FIFA 22 pre-beta gameplay preview – lots to admire in pre-season
It is still two-and-a-half months until FIFA 22 launches but an in-depth preview event and invite-only pre-beta has provided GameCentral with a mouth-watering taste of what’s to come.
As we fast approach launch season, there was one key line to take from EA Sports’ FIFA 22 preview event: ‘This is the first year we’ve had a chance to develop FIFA for the next gen consoles.’
If that doesn’t whet the appetite, it really should. As a series, FIFA has dominated the football video game market for over two decades and inevitably such dominance can be prone to lapses towards complacency. Recent editions of FIFA have seen critics argue that each annual update is a re-skin of last year’s game, with a few peripheral features sprinkled in.
But to hear that FIFA 22 has been developed specifically with next gen technology in mind should result in EA’s most ambitious FIFA title in years.
By now you’ll be aware of the FIFA 22 cover star, Kylian Mbappé, you’ll have heard about the significant changes coming to FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT), as well as career and VOLTA improvements. Until now though, there has been nothing on gameplay changes, and that’s where we come in.
First impressions are often crucial and the presentation aims to hit a new benchmark this year. You’ll hear Stuart Robson and Alex Scott on commentary and analysis, giving your games a fresh feel, whilst stadiums are more alive, the pre-match preamble more dynamic, and celebrations look better and last longer.
The action on the pitch is our main concern though.
When it comes to sports sims you’ll often read about how a game ‘feels’. How fluid is it? Is it really possible to tell if a new feature will make a big difference or does the novelty of something new trick you into thinking you’re onto a winner? We’ve been fooled before, we all have.
Well, this year ‘Hypermotion’ is the big buzzword at EA – a catch-all term for the raft of animation improvements introduced courtesy of full 11-a-side motion capture technology and machine learning. Hypermotion is next gen exclusive and the impact is immediately obvious. Maybe FIFA 22 really will be different…
In EA’s words, this is the ‘biggest animation refresh’ they have ever presided over. More than 4,000 new animations have been programmed for FIFA 22 – three times as many as any other year and you will notice them in all aspects of the game. The fact that the full set of motions were not even available in the pre-beta is all the more exciting because the ones that were there already make a big difference.
From aerial duels and goalkeeper saves to something as fundamental as the number of strides a player takes as they approach the ball, FIFA 22 immediately feels different.
Described to us as ‘player humanisation’, this animation refresh is aimed at replicating what real humans do. With the aforementioned motion capture technology in use, named Xsens, it helps give players more personality and look more true to life. Players argue with each other mid-game and regularly demand the ball and more of each other.
The system for aerial duels is known as ‘kinetic air battles’, a phrase that gives the impression that every high ball will result in dynamic, physical collisions, something that we noticed immediately. It felt harder to jockey for position and the 50-50s were much trickier to turn in your favour. There was also a randomised feel to the outcome – possibly intentional but far more likely a feature that will take time to master. Did we score a single corner kick? No, sir.
A lot of that is in part due to the goalkeepers – an area of FIFA that has felt outdated for a number of iterations now. EA boasts of a ‘goalkeeper rewrite’ for FIFA 22 and that is exactly how it felt in our time with the pre-beta. Goalkeepers have been given a huge animation refresh, meaning you’ll see a vast array of save types for similar shots.
We were particularly impressed with the ‘pat down’ save, a technique a lot of real life keepers use with powerful shots. Rather than parry the ball back into play or let it bounce off them, keepers such as Hugo Lloris were happy to use soft hands to keep the ball close to their bodies and collect at a second opportunity. That in itself is a really welcome sight.
Certain players, including goalkeepers, have their own personalities and play more akin to their real life counterparts. Body shape has always been a tricky thing to master but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Mbappé felt more true to who they are and that adds to the overall spectacle of the game.
As with any FIFA title though, animations are ultimately a secondary concern. The game can look better than any FIFA that came before it but if the mechanics don’t work as they should, you’re fighting a losing battle.
And this is where we’re leaving the door ajar for EA. Early impressions of the gameplay are mostly positive, whilst recognising this is a pre-beta product that will still undergo a number of balancing tweaks.
Dribbling, particularly in tight areas, was rewarding, especially with someone like Tanguy Ndombele, who has the ability to nutmeg a man in a phone box. The new animations and the way in which he uses his body to ride challenges just adds to the experience of gliding past opponents.
It’s worth mentioning that in some instances, even when tackled, players still retain the ball. That can happen in real life, of course, but in a competitive online game of FIFA you’re pretty much asking for a rage quit. It remains to be seen how situational this is though.
The shooting system appears largely unchanged. Mistimed finishes can be extremely wayward and shooting through a crowd of players still feels like a Herculean task. Block after block after block. Did shooting need a major overhaul though? Probably not and we’re sure players will figure out what this year’s FIFA 20 driven low finish will be.
Every year the litmus test for how FIFA ‘feels’ is through the passing and the early signs are good. Playing on assisted settings, nothing came across as vastly overpowered – through balls still had to be well-timed, whilst the weight of passes felt more important than ever before. Pleasingly you can knock the ball around in neat triangles fairly comfortably, it’s just in the final third where things become tighter and trickier, as it should be.
On the other end of the spectrum we still found ourselves susceptible to a ping pong style of football from the AI, particularly on the higher difficulties. Sometimes there’s very little you can do as your opponent rattles the ball around the box, the ball seemingly on a piece of elastic until it ends up in your goal. Is that realistic? It’s a tough one. It certainly makes ‘legendary’ difficult a worthy challenge.
There are four new skill moves in FIFA 22: the four touch skill, the skilled bridge, the first time spin, and the scoop turn fake – whilst 90% of all the skill moves can be used as you gather the ball.
Ultimately, whilst playing the pre-beta, we kept finding ourselves returning to a comment made during EA’s presentation. Hypermotion means longer animations. Now that EA is using next-gen technology it no longer has to shorten the animations to achieve a high level of responsiveness.
They are able to implement more complex real life animations in a game of FIFA without compromising on the speed of the game or reactiveness of the players.
That’s a hard thing to explain but will become all the more clear as EA starts releasing more gameplay footage. For now, we wait with baited breath for the release of the first ever next gen developed FIFA.
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