Gameplay is also dependent on what control setting you use. The basic control scheme lets a player learn the basics of the game like passing, shooting, and body checking. Eventually you'll find this to be limiting as you get the hang of the game, especially on the harder difficulties when the computer uses advanced controls against you such as pinning. The advanced controls let you pin a player against the boards, poke check, hook, and perform other maneuvers. Fights are somewhat better than competing hockey games, but they are still hokey and are still just a minor distraction from the gameplay.
There are many different attack and defense strategies you can use on the ice. It's easy to switch between these strategies using the digital pad and trigger buttons. You can also change lines on the ice without having to pause the game using the digital pad as well. Both of these allow you to continue the game without having to interrupt the flow. The manual also does an excellent job of explaining the rules of hockey as well as how to play.
The only areas where NHL 2003 beats out NHL 2K3 hands down are the graphics and sound. The models and ice just don't look as good as they do in NHL 2003. The animations are also lacking in NHL 2K3, especially in cutscenes. At least there is a good selection of camera angles. The sound is also rather dull compared to EA Sports' game. Pucks hitting the crossbar don't have that intense pinging sound, and hits don't make you cringe. But overall the sound is acceptable and certainly not poor. Commentary is actually pretty good, and won't get very repetitive over time.
The gameplay is where NHL 2K3 stands out amongst its competitors.
The biggest difference between the PS2 version and the Xbox version is the Xbox game's inclusion of online multiplayer support. You can of course play with up to four people on a single console to challenge your friends. But you can also log into Xbox Live and play against countless other people online. It keeps track of your overall win-loss record and disconnects, and it shows your record against specific players. Additionally, if you have a good connection to the Internet, you won't find lag to be a problem playing the game.
Fans who have been complaining about hockey games being too arcadelike can now rejoice. There is absolutely no reason why a hockey fan with an Xbox should skip this title. The new additions, excellent gameplay, and Xbox Live support make this the best hockey game of the year.