irst impressions are often misleading, and FIFA 22 should be very grateful for that. A cringeworthy introductory sequence lets you create your “avatar” for this year’s game, and includes the worst performances by Thierry Henry and David Beckham you’ll ever see. Neither are actors, that much is apparent, so thank goodness FIFA 22 feels incredible on the pitch so far.
Pretentious nonsense aside, even though it’s too early to be talking about how good FIFA 22 might be in the long run, a few hours on the pitch is so promising, that it’s enough to have me sweaty-palmed after a 2-2 draw between Liverpool and West Ham. A friendly that I (as Liverpool) immediately dominated, going 2-0 up thanks to a Jota tap-in and a Thiago curler into the bottom corner. Complacency is easy when you’re dominating possession 60-40, so substitutions are made: I’ve broken the team flow of my own volition. Oh hubris…
It finishes 2-2, and West Ham has thrown the kitchen sink at a backline that’s exhausted, but I’m too scared to change. Truth be told, it’s a single friendly match I picked two random Premier League teams for, just see how the game plays. Yet I’m exhausted, crumpled on the sofa in a sweaty mess, mulling over what’s just happened. Every match can’t be like this, can it?
Well no, obviously not. These are two teams that are well known and play a certain way, but it’s replicated better here than I’ve ever seen in a football game before. The players have personality, locomotion, and they feel like they are on the pitch, but not stitched to the grass. The ball feels alive, and when you mishit a pass, it’s your fault, not the game. Whether or not all of this will extend to Wrexham vs. Bolton, I’m not yet sure.
Star players, however, feel exactly that. Salah is as unplayable as he is most weekends in the real world; strong and rapid, no defender brave enough to go to ground near the penalty box. There’s a reason Chelsea’s Lukaku is on the ones to watch list, as he scored a goal against me later that was, Partridge-isms aside, absolutely textbook. The ball is hit long to his chest, he brings it down, spins, folding the defender into his back pocket, with enough time to sign a few autographs for the fans, before smashing it into the net.
Then there’s the likes of Messi for PSG, who feels exactly as he should, able to move the ball like no other can. Verratti will break from midfield at the last minute in almost Lampard-like fashion: the list of players who feel “special” just goes on. For years EA has talked up its player likenesses, but in the opening hours with FIFA 22 it’s as though it’s a gameplay demo designed to show off how that works, yet I’m actually playing it.
The new additions feel more meaningful than usual, too. Player switching has been a bugbear of mine for a long time in any football game. It’s fine, but it’s never quite right. Now, clicking in the right stick brings up four optional players you can choose to switch to. They each have an icon of the right stick appear above them, and up, down, left, or right, will switch to the relevant player. It makes playing defensively through the midfield more tactical than ever, because you can press the opposition while knowing you can switch to a player nearby with precision and ease.
On PlayStation 5, holding L1 while making a pass will do a “pass and go” move which is a hard pass along the ground that causes the player who passed it to move. This might not seem a big deal, but it’s giving more manual options for those of us who like to micromanage the game and not trust the AI all the time.
But one of the most interesting aspects of FIFA 22 is the updates to the player lock functionality. Here you can click both sticks and lock yourself to a player, then by holding R1 you can call for support, or L1 lets you trigger a run from a nearby teammate. Then, flicking the right stick tells the teammate where you want them to run. When the esports players get good at this, the defensive changes are going to change the scene, that’s for sure.
But there’s so much to see, still. An entirely new Volta mode (which if the intro sequence is much to go, is going to be a cringe-fest), changes to Career Mode, and you can even be a female player in Pro Clubs now. And while I have only dabbled in Ultimate Team so far, the pack preview options means I’m almost guaranteed to log in every day just in case that might be the day I pack a Legend (it’s never happened, and I’ve played every FIFA game ever made).
But the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my opening day with FIFA 22 is how good the football feels. It’s too early to say if it’ll stick the landing, and tens of hours will take place over the coming days alone, but while the first impression of the game might be some bad footballer acting, the footballing action is outstanding.