NBA Inside Drive 2002 marks Microsoft's first attempt at making a dent in a basketball market dominated by the likes of EA and Sega. Unfortunately, Microsoft is going to have to wait another year or so before that will happen, as Inside Drive seems to be a year or so behind what the competition offers. That's not to say that Inside Drive is a horrible basketball game, because it has all the necessary fundamentals intact, but a general lack of polish and a long list of annoying quirks make it difficult to recommend when there might be a better alternative on the horizon.
The aforementioned quirks manifest themselves almost immediately. When you jump into the exhibition mode, you'll notice that it's impossible to choose the same team for both sides. Granted, this is irrelevant if you're playing a game against the computer, but if you and a friend are looking for bragging rights on who plays best with the same team, then you'll have to look elsewhere. In addition, in the main options screen, you'll probably notice the decided lack of options. NBA Inside Drive offers only exhibition, season, and playoff modes, which under any other circumstance would be fine, but when the competition is offering create-a-player, street ball, and other secondary modes, this just doesn't cut it.
The season mode lets you play through an entire 82-game NBA season, complete with trades and injuries, but even something as simple as the season mode isn't immune from what appears to be a general lack of effort in tying up some loose ends. In one season, a starting center fell victim to a season-ending injury during an automated game right before the playoffs. However, in the first playoff game, it still listed that center as a starter, and when the game started, a shooting guard replaced him when the regular replacement center was left on the bench. Alone, it's a minor problem, but these minor problems start to pile up as you spend more and more time with the game.
Despite these problems, NBA Inside Drive still has a solid foundation that can easily be built from future games in the series. In fact, the game plays quite like Sega's NBA 2K series, with offensive and defensive mechanics that appear to be the same, but the execution could be a little better. For example, the passing game in Inside Drive is solid. It forces you to be a little more methodical and not pass the ball to players when there are defenders sitting in the lane, waiting to steal the ball. If there happens to be a defender fronting one of your postup players, you can lob the ball over the defender's head by clicking the right analog stick. This works great in the half-court set, but when you're running the ball on a fast break, the computer's ability to intercept passes (in the veteran and all-star modes) with great frequency becomes apparent, making the game a little unrealistic and incredibly frustrating. Moreover, the inability to pass out of layups seems to be the root of another problem: blocked shots.
While you'll get your fair share of blocked shots over the course of a game, the computer exhibits the unnatural ability to block what seems like one out every eight or nine shots. Most blocked shots occur when a point guard tries to drive and make a layup, which is a crucial part of any offense because it draws in the defense. But, since you can't pass the ball out to a player who's wide open on the perimeter, the opponent swarms on the guard or whoever's driving to the basket, so the shot gets blocked. For shots that are 10 or 12 feet from the basket, blocked shots aren't as frequent, but they happen more than they probably should. Normally, an easy way to counteract this is to execute a shot fake or try a fade-away jumper, but the computer rarely falls for either tactic.
Another offensive tool at your disposal, the postup game, has some minor issues. When one of your postup players has the ball, you can press the left trigger to start backing down an opponent to get closer to the basket for a small jump hook or a dunk--the only problem is that you never really feel like you're backing an opponent down. Basically, your player just magically slides toward the basket (while the Xbox controller gives an irritating buzzing noise), and with the five-second back-to-the-basket rule, you'll have little to no chance of establishing a good shot unless the player was already fairly close to the basket.