Developer: High Voltage Software |
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game |
Release Date: 11/18/03 |
Genre: Sports

Still the newest to the sports genre, Microsoft and their Developer High Voltage Software fell flat on their face in last year’s NBA Inside Drive 2004. The game was hardly an upgrade to the prior version and I hated every second I had to play it. However, the developers went back to the drawing board and have released NBA Inside Drive 2004. While it isn’t perfect, it is a big upgrade from the 03 version.

The first thing I noticed about NBA Inside Drive 2004 is how long it takes to initially load up. After waiting several minutes, I logged on to Xbox Live and checked for player updates. There were no roster updates available. Even after my Dallas Mavericks made a huge blockbuster trade that changed the shape of their team, Microsoft has not included any updates to reflect this trade. I had to make the trade myself in order to get the new players. Personally, I feel this is very sloppy. With the Roster Update features on Xbox Live, there is no excuse for new Rosters to not be available. Microsoft needs to offer a roster update NOW!

Despite these initial concerns, I jumped into the game and started a brand-new season. There are not a lot of extra options available but you can create a new player if you want to. Once a game begins, I was pleased to see that the graphics have been upgraded over last year’s version. A larger majority of the players look like their real-life counterparts. On the court, the players may look more lifelike but their movements are not as realistic. Down in the low-post, players don’t look like their are fighting for position and trying to gain an advantage. This is one area where the game still needs some work.Besides the player models, the crowd is still very unpolished looking. Their movements are not very fluid and are extremely choppy. With all the power the Xbox has, I would like to see some more work done with the crowd.

The gameplay is upgraded from the prior two versions. The best upgrade is in the passing department. Players pass the ball very fast and crisp or they can lob it in to the low post. There is also a new emphasis on the play calling. All of the plays can be called from the d-pad and it can be very helpful in trying to get a man open for a jump shot. However, I found that I could create plays on my own by using the “Auto Play Select” feature and keep passing the ball around until an open man takes a shot. However, on the defensive side, there is no point in choosing different defenses. Nine times out of ten, if you leave a man open on the parameter, the Ai won’t pass the ball to them. This was a big complaint I have had with the past two versions of the series. While it isn’t as bad as before, this area of the game needs to be cleaned up. What real NBA team would ignore a wide open player every time down the court?

Commentary in this year’s version is handled by the team of Kevin Calabro, Marques Johnson, and Kenny Smith. While fans of the series are familiar with Calabro and Johnson, Kenny Smith is the new addition to the team. While the commentary isn’t horrible, it does suffer from some very bad jokes and can get repetitive very fast. But when a sports game comes along that doesn’t do this, let me know. It would be a first.

I have found that the difficulty level is a bit more competitive against the computer-controlled AI this time around. In NBA Inside Drive 2004, I started off my first game with a loss. This is something I rarely had happen to me in past versions. While it is still possible to defeat the PC even on the hardest difficulty level, I am very happy with the the challenge. The Inside Drive 04 is not so easy I can beat it in my sleep yet it is not so difficult I am unable to win.

Overall, I found NBA Inside Drive 2004 to be a much needed upgrade to the series. While last year’s version disappointed me, I now have hope for this franchise. Inside Drive 2004 may not be perfect, but it is an above average Basketball game with awesome Xbox Live Play and decent single player action. If you are in the market for an NBA title, this is definitely worth a look.

By Kaleb Rutherford – 12/08/03
ESRB Details:

Screenshots for NBA Inside Drive 2004