NBA Inside Drive 2002 Review (Xbox)
There's been quite a stir in the video game basketball world as of late; a few weeks ago, it was the release of NBA2k2 for the PS2, and then just this week we saw the arrival of NBA Inside Drive 2002 for the Xbox. High Voltage Software dug themselves a little niche in the PC basketball genre with NBA Inside Drive, delivering an authentic basketball experience for those looking for an alternative to NBA Live. Now, they're poised to take that game up to the next level on the Xbox. Did they accomplish their goal? Here's my take...
ID2002 does a great job at capturing the feel of NBA basketball. In my experience, there are two camps of basketball gamers: those who love the run-and-gun, up and down, quick fast break tempo and those who are more deliberate, running a slower half court game. ID2002 does a good job at delivering on both accounts. While it is possible to outlet to your guards and turbo down court for an easy dunk/layup at times, other gamers will like the fact that you can run an effective offense in the half court. Teammates will move effectively without the ball, setting screens and trying to get open while you set up the play. Teamwork and ball movement are rewarded as they can lead to wide open jumpshots or open cutters to the basket. ID2002 makes good use of the D-Pad, allowing users to set tempo, call plays and defensive sets, and set pressure on the fly. The game pace is also very realistic and accurate to real life, except when Turbo is abused... but more on that in a minute.
ID2002 also introduces the innovation of "lob" passes. While they may look and feel awkward at first, it's nice to see that High Voltage recognizes the fact that chest passes DON'T fly through defenders in real life. The lobs add depth to the passing game and make the game more realistic. Also, this is one of the first b-ball games that I feel I HAVE to think and make smart passes. If you hammer recklessly on the pass button to zip the ball from man to man, you WILL turn the ball over. CPU defenders do a good job at fronting in the post and filling passing lanes to pick off your ill-advised passes. You will also notice that you are able to throw lead passes. This is important because if your cutting teammate has a clear path to the basket, you can "lead" him to the hoop as he's running toward it. It's a very nice touch, and again, adds to the realism of the passing game.
The post game is also nicely modeled. There's a sense that the post defender makes you work for your shot. In the post you are able to spin-out left or right, shoot hook shots and step back for fadeaways. Those used to NBA2k2's post up game may find ID2002's much less effective, or more challenging depending on your viewpoint. Some argue that this makes the post game seem more like real life, others complain that it's not as fun. You can decide for yourself.
ID2002's AI is another positive of the gameplay department. When guarding the CPU ball handler, if you don't stick with him, he will take the ball to the hole for the score or draw the defense and kick out to a teammate. If you go on a run, the CPU will call a timeout to kill your momentum. The CPU also does a good job of running the break under the right circumstances and usually calls effective double teams.
The gameplay is not without its flaws, however. As mentioned above, pressing the turbo button will make your players unrealistically fast. Even though you can choose not to abuse the turbo button, you can't stop the CPU from overusing it and causing the game to look like it's being fast forwarded. This really hurts the above-praised gamepace and can make playing straight up man-to-man defense quite frustrating at times. Also, there seems to be an overabundance in steals and blocks resulting in over-inflated turnover statistics for both you and the CPU.
PRESENTATION and GRAPHICS
This is one area in which ID2002 really shines. The player models are some of the best I've seen in a basketball game and each player is easily distinguishable by his body type, facial model and accessories. The courts are modeled in great detail and look clean and crisp. However, one of the most impressive aspects of ID2002's presentation comes in the form of detailed statistical overlays. These overlays are pertinent and informative, much like a TV broadcast. You will see everything from who just managed to secure a double double to who's hot or cold on the floor. ID2002 features over 1,000 player animations which are, for the most part, very nice to look at and seamlessly integrated. You will be impressed by the well animated step out bounce pass, the Carter-style dunks and the flops players make when taking a charge, just to name a few. The game runs at a steady 60 FPS and flows on screen as smoothly as a TV broadcast.
Ball physics are very impressive in ID2002 as well. You will see a nice variety of rim rattlers, bank shots, etc.
The PA, sideline reporting and end game analysis also add much flavor to this title. Camera angles are well placed and are very playable. Unlike other titles, however, the user is unable to customize camera height and zoom. This doesn't pose too much of an issue as the camera views are already nicely positioned.
A couple of issues with the presentation are that the stadiums are a little too dark for my taste, passing out of the jumpshot doesn't quite look right and the jumpshot itself looks more like a push shot than an NBA jumpshot. While these things are a little nitpicky, they do detract from the experience a bit.
The commentary duo of Marques Johnson and Kevin Calabro can be entertaining and informative. Of course, you will experience repetition after a few games but not to the extent where it becomes annoying. The witty banter exchanged between the two helps provide a fun atmosphere to the game. They will also make comments based on announcements on the PA. These had me laughing a few times.
Audio samples sound realistic and are solid, and while I have an affinity to more stadium specific music, the stadium music in ID2002 is satisfactory. The samples of the crowd sound authentic and come through clearly, providing a nice ambience.
Everything comes through in Dolby Digital and is best appreciated on a good home theater system.
If there's an area that is lacking in ID2002, it would be the feature set. It appears that offering a powerful gameplay experience was top priority for this year's build and I would expect more robust features in subsequent releases. In this year's version, we see the inclusion of the standard Exhibition, Season (w/Fantasy draft) and Playoff modes which all work as you'd expect. Whether we'll see a Franchise mode, Practice mode, Street mode, player editor, in-game saves, etc. in the future will remain to be seen.
However, there is one feature of ID2002 that really adds to the depth of the season play. High Voltage has incorporated a very detailed injury model that allows for both serious as well as mild injuries. Gone are the days of just having, "Jordan out for 8 weeks with a broken face" type injuries. Instead, we see things like "Jordan out with a sprained wrist - day to day BUT still able to play." These mild injuries don't prevent you from using your player but his performance is significantly reduced based on the severity of the injury if you do choose to play him. Injuries and roster management are as integral as player trades in the NBA these days, and it's nice to see High Voltage taking this aspect of the game into consideration.
High Voltage Software has delivered a very strong product in its first outing on the Xbox. I've gone on record saying that ID2002 looks and plays sort of how I envisioned a meld of NBA Live and NBA2k2, and I stand by that statement. It is apparent that HVS has done their homework and done their best in delivering what gamers have been demanding of a basketball title. ID2002 plays a very nice game of basketball, gets an A+ in fun factor, and is standing on a great foundation for future iterations of the game. So if you own an Xbox and you're a basketball fan, GET THIS GAME NOW. If it doesn't suit your tastes, you can either wait 'til next year for NBA Inside Drive 2003 or NBA2k2 which is headed for the Xbox in March.