EASports are no strangers to the world of virtual soccer. Although there is healthy competition from the likes of Pro Evolution and TIF (This is Football) on the console systems, the PC has remained relatively empty competition wise for EASports with all their franchise titles. This generally meant, in the past, their PC games were not as classy and polished as the console versions, as they were going to sell anyway. However the 2003 series of games have proven that EA are serious about their PC fans, with FIFA Soccer 2003 PC being no exception.
Based on a totally new engine, FIFA 2003 could be seen as a major gamble from EA. Accurately portraying the fluent yet fast paced style of soccer is not an easy task to accomplish, and while their older games were far from dead accurate they possessed potential to improve upon, which is why using the old engine would usually equate to an all-round better game. However EA's decision to move to a new engine has really paid off to an almost totally unexpected level.
To begin, FIFA 2003 actually starts on a not so good note. The initial menu's of the game come off a little confusing and featureless, with large clunky graphics to represent certain area's of the game, many of which share the exact same options. Selecting teams and other variables in the game setup are usually represented with two modest orange arrows. For example, when it comes to select your team you simply cycle through with the arrows, which pose as a pretty bland method. It would have been nice to see a more powerful interface like those seen in previous versions of FIFA soccer but in time it doesn't become such a problem anymore.
Once the game setup has been put out of the way FIFA 2003 simply excels forward. Straight away, as the player is introduced to the stadium and the two teams clashing, the stunning visuals and atmosphere created is showcased. However shortly afterwards the action begins and FIFA 2003 starts to really shine.
Along with the new engine comes a totally new ball control system. As opposed to previous soccer titles where ball possession was not an issue, in FIFA 2003 just keeping the ball at your feet is enough concern for attention. Of course to some extent the game handles the ball control, but such actions as fast paced running and sudden movements will push the ball into the reach of defenders requiring you to take quick actions to retain possession, just like real life. Another realistic feature of this is the fact you actually must have the ball to pass it or shoot. As simple as this sounds, many soccer games seem to allow the player to shoot a pass off even when, visually, the ball is beyond their direct reach. This means having a full paced run at the goal will need to be timed, as the goalie will have no problem jamming the ball away from you if you can't reach the ball infront of you and get a shot off.
The scoring system in FIFA 2003 is deadly realistic. As seen in many other soccer games, scoring can become as simple as passing, where endgame results look more like a basketball game rather than a soccer game. However in FIFA 2003, even on the easiest difficulty setting, your not likely to totally bust the opposing team's defense apart. This can be attributed towards the overall accuracy and realism that is showcased throughout the entire game.
One problem found in many previous FIFA titles is the inability to control a smooth drive with ample passes. In FIFA 2003 the player has a few passing functions - the lob which isn't terribly accurate but can be effective, the power pass which is a line drive in any chosen direction and the 'smart pass'. The Smart pass allows the player to have a much rougher idea of the direction to a teammate rather than having to be dead accurate. Although it will fail at times, the smart pass usually gets the ball to the teammate in mind making it an extremely valuable tool for building an attack. It may be slower and weaker, but it was needed desperately to allow players of all kinds master the passing game.
Defending in FIFA 2003 is pretty much the same as it has been in previous versions. You have the choice of a normal tackle and a higher risk tackle. The normal tackle actually works well for pretty much any situation, and it rarely draws a foul so the higher risk tackle really only becomes useful to totally stop the offensive player and perhaps knock him down legally. The defense in general can become quite easy once timing of the tackle is mastered, but at times it is apparent the defensive AI is not quite up to scratch with the rest of the game, which can and usually will cause a few goals here and there. It isn't usually a problem but it can stand out on occasions.
However once the game is all over the realistic action doesn't stop there. As an attempt to reflect the TV style presentations of the sport, FIFA 2003 features a full game recap with the best on field plays replayed with full commentary. Including harsh tackles, goals and even missed goals, this replay feature is just the icing on the cake when it comes to realism for FIFA 2003.
The ingame visuals of FIFA 2003 are nicely rendered with an impressive amount of speed on less impressive machines, meaning that if you want decent visual quality FIFA 2003 will deliver without having to require a top of the line PC.
However the impressive nature of the visuals don't end at sheer quality, rather the detail gone into making FIFA 2003 the most visually rich soccer game out. Such players as David Beckham actually look like their real life counterparts, where in Beckham's case we see the hair as the main unique focus, not to mention custom faces (which aren't unusual now in sporting games). If a real life player wears something in particular, chances are FIFA 2003 has rendered that player to include it.
FIFA 2003 creates a magnificent atmosphere of high energy soccer, which is mainly due to the impressive audio system. Besides the rather unique commentary, where comments about player and team performance during a season are noted, crowd noises are impressive to say the least and help to create the realistic experience that is FIFA 2003. Customised team chants amongst the crowd along with reactions to the ingame action are strongly present and executed brilliantly.
Controlling in FIFA 2003 is actually quite different to many other soccer games out there, but that by no means indicated it is lacking. Although the conventional controlling system is used, where the player with possession becomes under the control of the user, many other aspects are unique. One of these is the new ball control system. As mentioned before, the player must also pay attention to the fact they have ample control on the ball while weaving through the defense, there is no point in making stunning moves to the goal box without being able to slam a shot off because the ball is out of control, which makes ball control an important factor in FIFA 2003. This doesn't mean it is hard exactly, it just means it is realistic and requires the player to think in a realistic manner.
Controlling players when the ball goes into the air can be a bit tricky, but it essentially comes down to timing. Getting a header from a nice cross over is a hard task to do, but with practice it becomes easier. Perhaps the real problem here is that balls flying through the air are unpredictable, as it is hard to see where they will land. Although a player will usually run under it for you, timing can be hard when the camera hasn't caught up, and timing is everything for the air game.
The best PC soccer game bar none. With over 10,000 players from 350 teams in 16 international leagues, stunning visuals and an atmosphere matching that of the real life counterpart, FIFA 2003 is the PC gamer's ultimate soccer experience. EASports have outdone themselves with this one.