FIFA 22 hands-on: the game has changed

It's that time of the year where I remove R1000 from my screaming wallet and put it down on the latest version of EA FIFA. However, with EA Play early access, I've had the chance to try out the game before splashing out the cash.

The visuals

Playing on a PlayStation 5 console, using the Sony 75" X9000, FIFA 22 did not necessarily blow my mind in the visuals department when comparing it to FIFA 21.

I was quite astounded by the next-gen upgrade after having played FIFA 21 on PS4 before moving to PS5, and with the latest title being one that I thought would have been built with the next-gen fully in mind, I was a little disappointed. However, FIFA 22 remains a beautiful-looking game, so there really shouldn't be concern around this factor.

The mode

Using around six hours of my 10-hour trial through EA Play, I focused on playing football over dipping into all modes. FIFA Ultimate Team may be extremely popular, but the pay-to-win system and requirement to spend vast amounts of money over and above the cover price is an instant turn-off for me, and a mode I generally avoid over the course of the year.

Instead, I opted for career, which feels extremely familiar to FIFA 21 in layout and mechanics, though I will admit – there were a lot of easily accessible settings to make quality of life a lot better and remove the frustrating admin of training sessions and other tasks that keep you from playing the next game.

What’s changed

For me, the most important changes in any FIFA game should be on the pitch, and to be honest, I really like what EA have done with FIFA 22.

The new Hypermotion systems has brought about a wealth of new animations all across the pitch, and this really does help make the game feel more authentic, barring some frustratingly slow animations that can frustrate you at crucial times.

There will be a learning curve too, especially in the defensive department. Moving your centre-back one step in the wrong direction can seemingly throw the entire defensive line into chaos and the improved attacking runs from forwards see them exploit the space like prime Barcelona. There is a new mechanic to try and select the correct player when switching, but it feels a little clunky at first and may take some time to get used to.

The goalkeepers

While we're still on the frustrating bits, let's talk about goalkeepers... So, while exposing my age, I've been playing FIFA from the very start, and fondly remember walking to the internet cafe to play FIFA 97 after school. One thing throughout the years that has been a constant rollercoaster has been goalkeepers.

Some years, they are ridiculously stupid, slapping the ball into the path of an attacker and then rolling on the floor when it would be easier to catch it with one hand.

However, this year we’re back to having goalkeepers who are turned up to Terminator mode and further boosted with a case of Red Bull before each match. They will get a hand on the majority of your shots on target, always be in the right place to block point-blank shots and dominate one-on-one situations. In many games I played, especially against a lesser opposition, goalkeepers would dominate in regards to player rating and rack up well over 12 saves in games which I’d dominated.

I would often be left with the feeling that I had scored some really lucky goals, while seeing each of my well-worked moves halted by unbelievable saves that had the commentators talking in tongues as they praised the goalkeeper’s holy abilities. Hopefully this will be balanced somewhat in future patches, but to start, goalkeepers are alarmingly difficult to beat, no matter what team you play against.

Getting the ball around

There is a plus side to this though, in that goals feel like more of an achievement. The gameplay is noticeably slower, and not being a player that spams skill moves, I'm excited by the fact that passing takes more of a front seat this time around.

Consistency in passing will be an important point though. In my time I did notice moments where passing was crisp and pin-point no matter which player was on the ball, while other times a top-rated star like Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't pull off the simplest through-ball, and instead blasted it well beyond the reach of his teammate and out for a goal kick.

One of the changes that excited me most in my time playing was the physical jostling and headers. It felt balanced, strong players actually felt stronger, and headers ranged from glancing nods that just miss the post, shots that squirt off the top of the head and have the keeper scrambling, and uncontested bullet headers that ripple the back of the net.

There has already been mixed reactions from FIFA players online, though I firmly believe that there is no possibility of any FIFA game ticking the boxes for every player out there.

The verdict

FIFA 22 feels like a solid upgrade on the field, and sure, there are bugs and issues that will need to be fixed, but I genuinely feel excited to jump into the game this year and try to master some of the many new mechanics on offer.