With 2021 displaying itself as probably one of the worst years on record for countless video game delays, there was always going to be one title that would make its annual appearance without a hitch. EA Sports is back on the scene with FIFA 22. The behemoth of the genre makes its mark on the Xbox family of consoles and will be readily available to all on 1st October 2021.
There is always one question on the tip of the tongue from any avid football fan wanting to invest their hard-earned cash on another iteration of the year before. That question is “What has changed from last year’s game?” Well, join me in our Xbox Era review where I’ll cover every corner flag of the game.
But it’s the same game every year isn’t it?
I’ve been very critical of EA Sports in the last five or six years when it comes to FIFA. The sole purpose for the last decade or so has been the revenue stream from Ultimate Team. Whilst there is no denying this is the most popular mode the game has to offer by far. Believe it or not, there is still a large portion who don’t want to invest hours and hours into a loot box-based system against opponents who rinse their parents’ credit cards dry in the hope of plucking an extremely rare Ronaldo or Messi from a pack of virtual football cards.
That particular audience wants to play the Career Mode, pro clubs with friends, or even experience Volta football. The fact is these other variants of game types have seen minimal change over recent years and it’s a real shame. So when I hear gamers state that it is the same game every year, they have been right to some extent. Can this year be the year of change across the board?
So what are the gameplay changes?
Before I take a deep dive into what has changed within the game modes in FIFA 22, I feel it’s important to delve into the new implementations of how the game functions this time around. It is also key for me to note that I am reviewing the Xbox Series X/S version of the game and some of these features may not be present in the standard Xbox One version.
This time around hyper motion technology has been used in extreme depth to capture player behaviour and motion. This has been collected from 22 players from real football matches. The result is over 4000 new player animations in-game. Aerial duels now feel more authentic, the feeling of towering for a header now captures the essence of the physicality of two players. Heading the ball no longer feels predictable as it has in previous versions. Control of the ball appears more composed, concise and changes the way players receive and release the ball into possession.
Responsiveness and ball physics improved
There is also a real nice blend of new visual elements in terms of player communication. Players will point and communicate off the ball on occasion adding more realism to the presentation on the pitch. Most notably the goalkeeping mechanics have had another overhaul and more work done. The result here is 600 new animations, keepers now come across as more responsive than ever. Ball physics are also improved creating authentic bobbles along the turf and differing trajectories and swerves with lofted kicks and crosses.
These are all changes you’ll only experience with the controller in your hand. Build-up play has been slowed down and in turn, you’ll be expected to pass the ball more. The pace is still important but not as prominent and the new style of play stubs out the frequent overuse of skill moves and acres of space to dribble in. The alterations to the aerial movement of the ball means you can switch the play with some nail on the head David Beckham style weighted long balls. What impressed me most was the defensive line now is closely knit and compact. No longer is it an easy feat to counter and outpace a solid defense.
Perhaps the area of the game that needs a significant overhaul again gets some slight improvements. Last year we were introduced to more involved training sessions and match simulation enabling you to manage and jump in at any stage. These options are still present but I know the career mode enthusiasts will be gagging to hear what’s new.
Creating your own club is now an option. You can select the name, create your logo, kit and engineer your stadium to your requirements. Customisation isn’t too bad here, you can adjust board priorities, player statistics, and whether you want to start at the bottom of the pile in the lower leagues or challenge for silverware.
Player career is here and allows you to come off the bench allowing you the chance to embed yourself in your team. Performances on the pitch will depend on whether you make the starting lineup. A great showing will allow you to accumulate skill points in a revitalised progression system allowing you to fine-tune your attributes and perks. The dressing room atmosphere also plays part in new cutscenes adding some realism to the presentation.
Transfer negotiations have been tweaked with some new animations arriving. A few new locations appear and getting players to sign on the dotted line can be more intense and dramatic. Finally, the most notable change is the welcome addition of female commentator Alex Scott. She provides information on results across the leagues and more. As someone who invests in career mode every season. It again feels like minimal changes here and there.
Volta is back once more and looks to be here to stay for its third consecutive year. I find it a fun and engaging mode to turn to when you are exhausted of other options. Casual and mindless street matches solo or with friends. There aren’t many additions here to rave about.
Power-ups have been introduced in the form of pure pace, power shots, and aggressive tackling. They do literally what they say on the tin and blend in some variety to the arenas. Alongside this is a new skill meter system that awards you for creative flair. The most obvious change is more cosmetics and celebrations with themed seasonal updates to keep things fresh.
The most exciting announcement of all though was the new Volta Arcade. Allowing you to team up with friends on weekends in a series of mini-games. Dodgeball, foot tennis, lava disco, quick strike, wall ball elimination, target gallery, team keep away and corner scramble make up these fun and frantic ball games to take part in.
Teaming up with your mates is the bread and butter of FIFA to a lot of players. The excitement and intensity of 11v11 online are both thrilling and competitive every time. Pro clubs bring a few changes and the most noticeable is that drop-in co-op is now featured. Available with up to four teammates, you can play other teams without damaging club status and still earn that all-important XP.
If you’re a stats and numbers nerd like me and want to see your progress then there are improvements to performance statistics and cool updated heat maps giving you more insight and analysis to your pro than ever before. You’ll also have the opportunity to be diverse and select a female pro for the first time. There are some slight tweaks to perks and club customisation options but aside from this, there isn’t a great deal to blow you away compared with 2021.
The mechanical machine that keeps the game forever revolving is back in a very similar shell to last year. Ultimate Team is focused on retaining some of the more casual audience by altering some restrictions in areas of the game mode. Divisions Rivals has been reimagined and takes place in the form of a season that changes every six weeks. You now progress through checkpoints which eventually when the game settles should mean fairer skill-based matchmaking.
FUT Champions is now a week-long competition with the addition of play-offs and finals. Earn enough points in division rivals and qualify for the play-offs. Win enough matches here and you’ll be through to the finals which work similarly to the old weekend league.
With these two key changes, the rest are subtle alignments and different ways of displaying information. There is still the opportunity to unlock custom items and unlockables to decorate your stadium. My favourite feature of all though is the celebration focus camera. You’ll no longer have to endure replays of your opponents squaring the ball across the box for an easy tap-in. This new camera allows you to focus on your own players’ reactions instead, giving a new level of authenticity to the game.
Is there anything else?
Everything else you are used to is still here. Quick exhibition matches, women football, online seasons, and co-op seasons. So if there is anything outside of the areas I have covered that were in FIFA 21, these modes and features are proudly present this time around too.
Visuals and Sound
Visually the Xbox Series X/S version doesn’t appear drastically any different from FIFA 21. It still encapsulates the excellent facial features and player likeness of the most skilled footballers in the world. EA still owns the key to the majority of the licenses in terms of real team names, kits, and emblems. The menus are clear, concise, and neatly presented as always. The new cutscenes do bring a fresh feel but as always after some time they feel stale and often reused. There are some nice new touches such as sprinkler systems, mascots, warm-ups, and ground staff all making appearances pre-match. If you keep a close eye you’ll also witness fans leaving the ground early if one team is taking a hammering.
FIFA always seems to fare well with the soundtrack, with unique and relaxed catchy tunes yet again. There is always a track or two that can be plucked from each season, you then hear it elsewhere and think to yourself that’s the song from FIFA. This is always a real strong point in any FIFA game. Commentary appears to be much more varied than last year’s title which had Lee Dixon repeating the same lines. Derek Rae now accompanies Stewart Dobson behind the microphone in a welcome change. Crowd chants are unique to specific clubs as seen in previous installments. Everything is spot-on in the audio department and ticks all the boxes.
The key thing to take away from FIFA this time around is that they have improved the way the game feels and plays in a great way. The game is less predictable and build-up play feels much more satisfactory. There are enough tweaks and changes to make it a slightly better version this time around. It still won’t be enough for those craving a real overhaul to career mode or even pro clubs. Its slightly costlier next-generation version may make a few stall on their decision to invest this time. But the gameplay is for me the best it has ever been and I’ll take that any day of the week.