This year NBA 09: The Inside has some new features as well as support for full high def 1080p graphics. The big question we have to answer today however is has the game actually improved any from last year’s instalment?
This year SCE Studios San Diego have altered the control settings by disabling the Sixaxis methodology in favour of the right analog stick. This means now if you wish to perform defensive moves such as "get high or get low" then you no longer need to tilt the controller in the motion desired. You can revert to the old control system however clearly the developers have adapted the default settings via user feedback. This also applies to the Showtime feature which provided boosts to your shooting and speed as well as the frequency of the rebound indicators. This is a rather unusual backtrack as the motion controls were much touted by the developers in the past.
Improvements also come in the form of AI enhancements. Last year they were more than just slightly dumb and thankfully the coding has been sharpened in 09. Your teammates now take advantage of specific game plays as well as passing to players in ideal positions to get points. Additionally the clock management issues of last year have been reduced and players will take shots rather than blindly hold onto the ball to stall for time. The Intelligence system also makes some great defensive moves when less than stellar passes come into play.
All is not perfect however and defenders will still crab walk on a regular basis meaning they are open to quick spin moves or fast breaks. There are also some issues in performing half or full court presses and even calling for tight defence means you will have to hit the command more than once to ensure that your team rotates to pick up a free man on the court. The low post game also has some glaring problems and you regularly see an offensive rebound because the defenders are sadly not boxing in a player who is moving for a layup.
The animations also have room for improvement as you will sometimes see them stuck in one movement forcing them out of bounds or unable to pass the ball. Equally as troublesome is the lack of player fatigue, because even though the bar will lower, it never seems to affect their shooting or passing ability. Surely if a player is down to 40% stamina, they would not be able to run quite as fast or shoot a 3 pointer so well?
Now that we have some of the negatives out of the way the biggest addition to the 09 version is the inclusion of "The Life", Sony’s story based game mode that follows the story of a player through a season in the NBA. Although this has been on the Playstation 2 for a while, this is the first year it has appeared on the PS3. Players are presented with three brand new storylines which are connected to a specific position and character that you create. The first story covers the life of a Shooting Guard or Small Forward, the second follows the Point Guard and the last uses either a Power Forward or Center. These start off in the NBA development leagues and progress onto the roster of your chosen team by fulfilling the different goals required.
These aren’t quite as in-depth as I had hoped as most of the story modes last about an hour in total and there are really no urges to return to replay. The Big W and Kid stories that were released on the Playstation 2 had much more depth of character and the cut scenes meant you were more involved right from the start.
The Upside Progression System has been expanded into a more Team based counterpart so instead of creating a single athlete and trying to expand his abilities you can now create up to five characters and let them gain credits that can be cashed in any time you are playing. This new feature of creating five players then adding them to almost any mode does prove to work rather well, especially as you can take them into Franchise mode.
Gamers can track stats on a variety of levels as well as checking defensive and offensive strategies, you can also view awards you may have won. This year a new system has also been implemented which means you can no longer pick any players regardless of salary, there are now salary cap restrictions which is more realistic. There is also an improved focus on contracts and making players happy with their deals as well as off season training capabilities.
The off season training isn’t quite as cool as it might sound as you choose one aspect to improve and the game instantly returns a set of results based on this. You have no control over the players or the coaching squad as well as other standardised franchise elements to help adapt and improve your team.
NBA Replay is still available to highlight the best moments of the 2007-2008 season. Mini games are also present although there is really only one which is worth a mention. Rabbit is a mode which requires you to follow the images of the rabbits projected onto the court then you make a shot from that position, if you are successful then the rabbit turns to the colour of your player.
As if this wasn’t all disappointing enough the graphics are much the same as last year which to be fair is still quite impressive. The textures are sharp and the models are well detailed. There are still cloth textures that end up stuck on legs and arms but for the most part it all works well. The crowd is still pretty flat and two dimensional but they aren’t bad enough to notice during the heat of a game. Some of the animations are a bit ropey from time to time and there are hitches and glitches which crop up from time to time.
The audio is impressive with nice ambient sound effects and commentary from Kenny Smith and Kevin Calabro, and although some of the dialogue repeats and grates, it is a professional job all round.
NBA 09: The Inside is a decent port to the Playstation 3 and while it is nice to see The Life implemented on the next generation console it falls a bit short of the mark. There are a plethora of issues which go some way to ruin the game, but fans of the series will certainly enjoy aspects of the game. Hopefully with next year’s release they rectify some of the issues as it stands it is hard to recommend.
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