NBA Inside Drive 2004
Innovation is a necessity when you're pitted against stalwarts like ESPN and Live. Sadly, Microsoft's NBA Inside Drive 2004 fails to do anything exciting or revolutionary, nor does it execute anything any better than other basketball offerings do. It's tough to get psyched about a Season mode that's devoid of interesting options, a default single-player difficulty level that's far too low, and an overall lack of cool, new experiences (like ESPN NBA Basketball's fantastic 24/7 mode). I also suggest hitting the mute button on your television remote instead of listening to these cheesy announcers--the trio of Kevin Calabro, Kenny Smith, and Marques Johnson has to go. Even with these faults, this year's edition of Drive is a step up, albeit a small one. Online options are plentiful, thanks to the XSN Sports website, and the visuals are definitely eye pleasing. Also, it's refreshing to see gameplay emphasizing low-post moves. Still, these improvements feel routine. Until Microsoft brings something truly new to the hardwood, I'm afraid Drive is gonna remain a benchwarmer.
Inside Drive 2004 features a number of minor improvements to last year's game (better graphics, a couple of new moves and control options, smarter CPU A.I.), but for the most part, the basic gameplay is essentially the same. Xbox Live support is a huge plus this year, but considering you can already play online with Sega's superior ESPN 2K4, should you even care? Yes--maybe. If the idea of participating in online leagues fills you with glee, Drive is the only game in town (this year) that'll fulfill your needs. But if not, go with ESPN instead.
This year's Drive delivers competent, good-looking b-ball action, but it's still a tad sketchy. Some of the gameplay tweaks work--enriched defensive A.I. makes scoring a challenge, and the new low-post moves make it easier to execute in the half court. But running the break, even with the fleetest of teams, proves difficult. The game feels skewed toward the big men, as if the developer decided to emphasize low-post scoring with cover-boy Shaq, at the expense of perimeter play.
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NBA Inside Drive 2004 has all of the makings of a great game but still manages to miss the ball. There aren't any particularly bad elements of this latest version of Inside Drive; it's just that the game is lackluster in so many fields.
The graphics are far from pushing the envelope of the Xbox, instead it seems to meet the minimum expectations of a box game. Animation is also lacking, with a crowd that stands in robot like synchronicity for every major play and seems to cheer constantly in a buzz of white noise that is more grating than exhilarating. The player graphics are much better, but still doesn't seem to move as smoothly as most games.
Player control is just as halting, sometimes completely ignoring buttons pushed for shots or passes. The up and down movement of the players as they run from one end of the court to the other is fair and one-on-one controls seem adequate, but still not up to the level that most gamers have come to expect from high-end basketball games.
The game can boast one of the most robust playbooks around for a basketball game with more than two dozen plays and custom plays for each team. Calling plays is just as well executed with the use of the D pad.
Another disappointing element of the game is that extraordinarily outdated player rosters. It appears that the team line-ups are those used for early September, despite the fact the game was released months later. Fortunately, the game does support a very robust online element, being the official basketball game for Microsoft's XSN. But despite this support, and the ability for live updates, none were available as of the end of November.
Online play is extremely well put together, you can arrange mammoth tournaments using the XSN website or just play pick-up games through Xbox Live and game play seemed liquid smooth thanks to the cable only requirements of Live.
This latest Inside Drive tries to improve on its predecessors, but suffers from a lot of minor issues from bland graphics to somewhat unresponsive play. The live component of Inside Drive does manage to make the game worthwhile but any hardcore fan of basketball should probably look elsewhere this year.