Just in time for football season!
It's not easy being a pro basketball player. The book signings, commercial shoots,
shoe deals, trips to the barber, and hordes of gorgeous women can really run a
guy down. And get this - sometimes, they even make you play games! Against other
teams, no less! What do they think we are - athletes? You can take your millions
of pre-signing dollars, summer vacations, and vicious Armani suit tailoring sessions;
I'd rather dish out coffee for a nagging housewife than a no look-pass for millions
of loving fans any day of the highlight-reel week.
Grumpily putting cynical
tangents aside, I must admit being a bit mystified at the moment. Usually, sports
video games are released in some accordance with the beginning of the real-life
season. It's just common sense, really. In turn, this begs the question: "Why
am I covering a basketball title before the NBA regular season has even begun?"
The answer? Microsoft. Gates' Gaming Giant has quietly shipped NBA Inside
Drive 2000 well before any of the new b-ball games have gone gold. While hardly
holding a candle to the depth of EA's NBA Live series, this consumer-minded
game offers a decent if somewhat limited diversion for the 5 on 5 fan who just
can't wait to see yet another 3D rendering of Shaq.
Inside Drive 2000 serves up all of the basics you'd expect from a sports
game these days. You can Practice your plays, try an Exhibition game, or go
for the rings in full Season play. Every team in the league is here, as well
as every player, from the All-Stars to the All-Bench.
Of course, this is all just standard fare. Inside Drive doesn't offer
anything new to the genre, and actually comes up short in a few places. You won't
find any player creator or multi-season modes. You won't find a three-point contest
or user-controlled dunking. This is just the skin and bones, folks.
Thankfully, the game does deliver some decent gameplay. Each team plays the way it should, from Utah's pick and roll to the Lakers' up-tempo dunkfests. You can call plays on the fly that actually seem to work. In fact, playing Practice mode really is a good idea if you want to learn the ins and outs of team roundball.
I should note that there are some problems with the difficulty. Playing at
the easiest level is a snap - too much so, in fact. I routed several teams in
my first few games without running a single play. As you up the difficulty, things
start to get lopsided in favor of the CPU. No-name players will step up and make
10 straight shots, while your stars go through cold spells that would put Siberia
to shame. The computer will miraculously steal 20 passes in a half, while you
watch helplessly as the ball passes right through your players' hands. Better
play-balancing would have done wonders.
Since this game has been released before the season, the rosters are out-of-whack. You can update these manually, which is hugely time-consuming. Downloading a patch is always a solution, but it's still irritating seeing so many roster goofs in a final game. Again - why did this game come out so early? Was it to make up for the late start due to last year's strike? If the big M would have waited a few months, they would have been able to solve these problems (not to mention given more time for the aforementioned difficulty level issues).
On a lighter note, Inside Drive 2000 is visually pleasing. Players
move with fluidity and are built to scale, including unique face modeling. The
arenas are accurately modeled and look great. When the game gets moving, this
really looks like a broadcast.
But it doesn't sound like one. The Sonics' Kevin Calabro and ex-ballplayer Marques Johnson dish out the play-by-play, but the comments get repetitive and stale. Their 'witticisms' are marred by the poor sound matching (ie. "Assist by...(load pause)... number 8...(load pause again)...KOOOBE BRYAAANT!). This sounds like a game from a few years back and can't touch the excellent commentary of NBA Live.
Interestingly, the best feature in Inside Drive 2000 is not actually
a feature at all - it's the price. You see, Inside Drive 2000 costs only
$19.99. At a mere 20 bucks, Microsoft is aiming at those of you looking for
an adequate diversion, not a top-of-the-line product. And they have succeeded,
in a sense. This game will certainly appeal to those of you obsessed with the
dollar. For the rest of you, however, I certainly recommend waiting for NBA
Live 2000. I know I am.