Sony’s first-party basketball title has long been the black sheep of the NBA posse, considered a pint-sized squirt watching from the sidelines as the big boys – 2K and Live - grapple for supremacy. This season is no different, although considering the prowess of its competition, that’s no real shame. NBA 09 The Inside may not be a jaw-dropping, drenching-in-atmosphere tour de force, but it continues to improve and should no longer be a mere afterthought in the hoops conversation.
On the court, the action is functional if not entirely seamless. We continue to be big fans of the red-yellow-green halo shooting mechanic; newcomers to the series may likely balk at its somewhat unconventional feel, but it remains our favorite way to jack the rock among all the games this season. Combining instant feedback with fundamental simplicity, a few games in and you’ll feel right at home.
On the other hand, the core gameplay isn’t nearly as smooth as it could be, with jittery animations and odd bounces contributing to a minor-league look and feel. The antiseptic crowds and arenas, combined with decidedly underwhelming commentary from the TNT crew, won’t ever have passersby stop and wonder if they’re seeing a real game.
The biggest distinguishing feature of The Inside is The Life, which (finally!) makes its debut on PS3. We’ve always enjoyed The Life, which combines an admittedly cheesy story along with bite-sized chunks of basketball action to produce a compelling narrative; it’s generally helped us overlook some of the game’s bigger faults. This year’s Life stretches across three different characters, spanning point guards, shooters, and big men. The mixture of position and goals is genius, forcing you to experience life as a distributor, scorer, and big man. It remains a guilty pleasure of ours, and we’re glad it’s made its way to this generation.
Another big hole in last year’s title was a lack of a true Franchise mode, and that’s also been fixed in 09, with the added twist of allowing you to import up to 5 created players to form a truly motley fantasy squad. Unfortunately, the rest of the back-of-the-box features are a step or two behind the competition. Sure, NBA 09 has weekly updated rosters, but Live and 2K9 have daily updates; NBA 09 has online play, but Live and 2K9 have more expansive leagues. Clearly, there’s a trend here.
While The Life remains an eminently pleasant diversion, it’s not enough to vault 09 past its rivals. It’s definitely worth a rental by PS3-owning basketball fans, but NBA 09 The Inside needs more time in training camp before it deserves a spot on the court with Live and 2K9. Closer? Yes. But not there yet.
Oct 13, 2008