The biggest compliment you can give FIFA 22 is that it feels like real football once. EA Sports’ soccer simulator still has a few quirks, but at launch the developer did an excellent job improving ball physics and player positioning for a much more authentic experience. Add in all of the new animations made possible by HyperMotion technology, as well as a complete rewrite of how goalkeepers work, and you get a breath of fresh air into this storied football franchise.
Instead of preferring skill moves and dribbles, you now have to play around the ball if you intend to open up the defenses. Crossing is a much more viable offensive tactic thanks to the changes made to the air balls, while Paul Scholes-esque wide-cut slices allow you to switch play effectively, meaning you can take advantage of the full width of the pitch to Defenders pull out the position. The back lines are compact and – dare we say it – intelligent, working together as a unit to hold their shape.
All of this means that goals are harder to achieve, at least on higher difficulty levels, leading to much more tense encounters. Scoring a single goal against Manchester City feels like it means something because it gives you a head start to hold onto – especially if you’re a weaker team in the Premier League. Likewise, breaking stubborn defenses in a low block like Burnley can be difficult, but that makes it all the more satisfying when the ball hits the end of the net.
In fact, there are dozen of subtle things EA Sports added to make the act of shooting at goal more rewarding: the mesh physics has been redesigned to make the mesh bulge more realistic when you thunder a punch past the goalkeeper, and the publisher even reworked that haptic feedback from DualSense to give you a tactile feeling in your hands. There are also a ton of new celebration sequences that are triggered when you score a final winner in stoppage time.
It’s still a video game, so collision detection issues and general animation errors like warping still occur, but many of the animations added via the heavily promoted HyperMotion technology help build on immersion. We also have plenty of time for the new on-the-ball running animations, which use machine learning to adjust players’ steps in real time in context. It’s a minor thing, but it does add to the responsiveness when the players approach the ball properly.
Of course, there are always concerns that patches might end up upset the balance – or exploits could be exposed. When playing online, we were done in a lot more corners than it feels realistic, and the timed shot buff could lead to too many unstoppable curlers in the top corner, but we just have to trust EA Sports to look at the data and make the necessary adjustments there. Despite these small issues, the gameplay is still a significant step up from FIFA 21.
The goalkeepers also act much more sensibly with new animations and rewritten systems. They are less prone to being hit at the near post and seem much smarter to react to loose balls thrown towards the edge of the box. There will always be a debate about scripting, but in general, we’ve found that the balance is for the most part good: we get punished when we make mistakes, not when the game decides we are to lose.
Of course, all of these gameplay tweaks are great, but FIFA 22 would be a hard sale without improvements outside of that. Fortunately, the flagship of the single player, which offers the career mode, has been redesigned – especially if you want to start your own club or join a team as a professional. While the nuts and bolts remain the same – all menus have been repurposed from last year – it’s fun to set up your own team and raise expectations.
We’re currently responsible for a small team we started in the West Midlands that are trying to avoid relegation from the Premier League. With a tiny transfer budget, we were forced to promote children from our academy and hope for the best. You can define the profile of the players in your starting squad and even design your stadium. When you have this much control over your team, you can develop a bond with them that will make you feel every high and low on the field.
There is so much more EA Sports could do to add depth here, however. In real life, for example, Manchester United recently hired a standard coach – but in FIFA 22 you have little control over your employees. Daily routine of your team that you can even hire sports psychologists and sleep specialists to improve the performance of your player staff, there are certainly many burdens that could be incorporated here.
The focus this year seems to be on the player career, which has been significantly improved. Simply adding substitutions means you can now break into teams or switch to the bench if you’re not performing as your manager expected. You get dynamic goals for every game and have to impress every time you step on the field if you want to advance and make your way into the starting XI. It’s a huge improvement over the barebones offering in previous years.
Outside of career mode, street football spin-off Volta Football has also been redesigned to offer a more arcade-like pick-up-and-play experience. Drop-in multiplayer is not only encouraged, but borderline enforced – and new scoring mechanics reward you for playing with skill to multiply the number of goals scored. There are a number of new soccer-themed mini-games for you to play, all of which come with a reward system that allows you to unlock cosmetics for your avatar.
While it’s undoubtedly fun here, it feels like EA Sports is just scratching the surface. Sure, the MyPlayer mode in NBA 2K22 has its fair share of problems. The way 2K Sports blends street basketball with professional basketball and gives you a plethora of activities both offline and online is unparalleled, and that’s something we can see at EA Sports in the end – but there is still a long way to go .
That’s probably because FIFA Ultimate Team is the main mode these days, and it’s stayed that way in FIFA 22. Surprisingly, there have been probably the fewest changes overall, with a few minor UI changes being the most notable. The way Division Rivals works has been massively rebooted, meaning that when you win and lose games, you no longer jump back and forth between divisions, but instead reach checkpoints to keep you at a reasonable level.
We’re still not sure what to think of this change – frankly, we’ve been beaten by most of our opponents so far – so we’re excited to see how the balance develops. The Weekend League has also been changed, with a preliminary qualifying round running the entire week leading up to the weekend FUT Champions Final. As we haven’t qualified yet, we can’t say how everything will play out yet, but the ambition is to give the players more flexibility, which we appreciate.
Of course, microtransactions still prevail as you’re completely at the mercy of EA Sports’ gacha mechanics for the players you actually get. Pull out a Cristiano Ronaldo card in a packet and reselling it on the transfer market could set you up for the rest of the year – but the chances of that are slim. We appreciate that it’s rarity that ultimately adds value, but the mode feels so stingy when compared to games like MLB The Show 21, where you can build a great team for free.
Even so, there is so much to do in FIFA 22 that the truth is, it feels hard to complain too much. Pro Clubs has more squad customization options than in years, while Online Seasons is returning and offering an online experience with real teams. The soundtrack is bigger and more varied than ever, with some really heavy inclusions, and absolutely everything is underpinned by the great gameplay improvements outlined above. We also didn’t even mention the presentation, which is superb across the board – aside from the pathetic comments that are kind of worse than ever.
FIFA 22 feels like real football, and that’s all the better. Impressive improvements in player positioning, ball physics, and animation make for an extremely satisfying simulation that underpins each of the franchise’s flagship modes. Career mode isn’t reinventing the wheel, but the ability to create a club is fun and the changes to player careers are long overdue. Ultimate Team is still microtransactions and you will already have your own personal opinion about it, but there’s so much to do with this year’s release that you could easily put hundreds of hours into it without seeing a single box of loot.