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NBA Inside Drive 2003

Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Sports
Players: 1-4
Similar To: NBA Live, NBA Inside Drive 2002
Rating: Everyone
Published: 12 :13 : 02
Reviewed By: Nick Stewart

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent


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With the competition between the consoles heating up and the Christmas season kicking into high gear, the market is finding itself swamped with big-name, high-quality titles as each camp attempts to lure in potential customers. With the likes of the latest Metroid and Splinter Cell splashed all over the gaming media headlines, it becomes pretty easy to miss some of the lesser-hyped titles which are every bit as deserving of our time. One such title is the Xbox's very own NBA Inside Drive 2003, a highly entertaining effort that should find a soft spot in the hearts of fans everywhere.

Gameplay: 8.5/10
As far as basketball games go, NBA Inside Drive 2003 is pretty expansive, with more than enough options and opportunities to please even the most discriminating of die-hard fans, though the game has a much stronger appeal as a simulation offering than a straight-up arcade title. For instance, while you don't necessarily have to learn and use all the available moves to win, it definitely helps - and there's certainly no shortage of moves. Anything from crossovers, spins, fake passes, jab steps, hook shots, and backdowns to pivots and lobs is available to you, although how effective any of these are will depend on the amount of practice you've put in either in-game or in the special pre-game practice modes (much as it is within the Sega series), and the player's skill level. This broad selection of moves makes for a deeper on-court experience that's certainly more sophisticated that most other basketball titles out there, although when the action moves into the paint, things begin to feel a little more limited. This isn't so much a problem of opportunity as it is a problem of sight; as the players often cluster around the net, setting yourself up for a solid defense, block or rebound can sometimes be much more difficult than it needs to be as your ability to tell one player from another falls apart. Thankfully, it's not a constant issue, and often be worked around, leaving you with great on-court action.

If you want to get a little more deeply into things, you can take up other positions that don't involve wearing a jersey. For starters, you can choose to be the team's coach, adjusting a colossal number of options and decisions as you go along. You can set starting lineups, matchups, and from the in-game pause menu, you can make substitutions, adjust the tempo as well as defensive and offensive tactics, and even use Inside Drive's handy "on-the-fly" coaching system to spontaneously call one of the four custom plays that you've mapped to the directional pad. The latter is especially useful, and becomes even more so once you start mucking about in the playbook, which you can customize to your needs by adding or subtracting the plays of your choice. Of course, you don't have to worry about any of this if you'd rather just sit down and play, but it's great to have the chance to go further along. In fact, if that's what you're looking for, you can even get your hands dirty in the franchise mode, where you can lead your chosen team for up to 25 seasons. It's far from perfect, but being able to tear through fantasy drafts, offseason rookie drafts, big trades and free agents adds yet another layer of quality onto an already solid game.

As if all that wasn't enough, you can even go so far as to put yourself in the game via the create-a-player mode. The options to customize your in-game alter-ego are quite nice, and enable you to truly do up your character as you see fit. From height and weight to skin color, hairstyle, facial features and even to tattoos and goggle styles, you have a fairly strong control over your look. Your abilities in such fields as jumping, 3-pointers, speed, style and much more can also be adjusted and tweaked, though you'll initially be unable to do much with your newly created player. However, as your player makes his way through some games and racks up various accomplishments, he'll earn points to upgrade his skills, though the amount will depend on what he's pulled off. For example, you'll earn shooting skill points if your player managed a few layups, jump shots or tip-ins, and you'll earn offensive points if you've got some assists or offensive rebounds under your belt. There are also Wild Card points that can be earned by having the Player of the Game on your team or even by winning; these can be spent on any category, and ensure that, even if your player's a bit of a lame duck, he still has a chance at improving. Although it's pretty standard to be able to toss new players into the game, it happens to be particularly well done here.

The only area in which NBA Inside Drive truly disappoints is in the realm of online functionality; simply put, it doesn't have any. Considering that it was released so close to the advent of Xbox Live, you have to wonder why this increasingly important feature is missing, especially in a title that simply screams for added players. The game is still tons of fun without it, to be fair, but this is something that will have to be rectified if NBA Inside Drive 2004 hopes to stand out next year.

Graphics: 8.5/10
While NBA Inside Drive 2003 hardly pushes the limits of what the Xbox has to offer, it doesn't have to, as it presents just enough visual glitz and shine to keep the visuals nice and strong. The character models look great and animate very well - though dunks tend to lack a certain "oomph", and the post-dunk animations lack variety -- and you're never left distracted by such dreaded problems as the "sticky basketball" that plague other genre titles. Even the small things are enjoyable, as you can see the reflection of the players in the individually detailed floorboards as they make their way across the court. Fans will definitely appreciate that each team's respective court looks really quite close to the real thing: Raptor fans will note that even the maple leaf beacon hangs from the top of the Air Canada center. With a solid TV-style presentation and some decent eye-candy, the visuals won't disappoint.

Sound: 8/10
This area tends to be somewhat of a sore spot for a lot of modern sports titles, now that constant, full-blown audio commentary is becoming a standard feature, along with the endless repetition that goes with it. NBA Inside Drive 2003 isn't completely guilt-free in this department, though it definitely performs more admirably than most, as only in the longest of games will you ever hear commentary repeated. What's better is that the commentary itself is terrific, with the long-time Inside Drive voices of Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson being joined by the fast-talking and colorful Kenny Smith, who adds a lot of free-wheeling fun to the announcer's booth. The combination of the three makes for an entertaining and spot-on audio experience, and never completely drown out the smaller details, such as the endless sneaker squeaks or the sweet sound of a three-point swish. The game itself features Master P's "Take It Outside" as well as some tunes from assorted artists that include Sir Mix-a-Lot, though they're only heard in the title screen and sometimes during pause menus; it all fits well with the game, but they rarely make any appearances. This is just as well, considering that the rest of the audio department is strong enough to hold its own.

Control: 9/10
It would be awfully easy for NBA Inside Drive 2003 to find itself ruined due to a poorly-designed control scheme. After all, there are enough moves and options to consider that any awkwardness could easily ruin the game as a whole. Thankfully, this isn't a concern here, as everything is laid out in a very intuitive way, and while there are a number of things to learn, it all comes fairly quickly with a little time. The "on-the-fly" coaching system is especially well-implemented, and its ease of use is a good indicator of the control scheme as a whole.

Overall: 8.5/10
With enough improvements over last year's incarnation to warrant a look, NBA Inside Drive 2003 stands as a terrific basketball game, and is easily one of the best on the market. Fans of the genre should consider however that this title is cut much from the same cloth as Sega's own, meaning that this will possess much more appeal to simulation fans than those who might be looking for a more cut-and-dried arcade feel. Still, if you're one of the former, there's quite a lot to like here, as the game delivers a terrific mix between on- and off-court action. Tack on a highly enjoyable announcer's booth and an intuitive interface, and NBA Inside Drive 2003 finds itself as a basketball game that's definitely worth your time.

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