FIFA 22 is the latest in the annual soccer franchise from developer and publisher EA Sports. While fans will no doubt enjoy the overall quality on offer from the game, which features some subtle improvements for diehards that will be much appreciated, its most noticeable changes are also its most surface level, resulting in an experience that feels like it’s still lacking something special to push it over the top.
Anyone paying attention to the advertising leading up to FIFA 22 will know that one of its major selling points is HyperMotion technology. HyperMotion is a combination of machine learning technology blended with the most advanced motion capture EA has been able to implement in the series yet, resulting in what should be hyper-realistic player movements. In theory, this should be tangible with both individual player movements and with team-based formations, the latter of which will ebb and flow much more organically as a result of what’s occurring on the pitch.
In practice, HyperMotion does pay off, but it feels more like an aesthetic boon than one that’s meaningfully impacted the performance of the game’s pitch simulation. That’s fine, but it’s more surface level than expected given the hype surrounding the technology, and FIFA 22 HyperMotion ends up adding cinematic quality to a game that wasn’t lacking it in previous iterations, however more subtly robotic players appeared in replays in prior years. Thanks to the technology of the PlayStation 5, which Screen Rant reviewed FIFA 22 on, player appearances and small environmental details on the field were also at an all-time best for the series, though stadiums still look like every fan comes from the uncanny valley.
FIFA 22‘s gameplay modes are varied once more, with changes coming to many of them. FIFA Ultimate Team will have seasonal challenges complemented by a more flexible schedule of participation, which allows players with busy schedules to attempt to keep up with the online features. Career Mode’s team creation feature gives fans even more control over the way they want to play through various levels of soccer, and both player and manager Career Mode offerings have also received more attention to detail, shoring up the experience to offer less friction to those who want to participate without micromanaging everything.
Perhaps the best feature of Career Mode in FIFA 22 is its RPG-like skill trees for a player. Rather than feeling like development is on-the-rails and inflexible, focusing on a given element of the skill tree can help adapt a player to fit into their squad and its demands better. This feels like a more organic way to represent the real player progression of soccer players, who sometimes begin as stars in one area of the pitch before better understanding their role and their fit in a team and developing in a different area of strength afterwards.
Volta is probably the mode that’s most well-designed to keep players coming back, given that it breaks up the potential monotony of endless soccer matches ad nauseam with some unique spins on gameplay. FIFA 22 Volta succeeds here and is perhaps the most enjoyable feature for those with less time to sink into sports simulations, which is an important change for a mode that’s previously felt pretty extraneous to the overall FIFA experience.
Ultimately, though, the game modes outside of Volta offer fundamentally the same experiences, just with different details. It’s here that FIFA 22 struggles, and would greatly benefit from a more involved single-player experience. Career Mode works just fine – perhaps even excellently, for those who want an obscene level of control over their season simulation – but doesn’t manage to capture much of a compelling narrative. Even struggling to make a team’s starting lineup or winning a player or manager’s first championship feels muted at best, and the stakes feel so generic and bland that there’s really no reason to pursue them outside of ticking a box on the player’s “legend-in-the-making to-do list” and carrying on to the next one.
All of this is fine under the assumption that EA is making with this kind of approach: people just want to play soccer in FIFA 22, and everything else is dressing. If so, however, the changes being made to the game’s mechanics with HyperMotion and other adjustments are so small that casual players simply won’t notice. The FIFA series has had soccer simulation down to a science for multiple iterations now; tweaking what’s already working into something better is certainly admirable and a welcome approach, but adding more meaningful game modes and experiences should have been the priority at this point. That said, adaptations to defensive behavior have made it a little more palpable, with slide tackling in particular feeling maybe even too easy compared to its interpretation in previous modes, while free-flowing styles of soccer attacking are enabled in rare form here.
The same potential issues for long-time fans are still present in gameplay, however. FIFA 22 remains squarely focused on attacking soccer, which is arguably something of a necessary evil to keep it flashy and more interesting for more casual players. That does mean that completing long crosses into gorgeous headers continues to be easier than it perhaps should be, even at higher difficulty levels, and greater control over dribbling and more fluidity in passing pushes the game even further into offensive-minded soccer. Trying to play a defensive mindset can be pretty frustrating as a result, and while “parking the bus” is something of a controversial strategy among fans, it should at least be a viable one for José Mourinho fans, and FIFA 22 certainly makes it more difficult than it needs to be.
That isn’t to say that FIFA 22‘s gameplay mechanics and presentation are bad; it’s a good game overall, and sometimes even an excellent one. Explosive Sprint is a nice addition that actually has flexibility on offense and defense, passing is crisp and much more in-line with player intention than the dire effort in FIFA 21, and the new goalkeeper system results in much better positioning on AI saves, if not some slightly bizarre goalkeeper behavior in some instances. In the context of the series at large, however, these game-to-game changes feel like they’re shrinking in impact rather than expanding what’s on offer. Perhaps given the longevity of the series this is a natural occurrence – there are only so many major tweaks that can be made to a soccer simulation experience before it’s achieved a striking countenance to its real-world counterpart, and intense focus on offense aside, FIFA 22 is there.
It’s hard to shake the feeling, though, that FIFA 22, especially on consoles as powerful as PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, should have been a bigger leap forward than it is. HyperMotion tantalizes some serious improvements to AI behavior and player positioning, but it doesn’t feel like that translates into a markedly different experience than other years. A lack of a cinematic story experience seriously hurts the range of options available to players, and Career Mode’s many tweaks still don’t make it feel memorable. It’s probably fair to say that FIFA 22 contains the best gameplay in the series to date, but these changes and advancements are so minimal now that it feels like something more needs to happen to keep the franchise fresh and engaging.
While FIFA 22‘s gameplay is still great, its flashy qualities make it fun to watch, and Career Mode & Volta offer some much-needed variety, its core experience feels a little too similar to previous generations of gaming. That’s a problem EA will need to solve moving forward. While the better graphics, loading times, and small tweaks in FIFA 22 on current-gen consoles is just enough to recommend a pick-up even for owners of FIFA 21, if there isn’t a major advancement in FIFA 23, the series risks some serious stagnation issues. For those who haven’t picked up a FIFA title in a few years, however, this is certainly the best time to jump back into the franchise, with a skew towards offensive soccer minds that will no doubt result in quicker pacing, attractive games, and a strong pick-up-and-play appeal for those just looking to play some soccer here and there.
FIFA 22 releases on October 1, 2021 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Google Stadia. Screen Rant was provided with a PS5 code for the purpose of this review.
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