There are better choices than Inside Drive 2004, unless you're dead-set on having XSN-enabled features.
With the recent release of NBA Inside Drive 2004, Microsoft is the last of the major sports game publishers to bring its sim-style basketball game to market. The Inside Drive series is relatively young, having gotten its start in 1999 with Inside Drive 2000 for the PC. The series continued on the Xbox in 2002 and has diligently worked to make headway against heavyweight competition from EA and Sega Sports. With each iteration, the series has offered more and more features, but with Inside Drive 2004, it's apparent that the developers at High Voltage still have a ways to go before catching up to their competitors.
The first thing you'll notice about NBA Inside Drive 2004 is its lackluster presentation. It's clearly not a game that stretches the Xbox's graphical capabilities to their fullest extent. On the plus side, the player models exhibit a fair amount of detail, and the arena representations are pretty accurate overall. Most of the dunk animations look decent. Aside from these, the game's animations are generally stiff and robotic. This is most apparent when viewing players who are running up the court without the ball. Players backing down in the post appear to be moving on their tiptoes instead of banging convincingly against defenders for position. When your player takes the ball from the referee for a free throw, his hands look more like oven mitts than real hands with fingers that clasp the ball. The artists didn't seem to do a great job at modeling the faces of the various NBA players either. Though most of the stars look reasonably close, some of the mid- to low-level players look almost completely generic in their representations. Even the edges of player models and the lines on the court don't look very clean compared to other Xbox games.
Inside Drive 2004's sound is nothing special either. The music used during the menu screens consists of poorly produced hip-hop tunes with the artists rapping primarily about the Xbox and the game. While playing a game, the crowd seems almost lifeless. It doesn't seem to matter if the home team is winning big or losing big, as the crowd noise is represented by a, more or less, generic and constant buzz that could easily be mistaken for a synthesized ocean tide. At the very least, you can hear players chattering with one another, and you can hear the ball bouncing off of the floor and coming off of the rim. The on-court sound effects are decent overall and get the job done.
Play-by-play and color duties are handled by a trio of announcers that includes Kevin Calabro, Marques Johnson, and Kenny Smith. Smith, known as an NBA analyst on TNT's broadcasts, is clearly the best of the three, but that's not saying much. Anyone who's watched a lot of Pac-10 college basketball games on Fox knows that Marques Johnson is one of the worst in the business. Those who aren't familiar with him need only hear comments like "That's what I call the Obi-Wan offense; the Force was with him, so he forced up the shot!" to know how he earned his reputation. Calabro is a little overexcitable and sounds much like a middle-aged man trying to be hip--but he fails miserably. He refers to jump shots as "jimmies" and offers up other gems like, "It's round and orange, but it's still a brick." The game also contains a few attempts at jokes via the in-game PA announcer. You'll hear things like, "Will the owner of the pitifully old Swedish station wagon please report. Your car has been designated a superfund cleanup site." It's almost as if they're trying to deflect attention away from the actual game.
Another disappointing aspect about the game is that its default rosters are extremely old. In fact, they date back to September 15 (thankfully, of 2003). A game that comes out over a month after its competitors should definitely have the most updated rosters and ratings. There was more than an ample opportunity to include recent major trades, like the recent October transaction involving forward Antoine Walker's move from the Boston Celtics to the Dallas Mavericks. Additionally, ratings could have been increased to reflect the amazing real-world skills of the Cleveland Cavalier's phenom LeBron James or the superior play of Seattle SuperSonics sensation Ronald "Flip" Murray. Instead, we see that Dikembe Mutombo is still on the New Jersey Nets, and many other players who switched teams even before the preseason are on the wrong squads. It's inexcusable that Inside Drive 2004 should have the oldest roster set of all the NBA games. Obviously, those with Xbox Live can download updated rosters, but, as of this writing, no new rosters were available. This might not be so bad if the included ratings were accurate, but there are a number of notable errors, like the fact that Reece Gaines (who hardly gets off the bench in real life) starts for the Orlando Magic and journeyman point guard Rafer Alston is rated higher in ability than both Nick Van Exel and Andre Miller. Dunk ratings seem a little unrealistic too, as you'll see diminutive guards like Stephon Marbury and Darrell Armstrong throwing down two-hand tomahawk dunks in traffic.
On the positive side, Inside Drive's gameplay is good overall, but it's not great. The two major things the game has handled well are the passing and the play-calling. Passing is very crisp. For the most part; the ball leaves players' hands very quickly and with little time wasted for windups, which is what you'd expect from pro basketball players. There's a separate button for lob passes, which is useful for feeding the post, and you can also execute quick, touch passes by double-tapping the button.
The play-calling in Inside Drive 2004 is arguably the best of all the basketball games. You can examine and choose from several sets of offensive plays in the playbook, and you can access four at a time, during the game, from the D pad. They generally work very well at creating open shots. Seeing all the players running into their correct positions and executing their cuts and screens is fun. It's even more satisfying to hit a slasher on his way to the basket or finding the open jump-shooter coming off of a curl. On the defensive side, there aren't really any set plays, but you can still adjust the level of pressure you place on the ball, tweak how the AI handles off switches, and choose man or zone defenses.