Far Below the Rim
There is a part of me that really wants to enjoy this game. Last year’s Inside was met with a simultaneous yawn by critics and gamers alike in the shadow of its competition, offering some cool concepts and an interesting story mode that was eclipsed by its sloppy in-game mechanics and lack of features. Instead of taking a decent concept to new levels by improving their basketball mechanics, it is unfortunate that The Inside still doesn’t take its gameplay further with a better on-court presentation.
As soon as you load up the game, you are prompted to create your profile in order to save your progress. Upon doing so, you’ll select a name and favorite team, which at first seems somewhat pointless because the Main Menu doesn’t become customized with your team’s colors (though it would be nice if it did). Photos of a few star players from various teams are projected on the right side of the screen with the menu column on the left, giving NBA 09: The Inside an overall weak presentation from the get-go.
But there is significance to choosing your favorite team, as it will determine what NBA franchise you join in the game’s staple feature: The Life. Essentially, you have three different stories you can follow in the mode, each based around a point guard, a swingman, and big man. You fill the shoes.
Your character begins the game as a streetballer with big potential and even bigger dreams, and after a short intro of him meeting some people for a game of pickup at a park, you are prompted to create your character. It immediately becomes disappointing that a game with so much focus on putting you in the story has such a weak character customization. While it should be one of the most important aspects of The Life, it is in fact so limiting that it becomes almost unnecessary. The player can adjust his skin tone, height, and weight, though the face you’re given is what you’re stuck with. You can give the guy a couple of arm or wristbands, a tattoo, some facial hair, and two or three basic hairstyles with the options for brown or dark brown color. So, all you blondies, gingers, and prematurely grey hoop fans are pretty much S.O.L.
Essentially, as you play through The Life, you are given a list of goals you must complete in each game. As a point guard, you may have 60 seconds to complete a certain amount of assists and score a set amount of goals on your own. As a big man, you’ll have to perform a certain amount of post-ups, block shots, or completely shut down opponents. You play three-on-three streetball matches, one-on-one, practice drills, and NBA games with a nice variety of settings that switch back and forth.
As you complete goals, you move forward and eventually live up to the potential you knew you had and unlock things along the way. Unfortunately, the unlockables are so minimal, it makes the effort you put in to achieve such often difficult goals seem hardly worth it. You can unlock various jerseys by completing different tasks, but all you can do is look at them because of the game’s weak character customization. As you pass objectives, you can go back and replay them. Some of them are actually quite fun, and the developers have done something smart by breaking The Life into three parts, so playing through an entire story mode doesn’t become too tedious or boring with repetitious objectives. The mix of streetball, NBA, and playing through quick scenarios that sometimes last under a minute can be pretty enjoyable.
Despite the amount of weaknesses in The Life mode, fortunately, there are places where The Inside shines. It is the cutscenes that make The Life more enjoyable to play as the characters, script, and excellent voice acting are all extremely well done. The dialogue is on point, and conversations between your player and teammates are realistic as they laugh, reminisce about the greats, and joke around before a game. Writers do an excellent job of capturing the spirit of a young NBA star and his life on and off court, focusing on the relationship he maintains with his family and friends who still engage in friendly competition from time-to-time. This is where The Inside excels. If they could make their in-game mechanics more tolerable, they could have something here.
Button setup is pretty traditional. Left Analog controls player movement and the Right performs trick moves. Square is used for dunking or layups depending on your proximity to the basket and Circle is your shoot button. What’s unique about shooting in The Inside is it uses a press, hold, release mechanic with a meter that fills up above the shooter’s head. As it fills to the green point, releasing Circle will be a sure bucket and the same mechanic is also used at the free-throw line, which works well.
However, this is anything but your realistic basketball simulation. Whereas other companies have attempted to bring you the most realistic basketball gameplay with control setups that read like algebra textbooks, this is incredibly simple and arcade-like. Fouls are pretty rare as you swipe away at the ball to steal it from the ball carrier, and the game lacks any really cool animations to make it lifelike. Calling plays is essential, as you’re A.I. teammates are pretty much useless and don’t move around on their own. You’ll notice shots count that don’t appear to even go in the net and lots of other noticeable flaws in physics. In all, the on-court action may not need a complete makeover, but it does need a lot of reworking that doesn’t seem to have been improved much from last year.
The graphics are very standard, especially when compared to both EA and 2K’s offerings this year. On-court action is choppy and the audience moves in complete unison with animations that look extremely dated for a next-gen game with “09” in the title. Player models look off and stadium designs are far less detailed than what they could be. Commentating seems to come late in some situations often slow and choppy, with comments so vague they can be used to describe a number of situations. Comments such as “His aim was off there” can be used for pretty much any missed shot and you hear it often.
Other than The Life mode, the game features a season League mode, far less detailed than other NBA game seasons on the market. You can customize rosters and control player drafts and trades while taking your franchise to the playoffs, typical of what you would expect from such a mode. There are also several Mini-Games including one-on-one, rabbit, and the All-Star Weekend skills challenge and three-point competitions, which are fun in short sittings, offering some variety to the game.
In such a heated competition between licensed NBA titles on the market, The Inside is still in the developmental stages as such a young franchise. Their gameplay offers a more casual style of basketball compared to EA and 2K’s on-court mechanics, though problems that occurred last year still pop up in 09, giving little reason for anyone who didn’t like the previous installment to want to check this one. It’s a shame too because NBA 09: The Inside has a lot of good qualities. Simply, the bad ones outweigh them.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.3 Graphics
Unimpressive stadiums and character models along with rough animations make the in-game graphics seem incredibly dated for this next-gen offering. 2.5 Control
Basic controls offer an alternative to other NBA titles with an arcade style that is not without its flaws and noticeable physics issues. Unresponsive A.I. and other issues seriously hurt the play experience 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Commentary is slow and repetitive. Cutscene voiceover work is actually one the game’s saving-graces. 2.7 Play Value
The amount of mini-games and ability to replay each challenge offers a lot of variety, though poor mechanics become frustrating and will have many players shutting off their consoles in mid-game. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.