FIFA 22 is an exercise in fine tweaks, not a major overhaul
FIFA rarely deviates too much from the tried and true path but this year's refinements still make for a better overall game
FIFA 22 drops across the board on October 1 and although owners of the Ultimate Edition have been getting their hands on it from today (September 27), we've been lucky enough to have a little under a week with it.
Gaming's premier football sim is the biggest sports title in the world so it doesn't usually have to do much to bring in the millions of players it already attracts every year - but fans still want more than just a re-skin with new kits and player faces. You'll be pleased to know that isn't the case this year.
The first thing that hits you is the continued advancements in graphical fidelity and all-around realism. Playing on the next-gen console obviously helps, with those crisp 4k visuals and improved frame rate targeting 120FPS (double the standard of last year's game), but there is an increased level of atmosphere and pageantry about the whole affair.
From the expanded cutscenes in the turnstiles and dressing rooms, as well as more authentic facial animations when a player scores a winner or scuffs a chance, to the utterly incredible opening cutscene turned tutorial featuring icons like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and more. It reminded us of those old Nike adverts - remember them? In-engine or not, long live Joga Bonito.
Finessing classic FIFA gameplay
Next up and most importantly, gameplay: 'Hypermotion' is good; dribbling feels more fluid, refreshed animations allow for tighter control, more intricate turns, passes, shots and even saves - plus it seems to allow for games to flow even faster so you don't find yourself repeating the same old patterns of play as much. The same goes for the AI: it makes more intelligent movements, making for a more rewarding experience when you win.
Some notable new gameplay mechanics include locked player control, a quick pass and go sequence, as well as the ability to further control your teammates' runs overall. Like the recent free-kick changes, they take a minute to get used to but we can see them being a really effective tool once mastered.
The main takeaway is that, regarding the bread and butter gameplay, the 11 vs 11 capture and machine-learning that went into the more than 4,000 new animations makes controlling players less rigid, therefore allowing you to pull off more cleverly orchestrated moves and the kind of sweeping counter-attacks you'd see in real life matches at the top level.
Now, moving onto where I've sunk most of my play-time over the years. Career mode isn't perfect. While both player and manager careers have seen more love this year, the latter still feels like it inches just marginally forward each year rather than the huge overhaul it needs. A step in the right direction but not a huge leap.
Create your own club promised plenty of immersion but is hamstrung by limited customisation repurposed from Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team. Kits and crests are limited - lingering license issues with Serie A and other leagues etc. spill over into manager mode (not their fault) - the same goes for creating realistic academies. A few tweaks aside, FUT is still FUT, the same goes for Pro Clubs - but both are still love-hate relationships.
VOLTA is a similar story so far: while it's certainly fun and the online focus is good, it's still no FIFA Street. On the upside, we haven't had much time with the weekend-only VOLTA arcade mini-games but they seem pretty enjoyable and they certainly have the potential to make this less serious game mode a fan-favourite when it comes to playing party games with your mates.
— EA SPORTS FIFA (@EASPORTSFIFA) September 9, 2021
Still a football sim favourite
Overall, we can't deny that FIFA 22 is fun for the same reason we seem to buy it pretty much every year: aside from the top-level strategising of Football Manager, EA Sports still delivers the most realistic football sim out there. When it comes down to visual fidelity, gameplay mechanics and the sheer volume of hours you get out of it, it's still yet to be superseded.
Adding in super-detailed analytics that cover everything from xG to heat-maps and tracking the minute stats behind every pass, shot and run you've made only add to a game that focuses that little bit more on accurate simulation than last year. Oh, and of course, we can't forget about the soundtrack: it absolutely slaps as usual.
It may still be missing a few components that make it the perfect overall footballing experience - and we know we'll still lose our rag with it when we concede a last-minute winner in online co-op seasons - but FIFA always sees you right for most of the year and this latest iteration does make some noticeable improvements on the core gameplay we all know and love.
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