EA Sports' latest addition to the FIFA franchise - FIFA 22 - is finally here, and it's better and prettier than ever before.
If you've been lucky enough to get your hands on a next-gen console, then you'll be blown away by the graphical detail. And don't worry - some great additions have had a positive effect on gameplay, too.
The improvements in gameplay are mainly down to HyperMotion Technology, which utilises full-team motion capture data and machine learning to make your matches feel as close to the real thing as possible.
Development to the goalkeepers is perhaps one of the more important changes in FIFA 22 - it brings consistency and more reliability to shot-stopping. Player-specific animations also make a huge difference, and you can feel the difference between a renowned shot-stopper compared to a goalkeeper who is more renowned for his ball-playing skills, like Manchester City's Ederson.
Real-world data has also brought a new level of realism to how the ball moves. EA Sports call this ‘True Ball Physics'. Tuned parameters including speed, swerve, air drag, air resistance, ground friction, and rolling friction mean every touch, trap, shot, volley, pass, and dribble will look, move, and fly like the real thing.
Another new gameplay mechanic - Explosive Sprint - changes the dynamic of one-on-one situations, giving you more control over acceleration when dribbling or defending. Lure opponents in and choose when to unleash your full speed to get away from the defender as you drive your team forward in attack.
There have also been some changes within the Career Mode, something that fans of the FIFA franchise have been asking for over the last few years. You can now utilise the Create Your Club feature, building a new blue from the ground up. This allows you to create a kit, crest and stadium for your new team and take it all the way to glory.
There is still an abundance of microtransactions in use, particularly in the Ultimate Team game mode. This is where most hardcore FIFA players do their gaming — building their squad from the ground up either by grinding and completing Squad Building Challenges (SBCs) or by buying FIFA Points with real-life money. Division Rivals - a mode within Ultimate Team - has now been reworked to improve matchmaking. ‘FUT Heroes' will now appear alongside the remaining ‘FUT Icons' - allowing you to play against some of your favourite players over the past few decades.
How does it look?
The graphics of FIFA 22 really are stunning, and they really showcase what the line-up of next-generation consoles are capable of. Stadiums feel almost life-like, and if you take the time to watch the action replay of a goal, you'll gawp at the attention to detail that's gone into something as mundane as the hairstyle of a particular player.
How does it play?
Compared to the last couple of FIFA games released, FIFA 22 actually feels a lot slower. On face value, this might seem like a bad thing, but we found it actually feels a lot more like the game of football, and this equates to a stronger feeling of reward when the ball hits the back of the net.
We predict several game updates to arrive over the coming weeks, as players find ways to take advantage of the gameplay. Finesse shots, for instance, are in need of a major buff at the time of writing - take a player like Cristiano Ronaldo or Kevin De Bruyne and press R1/RB and Circle/X, and the ball will fly into the top corner.
After just less than two weeks of playing FIFA 22, we're still celebrating each goal as if it was our first. For the first time in the last few years, it feels like they've got the gameplay just right. Both defending and attacking takes time to master, but once you familiarise yourself with the mechanics of the game, it feels incredibly rewarding to play.
FIFA 22 perfectly demonstrates what we can expect from the next generation consoles - invigorating gameplay with outstanding visuals. This year, it feels like they have the balance just right.
It will be interesting, however, to see where we're at in 12 months time. EA Sports' biggest rival in the football sim world - Konami - have decided to make their football game (eFootball 2022) free-to-play after years of living in the shadow of the FIFA franchise. For the time being, FIFA 22 is the undisputed king.