reviews\ Nov 9, 2002 at 7:00 pm

NBA Inside Drive 2003 - XB - Review

The basketball video game season has been paced with EA’s NBA Live 2003 and Sega’s NBA 2K3, but the latest basketball offering to hit the court for the Xbox, Microsoft Game Studio’s NBA Inside Drive 2003, has some impressive features not found in the aforementioned two.  While not as complete a game as either NBA 2K3 or NBA Live 2003, NBA Inside Drive 2003 shows all the potential of a 7’6” first round draft pick. 


NBA Inside Drive can be played in several of the standard modes featured in all basketball games this year.  Players can practice their shots with feedback or shoot free throws in the gym in practice mode.  In Single Game mode, you play… well a single game.  Pick any two of the 29 NBA teams, select practice or game jerseys, and battle beneath the boards in pro 5-on-5 action.  Playoff mode puts a team straight into NBA style playoffs with their eyes on the prize. 


One of the bright spots for NBA Inside Drive 2003 is the Season mode, which uses the create-a-player feature (I’ll write about that later) and customization very well.  In Season mode, players control every aspect of a franchise over 25 seasons.  In addition to playing the games on the court, gamers will draft, trade, and sign players from the front office. 


Much like the other NBA games available this year, NBA Inside Drive is offense-oriented.  Open jumpshooters and big men in the paint will make most of their shots, maybe not with the same frequency as NBA Live, but definitely more than Sega’s NBA 2K3.  The post game is very limited, but it is easy to shoot a hookshot or a fadeaway jumper.  The dribble moves don’t really seem to affect anything, and toggling into pivot mode picks up your dribble.  Most of the offense is limited to screens and cuts rather creating your own shot in isolation, which leads to much more team-oriented game.  The computer AI is excellent, perhaps the best I’ve seen in this season’s crop of NBA games.  Computer controlled players will cut, set off-ball screens, or do whatever it takes to get themselves space for the open J.  The on-the-fly playbook, controlled with the D-pad, is extensive and specific.  Every play has a desired result, such as a long bomb from three-land or body-banging isolation in the post, and each play needs to be executed as it’s drawn up in order to be effective.  In this aspect, NBA Inside Drive 2003 is the most scientific NBA game out there. 


Defense is fairly difficult, as it is in most NBA video games, but can be effective is played correctly.  Blocks and steals aren’t easy to come by, and happen with the same frequency as they do in a real NBA game.  The best you can hope to achieve on D is to deny your man the ball or stand in his way when he drives to the hoop.  The lack of an adjustable zoom on the camera angles can make it difficult to keep track of players off screen, and often end up in rim-rocking slams for the CPU.


Aside from the minor flaw in camera customization, NBA Inside Drive 2003 is loaded with customizable gameplay options.  It’s possible to set all sorts of gameplay features such as player speed, frequency of blocks, field goal percentage, and other aspects with simple sliders to create a game that suits your fancy.  The default level of players speed is a little slow, so I sped it up and found the game to be much more enjoyable. 


The best custom feature is clearly the create-a-player feature.  It has all the basics, such as changing his face, apparel, and stats, but excels with its player progression during long seasons.  A created player loaded into a season gradually accumulates points to distribute into various statistical categories depending on his performance in the game.  Throughout the season, created players will earn points in offensive, defensive, shooting, and physical skill categories.  Each stat is weighted depending on your player’s position.  For example, a Shooting Guard will need more points to increase his three point shooting once it approaches a higher level such as 80\100.  A fifth point category, Wild Card points, rewards players points for accomplishing certain feats such as receiving Player of the Game honors, making a half-court shot, or getting a double-double.  Although it usually means getting the ball to your created player as often as possible, turning him into a superstar will still take a full season or two.  You can even give your player one of several nicknames to be used during games so the commentators and stadium announcer call your created player by name instead of jersey number.  Genius!


Another excellent feature of NBA Inside Drive is the statistical presentation throughout games.  Stat junkies will love the frequent updates on players, showing their hot and cold streaks, announcing season-high accomplishments, and rebounds or points needed for a double-double.  The amount of stats the game keeps track of is absolutely astounding and way deeper than any other game out there.  Gamers can even try and break long-standing real NBA records because all the all-time records are in the game.  Think you can beat Wilt Chamberlain’s famous record?  No, not the women, the 100-point game.  They’re all in there, from Dennis Scott’s eleven three pointers in one game to the Detroit Pistons 186 point game. 


The controls of NBA Inside Drive are completely customizable.  The default controls are very straightforward, X being shoot, A being pass, right trigger being turbo etc.  The right thumbstick can be set to controls similar to NBA Live’s freestyle control, or to NBA 2K3’s passing control.  It’s entirely up to the player. 


NBA Inside Drive has improved the graphics from last year’s version with excellent stadium representations and good player models.  The arenas have the most depth of any basketball game I’ve seen all year, but really only come into play during game introductions.  The players on the court have a slight cartoonish look to them, and for some reason are overly shaded in an attempt to show muscle definition.  There aren’t too many cutscenes, and when they do appear at substitutions or ends of quarters, the camera viewpoint seems to be from the nosebleed seats.  Player animations are decent but aren’t jaw-dropping.  The physics need a little work, especially on jump shots that have all the arc of a Shaq free throw. 


Listening to NBA Inside Drive 2003 is a blast.  The commentary is loaded with things to say, from the obvious to the esoteric.  There isn’t too much of the “Booyah!”s or street slang that pollutes other NBA games, and most of the commentary is intelligent and well-written.  Kevin Calabro, Marques Johnson, and Kenny Smith work the booth while Akemi Takei does the sideline reporting, and overall the team works well together.  If listened closely to, the stadium announcer should earn a few chuckles with his outlandish declarations in a matter-of-fact tone.  As good as the commentary is, the stadium and court noise are minimal and average at best.  The soundtrack is nothing amazing, with only one track from superstar basketball agent Master P standing out. 


NBA Inside Drive 2003 is rated E for everyone.



Gameplay: 8

The actual gameplay is solid, but doesn’t stand out above some of the other basketball releases this year.   


Graphics: 7.5

Same problem here, the graphics are solid, but don’t topple Sega or EA’s releases this year. 


Sound: 8.5

The best commentary out there is poorly complimented by weak sound effects. 


Difficulty: Medium

The adjustable difficulty levels should suit every level of player, and the default settings won’t intimidate NBA video game newbies.   


Concept: 8

The create-a-player progression is awesome, but NBA Inside Drive lacks a few of the features found in other games this year, such as a street court mode or specific customizable playoff scenarios.


Multiplayer: 7.5

Playing a season with another friend using created players is a blast, but no Xbox Live support?   


Overall: 8

This game is perfect for stat junkies who like the RPG element of the create-a-player feature.  Casual basketball gamers might want to look elsewhere as the gameplay could use a few tweaks.  Either way, NBA Inside Drive 2003 is a good release from Microsoft.   


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