FIFA 22 is actually a big step forward

2022-02-26  Gaming

With some time to kill and spotting a decent discount on Steam, I picked up a copy of FIFA 22 a week or two ago. It’s too late in the game’s cycle to warrant a full review, but with Konami royally screwing up PES and FIFA having come a surprisingly long way since FIFA 20 (which was the last entry in the series that I played), I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

Football is harder now…

A few games in, I was worried EA had broken everything. I really hated FIFA 22’s gameplay. Every player - even world-class wingers - felt sluggish and slow to turn and passes were randomly their targets. Whether attacking or defending, it felt like every player was running through treacle.

But over time I came to appreciate what was happening. EA has refined FIFA’s gameplay in such a way that everything you do requires more consideration than before. There’s a focus on momentum and body weight in all aspects of the game. Especially when playing with lower league teams, you have to be very careful with direction. Even a single mistimed challenge can leave your defender off-balance and let the opposition through on goal.

On the other hand, when you get it just right and breeze past a defender with a well-timed touch, it feels amazing. FIFA 22 has just enough speed for quick players to feel pacey, but not some much that holding the thumbstick and mashing the right trigger is enough for them to beat any defender, as it was in FIFA 20. The match engine feels much better balanced as a result.

…but sometimes it’s too difficult

In fact, if I have any gripe with the match engine, it’s over FIFA 22’s Legendary difficulty. I’ve been playing FIFA and PES on their Legendary and six-star difficulties for years and would welcome a new challenge, but the way it’s been implemented here just isn’t fun to play against.

On Legendary, even League Two teams will play quick, seemingly random passes inside your penalty area that are impossible to defend against with the tools the game gives you. They’ll frequently pepper their attacking play with random tricks you’d rarely see even in the Champions League, and in defence are ruthlessly effective in their blocks and interceptions.

Altogether, this means you’ll come to recognise that some attacking plays are undefendable, while only creating a few snatched chances yourself. For the moment I’ve dropped down to World Class, which frustratingly feels like it might be slightly too easy, so perhaps I’ll have to play with the sliders, too. It’s also early days, so maybe I’ll find a better balance later in my career once I start playing with more skillful players in the Premier League.

Career Mode custom teams are excellent

Speaking of which, Career Mode has seen a few notable uplifts since my last outing. I wanted to give this a go partly after catching some of Mark Goldbridge’s journey to Europe with TUS United, and partly because when I bought the game there was a graphics bug (now fixed) that made nighttime matches at Stamford Bridge unplayable, which ruled out a Chelsea career.

In FIFA 22, when setting up Career Mode, you’re given the option to replace any team in the league system with your own club. There’s a surprising amount of customisation to indulge in, ranging from the name, logo, and kits to stadiums, pitch types, chants, pre-match anthems, and so on. You get a randomly generated squad of low-skilled players and embark on your quest.

The result is greatly rewarding, not just in terms of titles and trophies but also the stories that emerge along the way. Your original players become club legends, and you face difficult decisions as you progress through the leagues and need to choose when to replace them. It also makes the FIFA youth academy system much more relevant, as the youngsters you scout aren’t competing with the likes of Lukaku and Pulisic and could actually feature in your first team before long. It’s been a long time since Career Mode has received this much attention from EA and it’s great to see.

Ironing out the details

The overall sense I get from FIFA 22 is that EA has spent time cleaning up the little details in all sorts of areas. Playing advantage after fouls, for example, now works almost perfectly. Not only does it apply to offside decisions when the defending team wins possession, but when the referee plays on, a timer appears on the screen and gives the player with the ball the opportunity to hit both triggers and bring it back for the free kick.

Improvements elsewhere include many new efficiencies for Career Mode menus, and we finally have option to skip those long, awkward cut scenes around interviews and contract negotiations (it’s set to holding a button by default, but can be changed to an instant skip in the settings). There are also a few new club details, like the aforementioned pre-match anthems.

Kick Off mode now has the ability to track match records between different players, which is a feature that appeared in PES years ago but was sadly dropped, and is a great asset for those who play local multiplayer frequently. Another interesting addition is an F1-style rewind feature to undo your mistakes and try that shot again. It’s not a feature I’m ever likely to use, but it is nice to see EA paying so much attention to offline players.

If you’ve been dithering like I was over whether to pick up FIFA 22 when the price comes down, questioning whether it would have changed enough in recent years to warrant a purchase from a non-Ultimate Team player, I’d advise you to grab it. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to love here.

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