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NBA 09: The Inside
Score: 68%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studio
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
NBA 09: The Inside is still the only 1080p basketball game on the PS3, though the higher resolution doesn't help when the visuals don't look great. Players look good, but there are some noticeable shortcuts, such as dropping the amount of detail on players. Animation also has an awkward feel; players don't move the way they are supposed to and lack any sort of weight. They don't glide across the floor, but the lack of grounding causes players to not feel like they are a part of the in-game world.

Besides running at 1080p, NBA 09 also runs at a consistent 60 frames-per-second. Oddly enough, the framerate holds up really nicely during games when you have numerous players running around the court. Yet, during some mini-games where there isn't as much going on, it will begin to hiccup a bit.

NBA 09 is one of the only basketball games to feature a custom soundtrack feature. The downside of using a custom soundtrack is that it plays over the rest of the arena sounds, making it feel out of place. As welcome an addition as the option is, it would benefit from better integration. Of course, there isn't that much to hear during games anyway, so it isn't like anything important is being covered up. Finally, a new commentary team is around and do a good enough job, but suffer from the same list of issues surrounding every other in-game commentary team.


Gameplay:
Although it isn't the title feature this season, The Life makes a comeback in NBA 09: The Inside. The mode is basically a story mode, though unlike the MLB's The Show, The Life isn't that interesting. Although you can follow three different players, each plays out the same way: take a young player and turn him into a star. Although the stories are reasonably interesting, they are incredibly short and can be completed in about an hour. Worse still, there isn't that much game to the mode; some feature only one or two games and even then your time is limited. The rest is made up of rigid objectives that remove most of the fun of playing a sports game.

One good thing about The Life is that you can take your character and use them in other modes, including online. The Create-a-Player Mode isn't incredibly deep, though there's still a lot you can do to him. As you play through the game, you'll earn credits that are used to upgrade player attributes, buy new equipment (which can further enhance your player) and extras like classic jerseys and arenas. Even the player creation system has flaws since you can easily max out a character, quickly making him one of the best in the league.

Franchise, which should be one of the more entertaining modes outside The Life, is a few seasons behind the other two basketball franchises in terms of what you can do. Trades are limited and there's no way to shop players around to other teams and you always get first rights to players when they come up.

Similar to the PSP version, NBA 09 features a number of mini-games, though unlike the PSP games, none are particularly entertaining. The same goes for NBA Replay, which is held back by the same rigid structure as The Life. Finally, there's Online, though I had a hard time finding people to play.


Difficulty:
The difference between difficulty levels is a little too extreme for my taste. Rookie is an absolute cakewalk while higher levels get a little too frustrating. The A.I. is a little too good at using team tactics and sometimes seems to know exactly what defense to use against you, even if the play is still developing. It isn't above using a few cheap tactics at times either, like inching below the net and slowly pushing you out of position. Of course, the A.I. is also susceptible to spins because players spend a good deal of time in ready stances, so they can't get off an extra step.

There are also a few suspect collisions and other technical issues that hurt gameplay. The game doesn't immediately recognize when it has stopped, so you can usually get a quick shot or pass before it decides to do anything about the ball handler. Players will also become tangled up in an animation, sometimes knocking them out of bounds or keeps them from making an easy shot. There's a laundry list of other issues, especially when it comes to penalties, though these are the more noticeable and hurt the gameplay experience.


Game Mechanics:
Gameplay has always been one of the series' weaker elements, and this year things don't get any better - or at least good enough to stand up to competing games. The underpinnings are solid and, for the most part work. However, one of the stranger aspects of gameplay isn't what has was added, but removed. SIXAXIS control, which was a bullet point-worthy feature in past games is turned off by default. Instead, all of the motion-controlled features, like spins and using hands to interfere with shots have been moved to the more traditional right-stick setup. The new setup is a little more accurate, which would probably explain the change, though it is strange to see Sony move away from the feature.

I'm not sure where Sony plans to take its basketball franchise, but the current direction isn't a good one. Its great to see modes like The Life find their way onto the PS3 version, though it isn't nearly as compelling as the PS2 versions. Sony would probably do better to follow the lead of its MLB franchise in crafting a player-centered feature like The Life in next year's version. Although a moderately fun arcade experience, anyone looking for a game of basketball should probably look at one of the other two franchises rather than NBA 09: The Inside.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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