FIFA 22 is a peculiar game in the eternal football sim series, as it's divided in two: the last gen version (PC, PS4, Xbox One), and the next gen version (PS5, Xbox Series X|S). Both versions share a few new features, and we were told what they are, but the biggest new features are in the new gen versions, and those are the ones that EA Sports promises will make a real difference. But do they really make that big a difference? That's what we tried to find out, during a private beta with the PlayStation 5 version.
New Gen Only Features
This years big highlight is HyperMotion, a new feature that combines two technologies (Advanced 11v11 Match Capture and Machine Learning) "to create the most realistic, responsive, and fluid, gameplay experience", according to Sam Rivera, Line Producer. So, Advanced 11v11 Match Capture is exactly what the name suggests - 22 players played real matches, in a real stadium, wearing the capture suits, and that allowed EA to record a massive amount of real movement. EA says this allowed them to capture higher intensity movement, as players react with actual match context, instead of asking a player to perform specific movements in a capture studio - as they did before. This is then combined with Machine Learning, an artificial intelligence system that used real football and match data to predict players movements and actions.
And why is this only on new gen consoles? According to Sam Rivera, EA had already hit the hardware limits on last gen consoles, making it very difficult for them to actually implement new features. The faster CPU, SSD, and increased RAM available, has allowed EA to finally implement HyperMotion, something that has apparently been worked on for a few years now. As for why the PC is last-gen, well, E A essentially doesn't want to increase PC minimum requirements just yet, something they would need to if they were to implement HyperMotion.
What does it really mean though? Well, EA says it's "the biggest animation refresh" they ever had in a FIFA game, with over 4,000 animations being added into the game. Machine Learning then 'studies' all the frames of those animations and tries to create animations in real time to the context of the ball, meaning players should now react realistically to every ball reception, shot, etc.
Players also react a lot better to contact between each other, specially while fighting for an aerial ball, falling on each other, pushing, putting arms over the opponent, and other similar movements. Ball reception has also been improved, with the game using longer animations that use up to two touches on the ball (like stopping with the chest and controlling with the feet as it falls). In the past EA preferred to use small animations to be able to better transition between animations, but they say that transition can now be achieved (and change the animation in real time if necessary) with longer animations in the new consoles.
General AI has also been revamped, with the game being able to process considerably more behaviours in real time. Defensive behaviour has been totally revamped, with each player covering different zones in the pitch in real time. EA showed us a clip of players moving along the pitch in both previous FIFA and new FIFA, and in the new one, players moved a lot more like a unit, as they moved up and down, from left to right and vice-versa.
Finally, EA has implemented a lot of new "personality" animations as part of HyperMotion, as players clean sweat, point somewhere, and even talk with their opponents and teammates as the game is being played in real time.
Now, how does this actually change the game? Well, it does change a few things. The new animations, specially while controlling the ball or fighting for an aerial ball, are indeed better. That said, there's still 'jerkiness', mostly caused by dribble and ball protection, with players rotating super fast and unrealistically on themselves. The ball still goes through the players own feet, and it's still as hard to predict as ever. We were very disappointed to see that, despite all the improvements to animations, this issue still remains in the game.
We also feel that, while players do move better as a unit, they still do a terrible job of covering the ball and the opponent's position. Just like FIFA 21, it's just too easy to play in counter-attack, with defenders being unable to stop good forward runs, resulting in big scoring matches. Also, the AI (at least in Legendary), sometimes just passes the ball between each other way too fast, passing it between three players in one or two seconds and with great precision, including aerial balls. This just makes it extremely difficult to cover line of passes, as your player just can't move fast enough.
Both Gens New Features
While HyperMotion is only available in the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions, there's also some new features that are coming to all versions, including a total goalkeeper rewrite. "We heard feedback about this", said Sam Rivera, and EA decided to implement a new system that adds three new core pillars to goalkeepers: "more reliable saves, more goalkeeper personality, and a big animation refresh".
From what we saw in this beta version, the goalkeepers are indeed better, and have some really cool new animations. We particularly enjoyed how they now stop hard shots while dropping the ball right in from of them, quickly reacting to grab it before a forward gets to it. We had a crazy match against Gianluigi Donnarumma, where he essentially stopped almost everything. We eventually managed to score two goals, but if not for the Italian keeper, the score would have been way bigger in our favour.
EA also mentioned a new ball physics system, that uses new data to behave more like real life. That may be true, but we didn't notice it that much while playing to be honest. We did however notice "Explosive Sprint", a new type of acceleration in "explosive" players that allow these players to accelerate much faster and reach top speed much quicker. Other players will eventually be able to catch up to them as they accelerate themselves, but that initial first 1-2 seconds when they start sprinting will allow them to just fly through a defender. If you miscalculate the timing or the direction however, and just accelerate towards a defender, you will lose the ball more easily.
Tactics also got a new feature, that now allows you to create two separate offensive tactics - one for when the ball is in your side of the pitch, and another for when you have the ball on the opponents side of the pitch. For example, you can use a slow ball possession style of play when you have the ball with your defenders, but use a faster - with forward runs - playstyle when you get the ball over to your opponents half of the pitch. This is more of an advanced feature to high level players, just like the new skill moves and the ability to now use skill moves to receive the ball. And curious players can now also access a much bigger stats sheet, regarding shots, passes, where the ball was the most over the pitch, and other similar information.
Finally, EA will also be implementing new match day cutscenes, and small details, like sprinklers, players going into the pitch with a jacket on, or while holding hands with children. Some player's bodies were also revisited (Lukaku now looks like a proper 'tank'), haircuts and tattoos were added or updated, and there are new crowd animations and effects. English commentary was also boosted with the addition of new commentary by Stewart Robson and Alex Scott. On new gen you can also enjoy improved net reactions when the ball hits it.
After 90 Minutes: Draw and Overtime
While we did enjoy some of the new features, and there's some really good improvements - it's hard to tell how last gen versions are, as we only played the PS5 version, we were just not that happy with the overall gameplay. Tackling is better, and the AI no longer just retakes a ball after being tackled, but jerky dribbling and terrible line of pass cover makes for a very unsatisfying and frustrating set of defending gameplay, while also making it to easy to score goals, specially in counter-attack. We also feel passing is far worse, and that's saying a lot as we were also not happy with FIFA 21's passing. The AI just doesn't consider where you are pointing, trying to pass to the nearest player, and even longer passes (when you hold the button longer) are not working as good as they were. We tried to change settings from assisted to manual and semi, but it was still not satisfying. This is unfortunate, considering passing used to work a lot better in older FIFAs.
Overall we have mix feelings regarding FIFA 22, a draw of sorts between new features we enjoyed, and old - and new - problems that still make for a not so enjoyable football experience. We are, however, a still months away from release, meaning EA Sports has this 'overtime' of sorts after getting impressions to try and turn things around, balance stuff, and fix some of the problems plaguing the game. Only time will tell if they will be able to make it and score the winning goal.