Name: NBA 09: The Inside
Genre: Sports – Basketball
Platform: PlayStation 3
Every October, you can pretty much guarantee there will be three choices of NBA-based games for players. From the EA juggernaut, NBA Live, to 2K’s critical darling, NBA 2K, to Sony’s first party offering, there seem to be more choices for basketball games than most other yearly franchises. Both the Live and 2K series have rabid fan-bases, but you never run into a die-hard NBA: The Life fan when you’re at Gamestop. Sony’s been trying to establish their in-house sports franchises, and made great strides with this year’s MLB: The Show 08. I was curious if they’d be able to translate how fantastic that game was to their NBA series. Matching up to Live and 2K is no easy task, but I had to at least see if Sony was up to the challenge.
After playing this game for about five minutes, I can unabashedly tell you NBA 09: The Inside is one of the weakest efforts in sports gaming I’ve seen in a long time. I’m getting ahead of myself. Once you make it through the mandatory 6-minute install, players will be treated to a put-through-too-many-filters opening montage of sweet highlights from the previous NBA season. You’ll no doubt be disappointed to hear none of the moves, shots, or plays you witness are even remotely possible in the actual game. The gameplay in The Inside bears a closer resemblance to the arcade game NBA Showtime than it does to an actual NBA game. The controls are very simple, and while that would have been a good thing three or four years ago, considering how intuitive and involved control schemes have gotten in the competitors’ games, the lack of options gives the impression the developers didn’t care about depth. Instead of getting a game that requires the player pay attention and strategize, we’re left with the pass-pass-shoot tactics you learned when you were eight.
I was blown away by the fact The Inside’s graphics look worse than last year’s efforts. At least with last year’s version, players somewhat resembled their on-court counterparts. This year the developers opted for four body types (tall, short, stocky, skinny) to spread among the 380 plus players in the National Basketball League. Around 2% actually look remotely like the real thing (and I’m pretty sure that’s just the law of averages working in their favor). Honestly, the only graphical difference between Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul was their skin complexion. While other franchises have excelled in creating interesting sweat physics, The Inside goes for a vasoline-covered sheen to emulate player perspiration. Rather than looking like a bunch of guys working hard, virtual players end up looking like greased-up body-builders chasing one another around. It doesn’t help that the arenas only look as good as they did on a PlayStation 2. There’s actually nothing remotely interesting about the arenas to differentiate one from another aside from the paint on the court. Crowds are about as cookie-cutter as they come, and appear as if they’d rather be somewhere else. I know the feeling.
Most sports games have made it their mission to replicate a true broadcast presentation on the consoles. Not only does The Inside not make me feel like I’m watching a real game, but the whole effort, from commentary to poor sound effects, give off a “B-movie about this strange new sport called basketball” kind of vibe. Maybe there just wasn’t enough room in the budget for a real sound designer to take part in the development, but when a ball being dribbled has the same sound as a ball clanging off the backboard, maybe it’s time to rethink what it is you’re doing. The sound issues also cross over (see what I did there?) into the Life game mode. I know they probably only hired one guy to do the voice work for created characters in this mode, but when my Pete Maravich clone sounds like Michael Clarke Duncan, I get taken out of the moment. If there was just one stock character you had to be, it would be much less distracting. And forget about crowd noise. Crowds in this game sound like they were recorded from outside the gym during a high school hoops tournament.
For those looking forward to the so-called story mode that is the Life, the three of you are better off pretending to be a famous baller on the playground. There’s virtually no cohesion to the story that follows your player from the NBDL to the NBA Finals in 8 chapters. Yep, 8 chapters to your whole career. And you don’t even get to play full games. There are challenges you must complete in an allotted amount of time in order to progress. It may not sound all that bad, but when you are forced to replay the same chapter over and over because you can’t outscore the Phoenix Suns in 3 minutes while also dishing assists to each of your teammates, it can start to grate on your soul. Then there’s the strange blacktop games you must play for no reason that has anything to do with the story. They just happen. Strangely enough, the sound effects for outdoor basketball sound worse than indoors. Ever heard a book slam to the ground? That’s what a ball hitting the backboard sounds like.
If you can find a game online, you’ll be treated to one of the glitchiest gaming experiences you’ve had since your first run through Two Worlds. Surprisingly there are people playing, but getting a match with actual NBA teams is an exercise in futility. Since The Inside gives you the option of using created players online, you can imagine what the preferred rosters are when playing across the internet. Even when trying to get a “Quick Match” going, players have to invite the opposing player. Isn’t that what lobbies are for? Once you finally do get a game going, many of the basic mechanics present in the single player experience cease working, most importantly your jump shot. If your idea of a good time is playing basketball using only layups and dunks, then this game is right up your alley. The NBA, it’s Fan-tastic!
Truthfully, there’s no reason for you to pick this game up. It’s not completely broken, but compared to the other far superior options available, it might as well be. I can’t even recommend this game to give as a gift to a child. The other games look better, and will provide much more entertainment for just about anyone who gets Live or 2K. A disappointing effort from Sony to be sure, especially after how phenomenal The Show 08 was. If they had just put half the effort into The Inside, they may have had a better title on their hands. Instead, we’re left with a mediocre game that wouldn’t even be considered buy worthy if it were a budget title.