With no alarms and no surprises, EA Sports has pumped out yet another incremental update to its football simulation series. FIFA 22’s graphical upgrades and new animation technology make the beautiful game feel better, with goals demanding a more deliberate and rewarding playstyle. Tiny tweaks also improve FIFA 22’s Career Mode and Volta Football ahead of a proper revamp. However, aside from those minor but largely positive changes, this is the same game in a new pair of pants – which means its microtransactions are just as eager as ever to get you to turn your pockets inside out.
David Beckham has ordered pancakes on a Parisian balcony. As the server slaps the plate down in front of him, you can see the individual blueberries jostle. The camera then pans down a floor, past rippling flags and flowerbeds to reveal you, the protagonist of FIFA 22, having a cheeky lie-in. Don’t worry; EA Sports hasn’t transformed its beloved football series into a JRPG (that would be far too interesting) but it’s just put together an absurdly lavish opening to try and convince all of us that this is the next generation of virtual football. Some of that Ultimate Team cash has to go somewhere right? Having made the leap to a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X for this year’s game, I quickly noticed the aesthetic facelift.
It’s mostly little things that stick out, like the way a football shirt catches a player’s skin or the forehead sheen of a busy winger. At the same time, there’s still a very evident gulf in consistency between character models; the world’s most popular footballers are rendered in remarkable detail, sporting bouncy hair and expressive features while managers, on the other hand, look like they’ve all had dodgy head transplants onto the same stock body. With action both on and off the pitch looking better than ever, FIFA 22 can often be an intoxicating atmosphere to take in then, but these are all surface-level improvements.
If you’re a perennial FIFA player, you’ll know that graphical bumps are nice-to-haves, but gameplay is king. This is where FIFA 22 has made some meaningful progression. Most of the improvements this year can be attributed to “HyperMotion,” a new motion-capture technology that EA is leveraging to make FIFA 22 feel more fluid on new-gen consoles by adding over 4,000 new animations harvested from real-life matches. This may sound like brain-numbing marketing jargon, but it actually results in tangible improvements on the pitch.
A forward’s legs will buckle from the momentum after they ping a shot in the top corner from outside of the box. Midfielders will react naturally to the blowback from a strong pass, and wingers with high dribbling stats feel more flexible on the break. Players still clatter into each other and fuse into well-paid Cronenberg monsters, making the ball’s trajectory anyone’s guess, but it’s a rare occasion this time around. Collisions seem to have been improved, with opposition AI being dragged up in tandem.
FIFA 22 is a slower game than FIFA 21 as a result, but that doesn’t mean it’s all about defence. There’s not a lack of goals; you just have to earn them with careful passing play and a healthy dose of vision. Patience often seems to trump pace, which is very refreshing. I’ve muttered ‘what a ball’ more than ever this year, most often after spotting one of my wingers in space and switching it with a dreamy late lob across the pitch that leads to a dazzling equaliser.
I’ve always been a big proponent of using both triggers to jockey, intercept a pass, and counter when defending in FIFA, and it feels more important than ever to play deliberately and capitalise on these opportunities in FIFA 22. Players like Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho are a real challenge to track, with the new explosive sprint mechanic letting them leave you in the dust with a knock-on if you don’t try and read their run. It can get hectic as the opposition closes in on goal, and this is where player switching becomes a bit too frantic as you try to fill all the gaps in your armour and survive an onslaught of Tiki-taka. The new Icon Switch mechanic tries to fix this by letting you click in the right stick and flick to the player you need, but it’s still not as quick as hammering the bumper, so it’s hard to justify and ends up feeling redundant when the timing is tight.
Because of these changes, I rarely end up in goalless draws in FIFA 22, though I have also let in some absolute howlers. Goalkeepers' fingers aren’t as buttery as last year, but even top dogs like Alisson can fumble under pressure and leave you scratching your head. It’s much harder to get past them in basic one-on-ones, but a quick fake shot or a long cross across the box seems to give them an existential crisis. Finesse shots from range also feel particularly deadly, with statistical all-rounders curling them in like it’s nothing.
My favourite metagame addition to FIFA 22 is the fleshed-out stats screen you can see during and after each match. At a glance, you can see your dribble success rate and pass accuracy, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find diagrams showing where and how you lost possession, the angles when your shots were blocked, and what your distribution looks like. It’s invaluable information for developing your skills with certain players and teams, even if your expected goals stat can border on depressing in a match that is slipping away from you.
This is all subject to change with post-launch patches, but right now, FIFA 22 feels like a solid blend of offence and defence with a surprising amount of over-the-top play. It’s a brave new world where sweaty pace demons can’t just run riot, and strong strikers are viable. It’s still early days, but I’ve already developed a complex where my hands will start getting clammy if I see Romelu Lukaku or Erling Haaland appear in Division Rivals.
Volta Football, Career Mode and Ultimate Team
Outside of the bread and butter gameplay, several revisions have been made to FIFA’s major modes this year. There’s nothing revolutionary to note, but careful tweaks here and there have made FIFA 22 enjoyable across the board, with the new-gen console’s loading time boosts and graphical upgrades pulling some serious weight.
I played on the PlayStation 5, and the low hum of the DualSense’s haptics is a nice touch that pulls me deeper into the action with the thud of a good through ball or the crunch of a nasty tackle coming through to my palms. Each mode in FIFA 22 is also complemented by one of the best licensed soundtracks in recent memory, featuring earworms from an eclectic mix of artists, including Brockhampton, Sam Fender, and Kero Kero Bonito.
Career Mode is very similar to FIFA 21’s version but with a few new additions, such as the ability to create a club. In this separate mode, you’ll replace an existing team and make your own crest, kit, and stadium, tweaking the board’s expectations to your liking. It’s a neat idea, but in practice I much prefer taking a real club in an exciting direction rather than developing a squad of randomly generated androids, so I quickly put it down.
Player Career Mode now offers RPG-style objectives in each match that you must complete to build a relationship with your manager. Think of it as a visual novel, except you’re trying to romance Steve Bruce into putting you in the starting XI of Newcastle United. This is a lot of fun if you create your own player as it features a massive skill tree, attributes to upgrade, and perks to unlock that help the whole team. You get to feel like you’re building a footballer’s career within an established club, and it can hurt when you don’t live up to your potential. The character building also helps to offset the dull moments when you’ve got no control over the team’s direction at large.
However, the Career Mode upgrade that I appreciated most was a simple quality-of-life tweak that lets you bypass Training Days and simulate them at the highest rank you’ve previously achieved, which cuts out a lot of the menu monotony. It was also great to hear Alex Scott pop up to talk about goals across the grounds during Premier League matches. By FIFA standards, the Career Mode package is solid, but there’s a reason why so many people still prefer Football Manager.
Meanwhile, Volta Football edges closer but doesn’t quite commit to being the new FIFA Street game we’re all hoping for. This time there’s no story mode, but it leans further into absurdity with abilities that give you supernatural powers on the pitch, such as lightning pace and deadly shots. The more focused football lets you appreciate the extra animations and visual enhancements. As always, Volta is a handy training ground for figuring out skill moves without the pressure of a full-size pitch.
Bizarrely, Volta’s most interesting new addition is annoyingly only available at the weekends. Volta Arcade has you competing online in Fuzion Frenzy-style party minigames where you can hone some important skills. Tense games of Foot Tennis help with crossing, while Disco Lava has you dribbling carefully to steal squares from your opponents. It feels more worthwhile than repeating skill games and is the perfect chaser after bottling it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke; it’s just baffling that I can’t play these whenever I want.
Over in Ultimate Team, it’s another year of minor revisions on a formula that clearly works very well for EA, even if it delivers waves of Stockholm Syndrome to many players. Some extra stadium customisation options help make your club feel more like home, and the Division Rivals framework has been made more forgiving with checkpoints and seasonal rewards. In the absence of anything new, I’m holding out for a training mode that lets you play skill games with your Ultimate Team to get used to how they play together ahead of matches.
The online multiplayer is what I am sticking around for, though. It’s as palm-wetting and foot-twitching as ever, with the meta still in flux as FIFA 21 players throw off the complacency that 99-rated, end-of-year cards afford. Gone are the days when you would tremble in fear at your opponent’s team before a match, too, as the PlayStation 5’s SSD and a solid internet connection pretty much erase the loading process, so if you blink you’ll miss the screen that displays them.
I’ve forced a few rage quits with my J1 League team centred around ‘King’ Kazuyoshi Miura (a 59-rated Bronze Striker who is 54 years old), so it’s fair to say you can still have a good bit of fun in Ultimate Team without feeding EA’s golden goose. Still, I don’t recommend getting sucked into the billion-dollar money vortex for the sake of a few good cards, and given my track record over previous years, I’ll likely play it for a few months and then drop it because of the growing temptation to dig into my pockets.
For FIFA 22, EA has fully implemented Preview Packs that let you look inside one loot box every day before you buy, but, even so, the microtransactions are still very much front and centre here. EA is not yet brave enough to tame the rampaging elephant in the room, and FIFA 22 suffers for it.