Lately, the FIFA football engine has been accused of stagnation. Rather like the defence of (insert your most hated football team here), it has been a largely inert affair. Last summer’s World Cup edition really wasn’t all that different to FIFA 2002, and although FIFA 2002 introduced some smart new innovations on top of the 2001 formula, it also kept much the same general feel and many of the bugs.
So it’s refreshing to see that the developers have gone with an entirely different tack this time round. Yes, the old FIFA soccer engine has been replaced from scratch… “and now for something completely different”, as they say. Which is just as well as certain quirks were definitely starting to annoy us.
For example, the computer AI’s habit of whipping stupidly high curling balls across the box has been removed, while its ability to sling incredible swerving shots into the net from near the halfway line has been curtailed, fortuitously. The professional difficulty AI has also been toned down so it’s no longer quite as faultless as it was under the World Cup edition.
These are the minor tweaks. The major ones are that the passing system has been revamped, along with the overall feel of the game. It’s more arcade-like, yet paradoxically fairly realistic feeling. Whilst the ball movement seems a little too “pinball” for our likings, there’s no doubting that player movements off the ball seem to make for a better flowing passing game in general. In the previous FIFA you could spend half an hour working the ball between the midfielders, trying to get a through-run on and a decent ball upfield.
Speaking of through-ball runs, this by now traditional fixture of FIFA is still here, although passes are now easier to weight (with the length of time the pass button is held down for) and crosses are more user-friendly to pull off. Sadly this tweaking wasn’t extended to headers, which still rely on some difficult-to-master timing; though just to confuse matters, the timing’s all different from the previous game!
Defending works the same as it did in the FIFAs of old as well, so you still get frustrating moments where the computer’s striker waltzes through three attempted tackles and scores (as you gnash your teeth and mutter about cheating AI under your breath).
A new flaw appears to have been introduced though, which is that the computer, when on defence, doesn’t seem to want to tackle your player if he just stands still in space. This is rather surreal to say the least and it seems like a bug that should be patched. Left as it is, if you wish you can run any game out once you get in the lead.
Graphically FIFA 2003 keeps up the usual high standards and the commentary is pretty much in the same league too, so it gets good marks on the aesthetic front. A new European super-league option is interesting to play as well, though EA’s multiplayer matchup service for Net gaming appears to be as flakey as ever. Half the time we couldn’t get it to work at all.
Company: Electronic Arts