined if this shot bounced off the rim, or tickles the twine.

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