It’s that time of the year again. Domestic leagues have started. The summer transfer window has closed. It’s time to pick up the latest and greatest by way of FIFA 22. With a full year development behind them, the developers at EA have introduced some exciting new updates for FIFA 22, none bigger than HyperMotion. Marketed as a new technology that allows for enhanced animations that can be produced “six times faster” than before, HyperMotion’s foundation includes Machine Learning and 11-on-11 motion capture capabilities. Building off the improvements from last year’s mid-cycle next-gen release, it’s time to see if FIFA 22 is truly deserving of being a quality next-gen footy game.
FIFA 22 Review – What I Like
One of the biggest issues that has plagued the FIFA series over the past few years has been the speed of the game. Often resembling basketball with fast breaks, FIFA for far too long was a back-and-forth goal-extravaganza with little regard to build-up play and any semblance of a midfield. Pace still reigns supreme but overall the match tempo is as good as it’s ever been in FIFA.
Matches play out at different speeds just as they would if you were watching a weekend match on your TV. Breaking teams down and switching the play has never been more enjoyable thanks in part to HyperMotion and the new ball physics on cross-field switches. While there still aren’t as many stoppages for fouls as I’d like, there’s still plenty of action to suck you in here.
Everything’s More Alive
It seems as if EA turned the energy up for FIFA 22. Everything from the pre-match presentation to the way the players move on the pitch screams more energy. This isn’t an artificially enhanced frantic experience, more so a testament to how HyperMotion and what mo-capping a full 11-on-11 match has done to the players.
One of my biggest pet peeves from FIFA 21 was how stagnant your players would be at kickoff. They seemed to just jog into position instead of starting a match off with the type of energy you’d expect.
The excellent presentation didn’t seem to hype your virtual players up at all. This year everything seems more alive and radiates with excitement. From the crowds exploding during rivalry matches to your players showing more emotion, the action sucks you in more and FIFA 22 is better because of it.
I talked about this briefly in my first impressions article, but it’s worth noting again how nice it is to have half-decent teammates. Teammates that not only make runs when attacking, but more importantly, have increased awareness and anticipation when defending. There are still not enough crosses from AI players who should be crossing the ball in obvious situations — as well as center back spacing being too wide at times — but all in all the AI is challenging and varied enough to make career mode worthwhile.
With the midfielders being much improved over last year’s game, and the ability to make star players stand out through Player Based Difficulty, this is the best shape FIFA‘s gameplay has been in since FIFA 16.
A Change In The Meta
As a result of the the improved AI and match tempo is a change in how FIFA 22 is played. The meta tactics of FIFA 21 no longer work in FIFA 22, much to the chagrin of the competitive community who are traditionally not big fans of change. The slower more patient approach that pays dividends in FIFA 22 is a big change from the pace-heavy, AI-abused-poor-midfield scenery that plagued FIFA 21.
Players naturally being more active means they play passing lanes, sticking their feet out to either intercept a pass or get a foot on it. Poor passes like those 180-degree blind passes don’t find their intended targets as often, meaning that passing is more risk/reward compared to past years. The overpowered through ball that was a staple and difficult to deal with last year has been toned down, both in terms of pass effectiveness and overall positioning by the defense being markedly improved upon. Switching the play and shifting defenses is effective and a genuine tactic that drives success.
FIFA 22 Review – What I Don’t Like
Coming into the ’22 cycle, I had a sense that career mode this year would be a disappointment. Not particularly from the sense that it’s bad, more so that we weren’t going to see any significant changes this year. This premonition was backed up by the Pitch Notes blog that emphasized more changes to “player” career mode than the normal club-based career mode.
Create-a-Club was the big addition this year, and it is mostly a port from FUT. Create-a-Club is a good feature and I’m sure there are some who are excited by it, but even this addition is really just adding something that was taken out of the game (Creation Center) in a previous version.
There are new news stories and finally some more importance placed upon winning individual awards, but there’s still no trophy room or tracking of stats past a year. There’s still no managerial carousel, which means that if you’re two years into your save you’ll still see the same manager, formations, and tactics as you would in the first season. Transfer logic still needs some work as you’ll still see familiar transfers in year one, and the dreaded CPU position stacking issue that sees the AI-controlled clubs accumulate way too many players at one position.
Like I said, career mode isn’t bad overall, but it still lacks the same levels of depth of an NBA 2K and falls more in line with a Madden. FIFA sells more than just about any game out there, so career mode should be further along by this point.
Perhaps it’s naive to think that HyperMotion would work seamlessly from the start. Most new concepts, regardless of the genre, need ironing out when it come to sports games. HyperMotion is not alone when it comes to this. For all the good that it does to organize your midfield — and midfielders are much better than last year at defending — it causes issues with your backline that might be more troublesome seeing as it’s your last line of defense.
Dropping far too deep or at times leaving gaping holes in the center of the park are the main issues I’ve encountered. When your center backs drop too deep, it creates a huge gap of space between your midfield and backline that the opposition can utilize in attempting to break your lines. It’s worse when the backline drops deep inside your own box and allows for strikers to turn and shoot with the only hope being for a blocked shot or save.
Aside from the impacts to shape and organization, HyperMotion was also touted to improve animations, even creating new animations on the fly via “Machine Learning” as said by lead developer Sam Rivera:
“What that algorithm is doing is learning from all the data for that motion capture shoot — how the players approach the ball, how many steps do they do to get to the ball, is it three long steps and one short step; what is the proper angle, with the proper cadence, to properly hit that ball .It creates that solution, it creates the animation in real time. That is very, very cutting-edge technology. This is basically the beginning of machine learning taking over animation.”
This animations issue is not a new problem with the Frosbite Engine, which many including myself believe is when FIFA‘s gameplay started to go downhill after its introduction in FIFA 17. It’s an engine that has struggled to replicate physics at a good enough level to have a positive impact on the gameplay. Do we really want Frostbite creating new animations?
Regardless, the game looks and feels good in motion, but once you see replays the warping and odd animations rear their ugly heads. Overall, I consider HyperMotion to be a work in progress, but the realism and dynamic changes to gameplay we were told about are not quite there yet in FIFA 22.
One of the more frustrating features when it comes to FIFA 22 is the input delay. For years, the competitive crowd has harped on this issue while offline players have misconstrued the issue as a call for responsiveness. Instead of responsiveness with respect to player movement, the responsiveness at times — especially with tackling — is often delayed and causes some poor challenges that take a very long time to play out.
This is partly why the best defense in FIFA is still to try and steal the ball from the foot of the attacker, or at times even run into them. With fouls seemingly non-existent, correcting the button responsiveness could go a long way towards bringing more fouls into play.
Input delay isn’t solely a defensive issue, it also pops up when attacking, particularly when shooting. It’s no more evident than when you’d like to go for a header, but the game either doesn’t respond or it makes you go for a header without jumping when leaping is the best option. The correct animation playing out in the right scenario is the key to a football game that not only feels sim but also looks realistic. FIFA 22 is better in this regard but there’s still some cleaning up that’s needed.
Backline Depth Issues
For all the improvements HyperMotion gave to the midfield tracking runners and being active on defense, there seems to be an issue as a result with your backline, specifically dropping too deep inside your own 18-yard box. Ideally, you’d want your backline to be stepping up in scenarios like those pictured above. With the midfielders actually defending inside my box, the space between the two midfielders and my defenders is too extreme and allows allows for easy passes into the feet of the striker.
This is balanced by defenders being superhuman at blocking shots, but overall the marking should be much tighter and your backline should only move as a unit when it’s stepping up and trying to play the opposition offside. This issue can be addressed via sliders, but alas, sliders are not a reasonable solution for what should be defending 101.
Even with the issues highlighted above, this is the best FIFA launch in quite some time. There are no exploits or glaring issues that make the game unplayable for some, and visually the game looks good, especially for those teams whose stadiums and players have been scanned.
FIFA 22 will no doubt change over the course of the next couple months by way of patches stemming from community feedback, but if you’re looking for a solid soccer title to scratch your footy itch then FIFA 22 is your game. There are plenty of modes to enjoy, online is solid as ever, and the gameplay is finally good enough to propose a rewarding challenge thanks in large part to the attacking/defending balance.