Is there a more exciting time to be a football fan?
Coming off the back of the Euro 2020 drama, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at new clubs and in new leagues. Then there’s the potential four-horse race of Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United in the Premier League, plus there’s next year’s World Cup to look forward to.
And, if that wasn’t enough, we now have EA Sports’ latest offering in its Fifa franchise – and this time it’s their first proper effort on the next-generation consoles.
The National was granted early access to the PlayStation 5 version, so here’s how we’ve found it so far:
Most people who have played Fifa during the past few years are in agreement that the game has plenty to offer away from the pitch with plenty of modes, teams and things to do, but they quickly tire of the on-pitch mechanics.
Fifa 21 became predictable with certain scoring methods being abused, too many unrealistic goals making it in the net and growing frustration over passing, with poor directioning and weight.
It was fine for a quick pick-up-and-play, but for those who like to immerse themselves in the virtual gaming world, there were no doubt a few controllers being bashed after a month or two, let alone six months later.
Fifa 22, however, aims to put things right on the pitch, and given that we are now on a new console, players should really expect a decent leap forward in terms of the in-game experience.
The good news is that it does feel like a different, and improved, game.
The most noticeable difference is the flow of play is much slower. Attacks are built more subtly compared to last year’s spamming of the through ball passing button and it all feels so much smoother with players moving into the positions off the ball that you want them to be in.
This is thanks to the new PS5 and Xbox Series X/S exclusive HyperMotion technology, which captured 22 professional players on the pitch at once to study their movements.
EA said it would add authenticity and it certainly feels more like a game of football with 4,000 new animations, rather than an arcade pinball machine. If you want to switch the play from left to right, your full-back will be advanced, ready and waiting.
Another of EA’s big inclusions this year is the reworking of Tactical AI, so attacking players make better decisions, show more personality and defensive units keep their shape but are affected by fatigue levels.
I’ve found that the first half of matches is cagey, with play remaining in small areas on the field and few goals scored before half time as the match opens up later on. So far, so good.
Another complaint from Fifa 21 was the ball physics. At times it felt like you were playing with a marble, while at others it was a beach ball.
The weight of pass is definitely better, and goalkeepers can finally kick the ball well beyond the half-way line. My one quibble would be with shooting – when are we going to see a dipping knuckle ball-style shot to accompany the low grass-cutter, finesse curler and rising drive?
Goalkeepers have been the main question so far. They are simply too good at times. They pull off world-class save after world-class save, but without that the scorelines would be too high, so how is it rectified?
EA says the new system has more than 600 animations, though much of it appears very similar to previous Fifa titles.
Experienced players will also notice how tricky it is to fire off a shot from inside the penalty area. Defenders quickly crowd out strikers and get in blocks when a goal seems the more likely outcome.
It means clear openings have to be crafted, but it may frustrate some players. There is also a lack of grubby goals – where the balls bobble over the line, or a player mis-kicks one in, though how much more realistic can it be?
Overall, the on-pitch experience feels fresh and more advanced. Hopefully future update patches won’t alter it too much.
EA’s big money-spinner is back with loads of packs of players waiting to be opened. Of course, you can do so with your virtual coins, though the option of putting in real-life money remains. As was introduced earlier this year, you can preview the pack before purchasing it.
This main game mode sees players build a squad, compete online or against the console, progress through the ranks and collect cards to improve their team.
Alterations this year include a restructuring of Division Rivals so everyone starts in Division 10 and has to climb the ranks before being reset at the end of each season.
Meanwhile, FUT Champions, the highly competitive weekend tournament, has been tweaked as well. Now it has a two-tier structure that involves qualifying into a play-offs round and then finals with EA saying it makes the schedule more accessible. Given we’re only a week into playing, we’re yet to see how effective the changes are.
Card collectors will be pleased to see the introduction of FUT Heroes, basically former players who were not quite Icon level (think Robbie Keane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) but are well worth including in the game.
You can once again customise your own stadium and one of the finest inclusions is the crowd chants and club anthems. For example, Manchester United fans walking out to the sound of the Stone Roses and Liverpool fans hearing You’ll Never Walk Alone is an absolute treat.
Other game modes
For those who would rather spend their time away from Ultimate Team, Career Mode has had a revamp.
There’s now the ability to create your own team from scratch in Manager Career with stadium customisation added in too. In Player Career, meanwhile, you can enter the fray as a substitute as the new kid on the block ready to make a name for himself. There’s an overhauled player growth system, while the Manager’s Rating system determines whether you will be dropped.
If you’re after a quick kick around with your mates in the street then Volta is back. It comes with new skill moves and a skill metre system that makes goals worth more (the more nutmegs – kicking the ball between a player’s legs – the better). There’s also fun games such as Dodgeball, Foot Tennis and Disco Lava where you dribble over coloured squares.
The football purists who like to score after a 20-pass move will be pleased with the changes made by EA. Is it a massive step up from PlayStation 4? Not yet, but it’s a step in the right direction and the early impressions are that there are months of enjoyment ahead with Fifa 22.
Updated: September 27th 2021, 7:06 AM