This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at NBA Inside Drive 2000, developed by High Voltage Software and published by Microsoft exclusively for PC.
I have an unusual history with NBA Inside Drive 2000. Following a hard drive crash in early 2000, my family finally ditched our venerable 486 DX2 66, upgrading to a much better system: a Pentium III! At the time, it meant that I could play most of the latest games, including NBA Live 2000. Even though I was enjoying NBA Live 2000 (and still hold it in high esteem), I was eager to pick up NBA Inside Drive 2000 when I saw it at my local store. Being a teenage gamer obsessed with basketball, I was keen to get my hands on any virtual hoops title that I could. NBA Live was the premier brand at the time, but other games usually had something appealing to offer.
Unfortunately, NBA Inside Drive 2000 just didn’t click with me, and within a week, I exchanged it for GTA 2. I remember making up a story about how I couldn’t get it to run even though I checked the system requirements first, which the staff believed (I’d feel guiltier about it if they hadn’t ripped me off with a video card, and then made up a story about why it wasn’t working properly rather than help me). Ironically, GTA 2 is my least favourite game in the Grand Theft Auto series, but that’s another story. I’ve since picked up a copy of NBA Inside Drive 2000 off eBay, so what is it that I didn’t like, and do I still feel the same way now? Let’s take a look back…way back…
As I noted, NBA Inside Drive 2000 was a PC exclusive release. At the time, there were a handful of developers creating NBA licensed sim-oriented games. EA Sports’ NBA Live was the brand leader and the most successful, but there was also NBA ShootOut (aka Total NBA) by Sony, NBA In the Zone by Konami, and a new game called NBA 2K by Visual Concepts. Microsoft had previously published Beam Software’s NBA Full Court Press, and now teamed with High Voltage Software in order to create what they hoped would become a series that would compete with EA Sports and NBA Live for years to come: NBA Inside Drive.
Dusting off NBA Inside Drive 2000, I’m immediately reminded of one of the first things that turned me off the game: the user interface. Upon firing up the game, you’re greeted by a main menu featuring cover player Ray Allen. Aside from a few transition wipes featuring action shots of NBA players, the menus are rather bland. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were easy to navigate, but sadly, they’re quite contrived. Features such as roster editing aren’t immediately apparent. Instead, you have to choose one of the game modes before you can find it under the Coaching screen. The interface for Season mode also blends into the main menu, which is definitely confusing at first.
The trade interface is also incredibly clunky. You can only cycle through the team on the right side of the screen, as the team on the left is the one currently selected as the home team for a Single Game. This odd mechanic is definitely the result of the shared menu approach. The rosters themselves are very outdated, as the game features 1999 season lineups and no Class of 1999 rookies. There’s no Create-a-Player function, so on top of the clunky trading interface, the ability to update the rosters is very limited. These drawbacks are actually very reminiscent of NBA Full Court Press, and it was unfortunate to see NBA Inside Drive 2000 fall victim to the same pitfalls.
My original impression of the gameplay was that it was vastly inferior to NBA Live 2000, and having played it again, I’ll stand by that assessment. The controls are basic, missing a crossover and spin button, and player movement doesn’t feel right. This is likely because there are only two speeds: a brisk jog, and a superhuman sprint. It’s very easy to step out of bounds, and even the CPU seems to lose control of its players more often than it should. Too many rebounds are flat-footed, with jumping tending to give up an offensive board. Dunks and layups often don’t trigger when they really should. I hate to overuse the word clunky to describe the game, but it’s very apt.
Despite that awkwardness, the animations themselves – motion-captured by cover player Ray Allen – are surprisingly fluid. The animation variety is also commendable, and it is somewhat possible to get used to the player movement after a while. There’s also a shot meter, which makes jumpshots unusually viable for a game released in 1999. Full and twenty second timeouts are represented, which was rare to see. Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson provide commentary that is far better than Don Poier and Reggie Theus in NBA Live 2000 (though that’s mostly on Theus and his bland delivery). All in all, there is some very welcome attention to detail in the game.
With that being said, the gameplay is still lacking. There’s simply not a lot of realism, even with the aforementioned playbooks. The AI leaves much to be desired, and there isn’t much differentiation between players, aside from whether they can dunk and hit three-pointers. Most games of that vintage had issues with scores and stats not being completely realistic, but NBA Inside Drive 2000 doesn’t come close. Visually, the game also lags behind its peers. Players have their own individual faces and arenas are quite detailed (Windows 98 dornas and all), but they’re nowhere near as good as NBA Live 2000. There’s an “early 3D” vibe to it, both looking and feeling outdated.
The result is a game that’s playable but far from impressive, and subsequently hasn’t aged very well. It can be enjoyable enough if you take it for what it is, but it falls well short of NBA Live 2000, both at the time and as a retro gaming experience today. On top of superior gameplay, NBA Live 2000 had just introduced Franchise, while NBA Inside Drive 2000 only offered a shallow single Season mode. Once again, the shared interface with the main menu was awkward, and the lack of depth limited its appeal. It’s capable of getting the job done if you’re after a straightforward season experience, though, and there’s also a standalone Playoffs mode, which is always welcome.
NBA Inside Drive 2000 did boast a couple of interesting features, however. There was a mode called Tonight’s Game which, during the 2000 season, allowed you to play one of the games scheduled on the current date. In that respect, it’s a forerunner to modes such as Dynamic Season and NBA Today. The game’s practice mode was also superior to NBA Live’s. Similarly taking place on a street court, gamers would select a team to shoot around with, and switch between members of the starting five by passing them the ball. This offered more flexibility than NBA Live’s single player shootaround, though there was still only one player on the court at any given time.
Interestingly, it’s also possible to simulate exhibition games. I’m guessing it’s a by-product of the integrated menus and it doesn’t serve much of a purpose in general, though it was potentially useful for sim leagues. The outdated rosters would likely be a barrier though, and they were unquestionably a detriment to a game intended to simulate the current season. Being a PC release, there was some interest in the game within our community, and a plugin was even developed for the EA Graphics Editor. At the end of the day, however, there was just so much more that we could do with NBA Live 2000, and it was far superior game besides.
So, all these years later, do I stand by my original impressions of NBA Inside Drive 2000? For the most part…yes. It garnered scores of 7 from GameSpot and 6.5 from IGN, which frankly is very generous, though both reviews do note many of the key problems. Microsoft would go on to publish a few more games in the NBA Inside Drive series before discontinuing it, and from what I’ve heard, they were much better across the board. In that regard, NBA Inside Drive 2000 arguably laid the foundation, and it did bring a few good ideas to the table. Of course, as far as being a legitimate competitor to NBA Live 2000, NBA Inside Drive 2000 undoubtedly lost in a blowout.