FIFA 2003 continues the series' excellence with its superb presentation and gameplay.
The atmosphere that FIFA 2003 creates through its presentation is breathtaking. The graphics have been redone, and are amazing, from the player models, to the detailed stadiums, to the ball itself. Soccer matches can take place during daytime, nighttime, or in the rain. There are several camera angles to choose from, but the default action camera works pretty well. John Motson and Ally McCoist are excellent as the commentators, and there are game highlights in between halves and at the end of the game. As usual, the game features a soundtrack from licensed artists that plays during menus and loading screens.
In addition to exhibition, there are two season game modes. The regular season mode allows you to choose a team from a number of different leagues around the world, and play a league season, including playoffs. FIFA 2003 also features Club Championship mode, a season mode which showcases the most well known of soccer clubs in the world. Apparently, EA Sports took extra effort to ensure that the players and venues for these clubs were represented as accurately as possible. This means that the players better resemble their real life counterparts, and you'll get club specific chants for the crowds. It's amazing the atmosphere this creates, for example, for a match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford. The stadiums featured in FIFA 2003 are the most well known stadiums, all in Europe.
Gameplay is among the game's strong points. Gameplay tends to lean towards arcade like, but the game is a joy to play because it's so easy to play. The game is fast paced, and it's too bad that strategies are kept to a minimum, so you won't see an entire team bunched in the offensive end, trying to overload the zone. A new feature is the ability to preload moves, so you can load up shots before the receiver gets the ball, or make a pass as soon as a player touches the ball. Shots can be powered up, but holding the shot button too long will result in an inaccurate shot that sails wide of the goal. It's questionable that they placed the shot power meter at the bottom left of the screen, where it's harder to see, when it could be much more useful above the player taking the shot. But after you've played a while, you'll get a feel on how long you should hold down the shot button.
I noticed that on corner kicks, a pretty much guaranteed way to score is to leave the aim cursor as it is, make sure your pass is centered in the meter, and once it's in the air, move the controller towards the goal while mashing the volley button. Your guy will knock it into the goal pretty much every time if executed correctly.
It's too bad that they took away more advanced moves that were in previous versions of FIFA, such as side steps and spins. Instead, like other EA Sports games, there is the freestyle command, which will perform a random move. There is also no way to switch strategies on the fly, without stopping the game to go to the menu.
There are some things that FIFA could do better. I noticed there are problems passing in the offensive zone. In the midfield, you'll have no problem passing the ball, as long as the intended receiver is open. Simply point towards the receiver and press the pass or through pass button. However, once you get into the offensive zone, passing becomes a lot more random and success seems like it's based on chance. You'll do the same thing, but for some odd reason, the pass will often not connect, and it'll just go either to an opposing player or into open space. It's like FIFA 2003 has a feature built in to deliberately screw up passing in the offensive zone.
Also, the CPU players exhibit poor awareness sometimes. They will occasionally not be interested in getting the ball, even when they are the closest one to it. Most damning though, is how your CPU opponents tend to stick to man to man, even when an opponent is on a straight line course with the ball towards your goal. They will often fail to leave the player they are defending in order to prevent the run, giving the CPU a high percentage one on one with the goalkeeper.
The FIFA series has always delivered an enjoyable game of soccer, and FIFA 2003 continues this trend with its superb presentation and gameplay.