FIFA Soccer 2003 REVIEW

FIFA Soccer 2003 Review (Xbox)

In past four years of this series we’ve seen this title go from one of the best football incarnations to one of the worst. Yet even in the dark ages, as many fans will call that last two years, FIFA still sold well. After the complaints and the critics ran this game through its paces, EA Sports promises a new game with unparallel soccer experience.

EA Sports for the first year in a long time does improve its series but if you play this game anywhere outside the N. America you have a better option available. While it’s an improvement it’s still a long ways away from a good title.

Let’s give you a rundown of the features in the game before I give you the review. FIFA 2003 comes with a standard array of gameplay options. While it offers gamers a few new methods of gameplay it removes the usual suspects. Included, is something new called a Club Championship mode. Also is the usual fare of leagues, cups, friendly and even custom leagues, cups, tournaments. The Club Championship might sound like an interesting feature but it’s only a season with the best clubs of Europe. I guess this is a feeble attempt to steal some thunder for Konami’s Master League but it only seems to serve as more eye candy than a real mode. Gone is a practice mode where it always good to have a kick about. Surprisingly missing from this game is a player editor and creator. The PC version does have an add-on but if you play it on the console don’t expect to be correcting your rosters or favorite player’s ratings.

League play is suspect to some criticism. FIFA 2003 has the top leagues of Europe but it also includes some of the smaller leagues around the world. Missing is some of the more familiar leagues, such as Portugal, Holland and S. American leagues. I can only suspect that this is due to lack of a license. And while you can play multiple seasons there’s no real franchise mode. Players don’t age or develop. Transfers are the sole responsibility of the user, meaning the CPU isn’t going to trade. Finally teams that are promoted from lower division don’t have their correct names.

EA Sports has never been a slouch in this department. FIFA 2003 visually is impressive. The first thing that gamers will like is the amount of kits (uniforms) that are included in the game. Each team averages three, home, away and alternate. Plus it’s the only game that includes real kits in the game. So every team wears their sponsors in all their financial glory. One downside to this is that on the pitch some colors appear indistinguishable on the pitch. The problem is solved when you manually switch jerseys for both yourself and your opponent. Football purists might be a little peeved at the fact that they will have to play in the away kits at home but if you don’t you’ll be passing to the opposition.

The game includes a load of real stadiums in pretty good detail. The game has most of the stadiums for the Club Championship teams but outside that they just have a few generic ones. The crowd is represented and it does appear when you play that it’s more than just a bunch of 2D cardboard cutouts. Lastly in regards pitch and other frivolous features. Before each game, the players come out in a little celebration. It’s one of the features that I don’t think add much to the games because after a while you just want to pass right through them. Also before kickoff and at the halves, a superimposed image of the team’s logo and score is shown, just like a real TV game. Again it’s another feature that looks good but isn’t going to “oh” and “ah” you.

The players are still head and shoulders above any other game. There will be no mistake in identifying Figo from Beckham and Shearer from Rivaldo. All of the top players in the game have their real faces, appearance and to a lesser extent mannerisms. EA Sports always does a good job in player models in their FIFA franchise and FIFA 2003 again shines. Even player models are better than previous years. Player animations are good but in terms of responsive, which we’ll talk about in the gameplay section, could be called laborious. While very responsive, some animations just don’t feel right such as dribbling and marking. In these areas the animations can hamper gameplay just a bit.

The venerable John Motson and Ally McCoist are this year’s commentators for FIFA 2003. John Motson being an announcer for English football and Scottish soccer star, McCoist are a good team. Personally I would have liked to see a little more emotion but it adds a good ambiance and hopefully next year’s version McCoist with is able to show off some of his wit.

The crowds in this game are fantastic. You get team chants and even the supporters yelling the score to a demoralized opposing side. We are not far from exploiting crowd ambiance in videogame but at least FIFA 2003 has started to implement some really nice additions.

There’s no argument that over the last few year’s, FIFA Soccer has fallen asleep at the wheel, crashed into a tree, knocked over the tree killing some pedestrians. The game hasn’t been the pinnacle of footie since its World Cup 98 debut. In that time, fans don’t really know why EA Sports has promised giving gamers the ultimate football title but end up buying a game that is at best arcade soccer with some bugs.

This year FIFA 2003 set out to change it. While they didn’t accomplish it that did set in place a decent backbone for future editions.

One of the reasons for a lackluster title is that it feels rather incomplete and rushed. My guess is that a very solid title, in Europe (Pro Evolution Soccer 2) outsold them last year. In typical EA Sports fashion, they equate good sales to beating the competition in releasing the game early. This doesn’t always equate to a good playing soccer game.

So, let’s get this out of the way first, it’s the best playing FIFA title but that’s doesn’t mean it’s the best playing football title.

We’re starting out with the positives and what the game does better than previous versions. If you are a fan of FIFA you no doubt know that the game has suffered from a mistaken identity of arcade pinball. The game does a good job of slowing down midfield play in order not to simplify the game to tackles and quick passes. On offense you will have some time to set-up your offense and passes. You can now try through passes, and try to set-up crosses. Yet, the game isn’t perfect in this area. Should you decide to hold on to the ball, the CPU won’t make an attempt to take the ball away resulting in a standstill that could last a few gameplay minutes. Only in the final minutes and if the CPU is behind will it become more aggressive.

Gone also are the days of running fast down the sides then crossing the ball in to a spectacular bicycle kick and a cheap goal. In this game you must make an effort to move the ball downfield. Another plus to the ground FIFA 2003 has made is that the ball does act independently to the player. It’s not on the level many gamers, who have played Konami’s games, expect. The game does allow for missed passes, or long clears that end up in open spaces. Lastly, it has made moderate improvements in shooting. Shots on goals have a varied effect but still nothing to write home about. Shots can be soft dribblers to the goalie or balloons into the stands. This is different from past version and a welcome change.

Defensively, I like the fact that you can cut out passes and the defense doesn’t end up being all about slide tackles. Standing in the right position or playing your position correctly results in the ability to intercept a pass and possibly make a counter-attack. It’s still a little too easy to slider tackle to intercept a ball or take down a player but unlike past version’s you will get called or booked.

And to round up the positives is the control. It’s hard to explain but momentum has added quite a bit feeling in the controls. Now it feels as if you are controlling a real player with some weight. Good players with agility tend to be more responsive and poorer players a little sluggish. Definitely, control is a positive aspect that just needs to be fine-tuned in future version.

On the flip side, FIFA 2003 is still a long ways away from a competent soccer game. Let’s put aside the preference or dislike for arcade soccer. FIFA 2003 suffers from being rushed and a lack of vision for the series. I don’t understand how a game has remained stagnant since World Cup ’98 and the 2003 is the first real step towards a good game. Football is the world’s most popular sport yet FIFA 2003 remains the top seller despite the call for a more realistic game. This is where most of the aggravation should be placed on EA Sports and EA Canada.

The first problem that doesn’t have anything to do with personal preference towards the FIFA style but is related the CPU AI. CPU Players have a tendency to play a very rigid game. From players you don’t control on the offense, to the defensive AI. Offensive players play their position a little too perfect. Players on the wings always seem to a stay a little too close to the line and won’t stray from that area. You would expect a player, like Beckham, to stray in and become a more integral part of the team, yet his AI consistently keeps him on the far right. This would be a bigger dilemma if the game used the wings more but you don’t need them to be successful in the game. The reason is the players appear to react strictly to their intended positions; defenders don’t play the ball but only their part of the field. For example, if a midfielder has the ball, and pushing forward to the box while his forwards are making runs ahead of him, the defensive AI makes the players guard the forwards. As a result, the midfielder is free to dribble the ball deep into the box. The central defenders make no effort to try and stop the player with the ball, while the sidebacks don’t come in to help on the play. This turns the gameplay style into a one-tactic affair. It’s not important to try and cross or even set-up play on the wings when you just need to get the ball your forwards. When you do cross headers are just weak, bounces to the goal. If you should score a goal off a header it’s because they AI goalie got stone feet and didn’t react. And defensive headers are handled quite poorly in that the AI decides whether you should bring the ball into your body or head it away. If you should head the ball near the goalie, pressing the header button results in pulling the goalie to play the ball.

A carry over of past FIFA games is the canned goals. You can blame this on homogenized team play, goalie AI and canned shooting. The CPU on the higher levels will be able to push the ball up the pitch and score when it decides it’s time. The sirens go off when you end the game on 3-2 score yet the possession for the CPU is just above 40%. On top of that, it doesn’t matter if you are Real Madrid or Chicago, AI controlled teams can score when they want completely ruining the experience of real soccer. I’m sure this is tough to simulate but at the very least if I’m going against a good or great team, they should not only score easily but also control possession.

Goalie AI, is very strange. It gets the basics right, the goalie will come out to retrieve balls or get a decent angle. Even then the canned shooting comes into effect. In my time with the game, I’ve seen a bunch of goals go in by near post. That’s not the problem but when you add the goalie having great position but dives in his place, and the ball coming in at an ungodly angle, this smells a little funny. You still see signs of previous FIFA’s in shooting. Some shots will take the only angle available to score and other times the goalies play dead. Not too mention that FIFA still has its super shots that move at a super sonic speed.

Lastly, FIFA 2003 is a very simplistic title. Little to no strategy is required and none is offered from the game. If you were looking to take your team and create a Frankenstein formation or strategy, this game doesn’t offer you that luxury. It comes down to a very unfulfilling game of football. The goals all tend to be spectacular thus ruining the sanctity of scoring. I guess people love to see remarkable goals but if you see them too often they lose their uniqueness. And since teams all conform to the same AI -- playing Celtic, Inter, Germany or any other team, ends up in the same game but different score. There’s a lot of promise in FIFA 2003 and hopefully we’ll see it realized in 2004 but this year’s version isn’t the nirvana many footie fans have been looking for.

I’m going to have a hard time recommending this game to anyone. Is it the best soccer title in the U.S? Yes. You might be able to throw MLS Extratime as having the same quality on the field but off, FIFA has more options. If you are outside the U.S. and have access to Winning Eleven or Pro Evolution Soccer this game isn’t going to impress you. After all these years since WC ’98, FIFA has been satisfied with the same equation and it’s time for a change. The things going for the game, the licensing, leagues, real tournament and schedules are what gamers can’t find anywhere. If FIFA 2004 could scale back the arcade goals and tighten AI, you might have a excellent game with league play something no other game has accomplish in the last four years. For gamers here in the U.S. FIFA 2003 can wear thin quickly and with Winning Eleven planning on a March release, a rental could be enough for this title.

FIFA Soccer 2003 Score
out of 10