FIFA 22 review in progress – going to extra time

EA Sports returns with its first made-for next gen FIFA game but does its execution live up to its ambition?

When we were invited to the FIFA 22 pre-beta preview event in July there was a broad feeling of optimism about EA Sports’ first proper go at a next gen version of FIFA. The potential was obvious and emphasised by the developers hosting the event as we were taken through each game mode. 

‘HyperMotion’ was the major buzzword: an exclusive-to-next-gen animation refresh that the FIFA team couldn’t stop smiling about, as they broke it down for the content creators and reviewers attending the event. 

We summed up the showcase by wondering whether EA would be ‘able to implement more complex real life animations in a game of FIFA without compromising on the speed of the game or reactiveness of the players,’ and it’s looking like we have our answer.

FIFA 22 is different. It’s slower, or more realistic – depending on the sort of football fan you are. Where FIFA 21 was all about pace, dribbling, and skill moves, this year places more of an emphasis on passing and off the ball movement.

You might be getting déjà vu at this point and we don’t blame you. Almost every FIFA release in the last few years begins this way. More often than not they feel slower but whether that’s down to game design or readjusting to playing with less juiced cards in Ultimate Team, is unclear. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. 

Whatever the reasoning, this is why you’re reading a review in progress. We need more time with the game and we need to wait and see if the annual tradition of a Week 1 patch is honoured once again. For anyone immediately in love with FIFA 22 we’d advise you to tread carefully, at least until you see what new gameplay balancing is introduced. 

From our point of view, we desperately hope the game isn’t touched for at least a month or so. In an ideal world a game’s core gameplay balancing wouldn’t be tweaked at all after release, barring a catastrophic problem. You’d like to think developers, playtesters, and QA are confident in what they’ve made and it’s up to the player base to adjust, but historically this is not always the case with FIFA. 

However, for the purposes of this review, we’ll stop discussing the hypotheticals. 

As things stand, FIFA 22 delivers on much of its promise, though there are some obvious pain points we need to touch upon.

Starting with the positives, HyperMotion really delivers on its promise. From the first minute of any game you pick up on a host of new player animations on and off the ball. EA cited over 4,000 new animations, making this the biggest refresh in the franchise’s history. These animations, whether they’re a man in a wall waving a teammate over to mark an opponent or one of hundreds of new ‘Kinetic Air Battles’, they combine to give FIFA 22 a freshness not seen in years.

Up close the animations look smooth without being distracting and add to the immersion of each match. Graphically, FIFA 22 makes firm steps forward, particularly in presentation and in the stands. Is it the sort of substantial improvement we expected from next gen? No, not quite, but there is much to admire.

The key to this release is the technology behind next gen gaming and what it has allowed EA to create. For the first time ever something called ‘Xsens’ was used to map the movement of full 11-a-side real life matches, to help build AI movements on the virtual pitch. The impact is obvious, as backlines move up and down in tandem, with the midfield always following suit. In terms of real-life football, it’s realistic and how teams are coached but for FIFA… well this will frustrate some. 

What it’s created is banks of diligent defenders that force you to pass around rather than run at them. Attacking players feel a touch heavier than usual and the effectiveness of skill moves has been noticeably lowered, meaning this FIFA is about working space either through the player lock system, clever one-twos or triggering off-ball runs.

The beauty of this is it requires you to use a few more gameplay features than years gone by and it has led to some beautiful sweeping moves. Long passes look and feel the best they’ve ever done, whilst chipped through balls can be just as seductive. 

There are causes for concern though. The slower nature of the game will invariably annoy users used to a more frenetic arcade feel to FIFA, whilst unpredictable passes can take a while to get your head around. In its current guise, the game feels too skewed towards defensive dominance but that might just be a phase.

Goalkeepers have had a total rework and definitely pull off a greater range of saves. On more than a few occasions we’ve dropped the controller convinced the celebration animations were about to kick in, only to do a double take as the opposing keeper tipped one around the post. The most effective type of finish will come to light in due course, just like any year, but right now your go-tos might not be as dependable as usual and this requires some getting used to. 

Player switching is another area of FIFA 22 that has proven problematic but that may just be user skill (or lack thereof) rather than a problem with the feature. We would draw attention to the player contain button not always triggering your closest defender to the ball and that can cost you a goal. 

And then there are glitches and performance hiccups that can disrupt the flow. We’ve seen frame rate slowdown in a crowded penalty box on a few occasions, whilst GDA – a new system that helps players measure the distance to the ball correctly – has resulted in some of them making a total mess of things and practically tripping over their own feet. 

It’s no secret that FIFA dominates its market and Ultimate Team continues to thrive, to the point where it is now franchise’s most valuable commodity. With that comes a heightened focus on its ecosystem and this year already looks as if conditions for the casual player have been made more difficult. Division Rival rewards have been reduced compared to what was on offer last year, which indirectly puts pressure on players to invest more in FIFA Points if being competitive is their aim.

It’s a well trodden path now but the general trend being seen in all Ultimate Team modes (Madden and NBA 2K too) is skewed against players not looking to spend real money on in-game currency. It’s a worrying development but certainly not as vulgar as we’ve seen in 2K’s release this year.

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Ultimate Team will be where the majority of players spend their time and though Career Mode, Volta, and Pro Clubs modes all have their merits, the focus continues to be on the evolution of this mode. Rewards have been reduced and SBCs (Squad Building Challenges) have thus far remained the same at launch, meaning the only other area you can focus on is the Seasons element to Ultimate Team.

Again, rewards here look like they’ll be outdated by the time the six weeks of Season One is up, rendering that particular side project largely irrelevant. It left us feeling a bit short changed at this early stage but EA may have bigger plans up their sleeve, as the game’s cycle moves forward.

EA has definitely shown ambition in the making of FIFA 22 and a lot of new features impact matches just as intended. However, there are a few hiccups in the implementation of things like the goalkeeper refresh and plenty of hardcore fans of the game won’t like the slower play. 

Despite those fears, FIFA 22 feels like a step in the right direction and it’s clear to see EA has tightened its grip on the market, particularly with PES/eFootball seemingly in such disarray. At this point, it’s a solid entry into the franchise but we’re keen to revisit this by the conclusion of the first season, for an updated review. 

FIFA 22 review in progress summary

In Short: An ambitious release that focuses on new animations and gameplay innovations but the execution needs refining, whilst matches feel too heavily skewed in favour of defence.

Pros: Passing and ball physics feel crisp, the majority of the animations add a high level of realism and goalkeeping has finally been reworked.

Cons: In terms of game modes and features there’s nothing new, some of the refreshed animations can cause issues and pace and skill moves losing their effectiveness makes for more dull matches.

Provisional Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC, and Stadia
Price: £59.99
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver and EA Romania
Release Date: 1st October 2021
Age Rating: 3

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