The beginning of a great overhaul for FIFA from EA Sports appears to be here with FIFA 22.
Last year's release, which was supposed to be the apex of the series as it started to wave goodbye to last-generation consoles, wasn't met with an overwhelmingly strong reaction (a 72 on Metacritic).
But FIFA 22 leans heavily into the newfound power of next-generation consoles for the first time with FIFA 22 and aims to get things back on solid pacing with dramatic overhauls to gameplay and the big three game modes.
The result is a coherent-feeling effort that lives up to some of its billing and indeed signals the beginning of something potentially special.
Gameplay is where FIFA made its biggest promises this year—and where it delivers the most.
Players making the jump from last year's game to this will feel the difference right from the start. There's more of a simulation feel to the proceedings on the pitch. The players, their kicks and their tackles are heavier, and the way everything moves on the pitch creates a more realistic (and better) pacing to a match.
While it's hard to tell in real-time if the game is just making up new animations on the fly as things happen, it's abundantly clear that there are a ton of new animations and A.I.-controlled players move differently, both individually and as a unit.
Upgraded A.I.—thanks to the additional horsepower provided by next-generation consoles—was a big talking point this year. While it isn't perfect, A.I. players actually react realistically away from the ball, and on offense, they notably take shots from farther out on the pitch than in the past.
It adds more character and removes some of the robotic feel, too. A club known for its stout midfield defense in certain formations actually feels that way now. A.I. opponents will mix up the where, how and why of attacks, often matching with the club's real-life behavior, making each engagement feel fresh.
Some of this blends perfectly with little tweaks implemented last year to player ratings and the importance of them on the pitch. Teams as a whole have a more realistic slant to match their identities this year, and superstars indeed seem in a whole different weight class compared to the other players out there.
Players have to actually earn their goals this year, and a finesse shot isn't a cheat code for finding the net. A one-on-one feels more realistic, and auto-blocks by defenders have clearly been turned down quite a bit. But sheer positioning and better A.I. logic for moving in open spaces, even away from the ball, organically turns up the challenge.
Passing feels more refined this year, too, especially on the ground or with lobs. There isn't as much "cross the fingers and hope for the best" when trying to quickly pass in a certain direction. Headers can still feel a bit random, and the amount of power players can put on them without momentum is investigation-worthy, but as a whole, the ball feels more natural in most cases. This is especially true when putting a certain spin on the ball or seeing how it changes while moving across a wet field compared to a dry one.
If it all seems to have a skill-oriented slant to it, that's likely true—a game getting more and more akin to an actual simulation will naturally reward players who understand the real game. Another good example of this? Explosive Sprint is a feature that rewards players who sprint in the proper context. Smash sprint all the time and it won't have the desired effect while still draining stamina. Another example? Throwing players on to the pitch out of position can have disastrous results.
Keepers that don't feel all that changed. There are some new animations baked in it, like with everything else, but some of the old tricks to exploit the A.I. there remain.
It's also worth pointing out, at least at launch, that stamina seems like it plays a big role. Smart management of substitutions can lead to fresh players off the sideline just blitzing past an opponent's formation, which is especially dangerous for tactical-minded players who understand the weaknesses of these more realistic formations.
If there's a big drawback, it's that player switching can feel wonky at first. And on higher difficulties, the A.I. will exploit it hard. But even that's avoidable because players can press a button that brings up a prompt showing which players they can switch to with an additional button press.
A year ago, FIFA 21 tried to re-balance the scales to make offense more fun. It worked almost too well, so the next-generation juice working behind the scenes has actually corrected things. Offense is still potent, but it's not rampant.
In some ways, much of this comes with a caveat—the meta and feel of the gameplay can and will change with post-launch updates. But this is the most balanced FIFA has felt on the pitch in years, and the pacing of it is in a sweet spot that will make the series much better for it if it isn't disrupted.
Graphics and Presentation
FIFA 22 is a spectacle for the eyes and largely remains an immersive experience throughout.
The sheer graphical firepower of the title on next-generation consoles is obvious from one look at simple gameplay videos. Details pepper every venue, whether it's a traditional pitch or one of the globe-trotting, varied venues from Volta Football.
On those pitches, stars stand out big time, crowds sway and react well, and jerseys, nets and flags sway realistically in varied, good-looking weather patterns. The sound design is again top-notch, with crowds sounding like the real thing and noises from the players on the pitch rising up, too.
Where FIFA really excels this year along these lines is through smaller details. The new default camera angle is a pleasant surprise that permits players to see newfound passing lanes. Alex Scott and Stewart Robson add nice depth to the call on the broadcasts in a much-needed shakeup.
During a game, the usual array of near-overwhelming data available across the board, even in pause menus, once again returns. Heat maps, tendencies and robust stat charts are readily available in a feast for the eyes (and brains of the most strategic among us).
It's worth pointing out here that post-match cinematics, locker room cinematics and even broadcast calls indeed get changed up in refreshing ways based on how a player's career progresses in career mode. It's a little thing, but an organic one that removes some of that robotic feel to grinding a solo mode.
Kudos goes to the smooth marriage of presentation and gameplay for the game's mini-tutorial when a player first boots the game, too. Players start out in a hotel room with a phone buzzing, pick a face and name/stats, then zip through the crowded streets of Paris learning the basic controls for dribbling and passing. It's a fun, innovative way to mask a bit of a tutorial that most sports games don't bother with.
The power of the new consoles is really felt during loading times and transitions between cinematics, too. Perhaps most notably, replays feel faster than ever, which is nothing if not a nice touch.
On PlayStation 5 exclusively, the haptic feedback from the controller is another next-generation upgrade that deserves a nod. Varying levels of vibration based on shot or tackle types, plus the gigantic roar from a goal in front of home fans, is an unmatched feeling.
Career, Volta Football, FUT and More
It's all about the big three of FIFA 22.
Career modes were arguably the biggest talking point about the game this year, as the two flavors both get some big attention as things shift to the new consoles.
In the club-based career mode, it's commendable that players have a ton of options to work with right out of the gate. Going from an underdog of a club and earning a spot in the bigger leagues, making each season an absolute scrap, is a blast. But players who want to just jump right into the deep end with the sharks are free to do so, too.
Customization was one of the bigger talking points around this year's club-based mode, and that's fair enough with the Create-A-Club function. Players are free to put their personal touch on crests, kits and even stadiums, including the tifos that go up behind the goalposts. None of it is the most revolutionary thing ever seen in a sports game by any means, but it's hard to complain about more customization.
At times, the sheer number of options and tweaking a player can do to a club can be dizzying. But to keep things broad, upon release it feels like the game does a good job of dishing proper-oriented goals depending on the overall status and talent of the club. For underdog clubs, merely avoiding regulation is one heck of a goal to achieve at first.
It's the same story for the more solo-oriented career mode. Because of the big number of skill trees and ways to grind out a player character, it's truly a case of every experience should feel different. And the game generally does a really good job of match-based goals. It isn't always a perfect hit, but the game indeed takes into account the player's position and the responsibilities that come with it, plus the formations both his or her team and the opposition run.
As a whole, the solo-player career doesn't feel amazingly different this year, but progression feels better thanks to the goal system. It's the broader club mode that feels overhauled, even if it's only carrying over some of the stadium customization already found in Volta Football.
This year, FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team) promises a revamped competitive ladder. It will take some time to see how it all plays out, but the promise of checkpoints along a player's climb that make sure they don't fall back past a certain point sounds really welcome. So too does the best of the very best being split off into their own matchmaking division, which should leave more room at the top for other players to compete.
Otherwise, chasing seasonal rewards will keep things fresh. There's still a nice onboarding process and an almost overwhelming amount of things to unlock by merely playing single-player challenges and matches. Much of the mode doesn't feel overly changed, but it's got the something-for-everyone feel as it's clear the goal is to let players earn and build clubs however they want—within the confines of a season format, at least.
Volta Football was an absolute blast last year and returns again with some souped-up features that only move the needle more into the positive, must-play range.
The implementation of a skill meter that builds as players pull off tricks and proper assignments is a genius idea for the arcade-based mode. Building that up over four different thresholds amplifies the amount the next goal is worth. An already thrilling, fast-paced mode only gets more nail-bitingly tense because even a four-goal lead isn't necessarily safe now.
Actually building up the meter takes time and skill in a way that feels natural, so it doesn't seem like it will be too overpowered or abused. It's hard to get a read on the new signature abilities, though, which seem to function similarly to super abilities in other games. One lets players rip off wild offensive moves, another exceeds the 99 overall thresholds for speed in the open pitch and another lets players pull off big tackles. Not terrible ideas, but it should be interesting to see how they evolve once the online community starts to figure out a meta.
One underrated element to Volta this year that deserves some love? A player's character starts outright at an 82 overall instead of the low 60s like some other sports games. It's a nice way to stay competitive on the pitch. Make no mistake, the grind to improve still feels like a massive time investment and questionably worth it, but it's nice to not be outclassed right from the jump. That 96 overall is the ratings cap is nice to see as well, as players won't be able to excel at everything.
Outside of the big three, the expected rounds out a robust feature set. Smaller things like tournaments, skill games and UEFA Champions League make the cut. They're nice to have, though the fact the big three are deep enough to almost justify their own individual game releases means players probably won't look at them too often.
FIFA also deserves a quick nod for its extensive list of tweakable options in a robust set of menus. Pretty much everything players might think is adjustable is, right on down to an attacking tactics menu and refined control of how good the computer A.I. is at certain things.
FIFA 22 truly feels like a next-generation sports title.
From an outsider's view, it sure seems like the lessons learned from the last two releases in the series, plus a serious boost in horsepower provided by new consoles, has helped produce the most balanced simulation experience we've ever seen.
The game is slower, more natural feeling, and the skill cap feels dramatically raised. It won't make everyone happy by any means, but should this post-launch gameplay not get patched over and over again, the future is incredibly bright for the on-pitch action.
A superb surrounding set of modes only makes things better. Some of the upgrades aren't shocking or overly innovative, but it's hard to complain about FIFA building atop the best feature set in a sports game.
An annual sports release and next-generational leap done right, FIFA 22 is the best sports title of the year, a perfect onboarding point and an encouraging foundational block for the future of the series.