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The complaints that FIFA is the same every year have pretty much become an annual tradition by this point.
Although the more dedicated players who devour the game each year and put hundreds of hours into it can clearly see the differences made in gameplay with each iteration, for the most part people are very much of the opinion that EA is trotting out the same thing every 12 months.
FIFA 22 has the potential to be one of those rare entries in the series where even those with a more casual affiliation with the series will be able to notice that there have been some significant changes made here, and from what we’ve played so far these tweaks are looking positive.
A major part of this boils down to the HyperMotion Technology, which will be present in the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game. HyperMotion takes the game’s library of nearly 9 million animation frames and uses machine learning to call upon them as and when needed to create bespoke animations.
For example, if a player runs up to the ball and needs to adjust his footing to properly control it, in the past this would have led to slightly awkward looking animations (especially in slow motion replays). With HyperMotion, the aim is to be able to quickly throw in new animations on the fly to make these movements look more realistic.
Although the system wasn’t fully implemented in the early version of FIFA 22 we played, it’s already clear that the number of new animations in this year’s version is significant.
EA recorded over 4000 new animations by gearing up professional players in bodysuits and putting them in full 11 v 11 matches, rather than using its previous method of recording motions on a soundstage.
The reason for doing this is clear – if you’re actually playing a game of football with people instead of simply performing individual moves, your technique will be more natural and you’ll be putting more effort into each pass, shot and sprint. The result is that the new animations appear far more realistic, because it looks like the players are going all out.
Of course, all this is well and good but it’s meaningless if the game itself doesn’t feel any different to play. Although our time with the game has been limited so far, as FIFA veterans who have already put 400+ hours into FIFA 21 we can clearly notice differences in the way FIFA 22 plays.
The AI (both your teammates and opponents) feel more realistic, with more sensible player runs and tighter defences that feel more like they’re playing as a unit. The addition of new ‘explosive’ sprinting also lets you add a nice little burst of pace when you’re slowly jogging.
Obviously, each time a new FIFA comes out it can take a while to properly learn the ins and outs of how the new AI works as you tweak the tactics, so it’s too early just now to definitively put our finger on all the new changes, but generally we were satisfied with the way things feel so far.
“Although our time with the game has been limited so far, as FIFA veterans who have already put 400+ hours into FIFA 21 we can clearly notice differences in the way FIFA 22 plays.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, are the goalkeepers, who are significantly harder to beat than they were before. FIFA experts have by now figured out some of the tricks to exploit the goalies in FIFA 21, with diagonal shots to the far post proving particularly effective.
It’s time to rethink some of those strategies, because some of them are far less lucrative in FIFA 22. Goalies’ reaction times appear to be greater, and HyperMotion means that they can can quickly adapt to awkward angles and deflections they may not have standard save animations for.
Having only played a few games we saw a load of new animations we’d never seen before, with keepers pulling out all manner of grabs, punches and slaps to keep the ball out of the net (speaking of which, the new net physics are fantastic too and really bulge out when you score a screamer).
It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that with two and a half months to go before release EA has made it clear that many elements of what we’ve played are subject to change.
It’s already warned us, for example, that it’s fully aware of how strong the goalies currently are and is considering weakening them slightly (perhaps it feels it’s gone too far in the opposite direction).
Chipped through balls and headed crosses also felt overpowered to us but EA claimed those are also marked for adjustment, so the game currently sits in that weird pre-launch limbo where every aspect of the game is being tweaked and is therefore difficult to definitively judge.
There’s still a way to go, then, but there’s already a noticeable attempt to mix things up here, and if HyperMotion – once fully implemented – can fulfil its potential and completely transform the in-betweening process for player animations, there’s every chance that FIFA 22 could be the most satisfying game in the series to date.
We’ll have more hands-on time with FIFA 22 as it nears launch, and will keep you updated on its progress along the way.