reviews\ Dec 3, 2002 at 7:00 pm

FIFA Soccer 2003 - XB - Review

EA Sports’ diamond in the rough has always been the excellent FIFA Soccer series.  The FIFA franchise continually offers a potent combination of graphics and gameplay for the ultimate sports simulation on any console, and this year’s edition is no different.


FIFA Soccer 2003 is a perfect fit for any true fan of the world’s greatest game, no matter what part of the world they live in.  Hundreds of teams from all over the world are represented in the game, each with a full roster of real players.  In addition to the more popular leagues such as the FA Premier League with powerhouses such as Manchester United and Liverpool, players can recreate international competition with any of 40 national teams. 


Game modes include simple exhibition friendly matches, various types of tournaments, and season mode.  The Season mode, just like season modes in other EA games, is a great way to get accustomed to one team, take control of them, and bring home some trophies.  Winning a club championship in Season mode or winning all the preset tournaments will unlock hidden arenas and tournaments, so don’t just stick with exhibition matches.


The controls of FIFA 2003 have been changed slightly from its predecessors.  The sprint button has been moved to the right trigger, headers and through passes now have their own button in Y, and the right thumbstick features EA Sports Freestyle control.  The Freestyle control isn’t quite as effective as it is in other EA games such as NHL 2003 or NBA Live 2003.  The Freestyle moves are often so subtle it’s hard to even realize one was just performed.  Precision passing has been carried over from FIFA 2002, and coupled with the new defensive AI, is a must to learn to be successful. 


Free kicks and corner kicks have an all new look and control to them this year designed to give players maximum accuracy.  A kicking meter akin to Madden’s appears around a soccer ball whenever a free or corner kick is ready.  Ball spin is controlled by positioning a cursor over the appropriate part of the soccer ball in the meter.  Shooting aim is controlled by moving a cursor over the intended target on the field.  Once spin and aim have been set, a press and hold of the B button determines power and starts the meter and pressing B again at the right time gets the most out of accuracy.  It’s a great system to get the most out of corner and free kicks, whether it’s a wicked bender in the back of the net or a well placed cross to a teammate. 


The game has been polished in several ways to accurately depict the sport of soccer.  Balls are now dribbled accurately off the foot rather than magically being “glued” to the players.  What this means is that players can’t turn with the ball unless they catch it with their foot in stride.  Passing and shooting also needs to be much more precise to keep scoring down and recreate games with long scoring droughts.  Computer AI has been revamped to simulate real soccer strategies, such as pressing the ball when down a goal late in the game, or playing keep-away when clinging to a lead.  You can longer scamper up the field with an adept player like Michael Owen, throw the defense some moves, and rocket one in for the score.  All these changes increase the simulation factor for real soccer fans, but may keep away gamers who demand more action and higher scoring out of their games.


My jaw is repeatedly injured from dropping to the floor every time I see the latest edition of the FIFA series.  FIFA 2003’s graphics are so jaw-droppingly impressive, my mandibles would hit the floor even if I were wearing a chinstrap.  This first version of the FIFA series for the Xbox is the most impressive to date.  New animations have been added, especially in the tackling department, and the smoothness of the previous versions has been improved giving the players the most lifelike movements of any sports game out there.  The 24 arenas, real-time shadows, and splendid grass are pure eye candy and help create the best-looking sports game on any console.  One exciting feature of the Xbox version is the addition of game highlights loaded off the Xbox hard drive as the game concludes.  Watch all the hard hitting penalties, near misses, and game winning goals all over again.  The camera options have been downgraded, eliminating the height and zoom level of the various cameras.  I could never really find a camera angle I was completely content with, whereas in 2002, I was able to customize it to my liking.


FIFA’s audio has always been stellar, and one major addition this year keeps it atop the heap.  If you prefer f


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