We’re only a couple of weeks into the current NBA season and already Air Canada is grounded. Not that expectations were high this year for my beloved Raptors, but it doesn’t help that Vince has been relegated to modeling his collection of Armoni suits on the sidelines again. And don’t even get me started on the Hakeem Olajuwon fiasco. Worst. Free Agent Signing. Ever. I suppose things could be worse; I could be a Golden State Warriors fan. That’s where NBA Inside Drive 2003 comes in, escapism at its best. So without further ado, let’s take to the virtual hardcourt and tip off with High Voltage Software’s NBA Inside Drive 2003.
NBA Inside Drive 2003 sports a variety of game modes, from Exhibition to Playoffs. Two key modes have been introduced this season, modes that should have appeared in the previous edition. First up is the Practice mode, which gives newcomers an opportunity to get a feel for the game, both in terms of button assignments and basic play execution. Even more important is the addition of a Dynasty mode, which allows aspiring GMs to lead their favorite club over a career spanning 25 seasons.
The Dynasty mode includes all the usual features one would expect, such as the ability to trade players, sign free agents, and draft college players in the off-season. Oddly enough, I recently read a review of NBA Inside Drive 2003 in which the reviewer complained there were only two rounds in the draft. I hate to be the one to break the news, but that’s precisely the number of rounds in the real NBA draft. If you don’t follow hoops, don’t write about it. With that little rant aside, I’m happy to report that the AI of the GMs is relatively solid. For example, you won’t be able to land an all-star without giving up something substantial in return.
The Dynamic Player Performance system that works so well in the NFL Fever franchise has been implemented into NBA Inside Drive 2003. For those unfamiliar with the feature, it basically means that your player’s skill level will increase or decrease accordingly, during and after each season, based on their performance. It adds an important realism factor, rather than having the same players perform exactly the same year in and year out. Last but not least, the create-a-player feature is much more robust this time around, allowing you to really mold your player not only before you begin the season, but during it as well. When you achieve certain goals, pulling down ten rebounds in a game for example, you’ll gain points that you can spend on offensive or defensive skill-sets.
On the court, the frantic pace NBA Inside Drive 2002 was known for has been toned down, for the better. NBA Inside Drive 2003 now sits between the arcade stylings of EA Sports’ NBA Live 2003, and the simish nature of Sega Sports NBA 2K3. Not to worry though, if you prefer either end of the spectrum, all you have to do is adjust a few sliders. The sliders are a key addition to the game and you’ll likely want to make a few changes right off the bat, otherwise you’ll hear a lot of iron, even on easy lay-ups and dunks.
Despite slight improvements, the post-up game is still secondary to the face-up game. You can back down your defender or spin away for a fadeaway “J”, but a dominant low-post game is still an after thought when you’ve got the option to face-up and drive the lane; hence the name NBA Inside Drive. It doesn’t mean Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal aren’t dominant, it just means their post skills aren’t showcased like they should be. And while on the topic of taking it to the house, a new “Take Charge” button allows you to do just that, take the charge in hopes of getting an offensive foul call.
Visually, NBA Inside Drive 2003 looks identical to last year’s edition. A handful of new animations have been added, including juke, pass and lay-up animations, and players have taunting animations following dunks, but otherwise the package remains the same. For the most part, that’s not a bad thing, but I’d like to see more detail put into the players themselves, especially their faces; it’s easy to distinguish some players, not so much others. Similarly, most of the stadiums are very well designed, while a few sport objects that look out of place. In general, another coat of polish wouldn’t hurt the graphics department.
In the audio department, Kevin Smith joins color man Marques Johnson and play-by-play man Kenny Calabro in the broadcaster’s booth. Smith injects humor into the show, talking smack during breaks and at the half. Akemi Takei also joins the crew, providing injury updates and post-game analysis. Together, the foursome does a great job keeping the game upbeat and interesting.
Perhaps the biggest gaff in this edition of NBA Inside Drive is something that wasn’t included at all, and that’s support for Xbox Live. It’s featured in NFL Fever 2003, so why not NBA Inside Drive 2003? I could speculate as to its absence but the bottom line is the only Xbox basketball game that’s enabled for online play is Sega Sports NBA 2K3, and considering this is Microsoft Game Studios’ flagship basketball franchise, the omission is surprising, and unacceptable.
I’ve read a number of reviews that claim NBA Inside Drive 2003 has changed very little from last year. I don’t agree with that at all. The addition of a Dynasty Mode in itself is huge, granted it should have already existed. Similarly, the inclusion of sliders allows gamers to craft NBA Inside Drive 2003 to their liking, be it arcade or simulation. Where NBA Inside Drive hasn’t changed much is in the visual department, and it also lacks Xbox Live support, which is inexcusable from a first-party standpoint. When all is said and done, the NBA Inside Drive franchise is still evolving, and the 2003 edition is a worthy addition to the series.