In the same year that Konami’s switching to a free to play/freemium model for their eFootball franchise, EA Sports is back with a “regular” new edition of FIFA. Does FIFA 22 manage to innovate enough over last year’s edition? We found out using the PS5 version of the game.
What we expected more than anything this year was a major visual leap forward, partly because EA’s been pushing their new HyperMotion “Powered by Football” campaign so heavily these past few months. FIFA 22 is also the first next gen version of the franchise that we’re testing, because although last year’s edition received a PS5/XSX version as well, that version arrived post-launch.
Do these things make a difference? Yes, though you have to look at certain specifics to properly notice them. Goalkeepers, for instance, are far more realistic this time around. Part of that is their behavior inside the box, which is now much less frustration-inducing to see, but saves definitely look better as well.
The main area where HyperMotion comes into effect is in how players move when the ball gets close to them, or when they change direction or pace. The game now detects that a real player would change his posture or pace in order to better control the ball, and it makes the action look much more realistic. FIFA 21 looked just fine, but it’s these little touches that make FIFA 22 feel like a step forward – more so than graphical fidelity, we think.
What we really liked about the gameplay engine, however, weren’t the new animations – it’s the actual flow of games. In past FIFA titles, we rarely enjoyed the online portion of the game because it featured so many players who preferred dribbling, feinting and spinning through a defense – hardly a realistic depiction of the sport. In FIFA 22, we’ll have to see how the online play develops, but there’s much more a passing game going on and it’s more difficult to exploit dribbling. Instead, you’ll try to tear defenses apart by passing the ball around to create openings, playing through balls and switching the play from side to side with long and high passes. We’ve been trying to play this way for years, but this year is the first time it feels like things regularly click like they should. Players still make weird passes or runs (or don’t make the runs you want them to make), but overall it’s a definite improvement.
Looking beyond the on-the-pitch action, the career mode is a fun and lets you build a team (including their home stadium) from the ground up, though most of it doesn’t go past the surface level of things. You’d expect to be able to hire specialists once you get to the top leagues, but that’s not a thing in FIFA yet. The individual player career you can follow is more exciting this time around though, because you can now get benched for poor performances or work your way into the team from there with a second half winner.
Volta also returns, but it’s clear that FIFA Ultimate Team (or FUT) is EA’s main focus these days – no doubt in part because it’s a big cash cow. Drawing a big name from a pack is a rare occurrence, and having players only join you temporarily is frustrating unless you really commit to the mode. I’d love to just field a bunch of all-time greats for a friendly match, but the only way I can get to them is through FUT – which makes their inclusion feel like a way to generate money rather than add value to the game through licensed names.
Speaking of licenses – EA’s lost a few of them to Konami, which is especially noticeable if you want to play with Italian teams like Juventus or AS Roma. The bulk of them remain, but not every licensed team gets the same treatment. Lower tier and/or newly promoted teams often only have a single player (or none at all) included in the commentary, which also has a way of repeating itself too often. It’s great that the stadium speaker mentions the lineup before the match, but once you’re playing it feels like the commentators have no idea who they’re watching. This isn’t an issue when playing with big name or national teams, but worth mentioning if you enjoy playing an entire league or local favorite.
But while there’s a few negatives to point out in terms of the entire package, the fact is that FIFA 22 looks and feels more like the real sport than ever before. That’s ultimately what matters most, but let’s hope that EA really builds on those foundations next year.