When a game developer tells you that they strapped on motion capture cameras on real pro footballers and fed the data obtained to machine learning (ML) algorithms to create a virtual football game, you ought to be interested. Which is exactly what EA Sports said about the latest iteration of its popular football game — Fifa 22.
EA calls this technology “hypermotion”, and it includes dressing up 22 real footballers in something called Xsens motion capture suits. These are basically a special piece of clothing that have built-in sensors to gather data about how human beings move. They are actually quite common in the 3D animation industry and the basic concept of the technology is even used in the auto industry, among other examples.
EA said it captured 8.7 million frames from real matches that these footballers played and used that data to create the animations on Fifa 22. Now, this sounds extremely amazing on paper, but ends up being little more than marketing jargon in practice.
For one, hypermotion requires immense computing power, so it’s available only on next-generation consoles, meaning the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5. But even on those consoles, what the company is promising is more realistic gameplay movements from artificial humans. Which makes little difference given that everyone plays Fifa from far-away camera angles in order to see as much of the pitch, and as many of the players as they can.
HyperMotion Begins 🌀— EA SPORTS FIFA (@EASPORTSFIFA) October 1, 2021
Play #FIFA22 Now: https://t.co/R7FEg68oY7
Powered By @KMbappe, @WayneRooney, @VancityReynolds, @RobMcElhenney, @cpulisic_10, @samkerr1, @PhilFoden, @David_Alaba, @TrentAA, @AlexScott, and more.
If you really want to see the difference hypermotion makes, I’d really recommend watching YouTube videos of Fifa 22 rather than trying to find it in your gameplay. The defensive line reacts to a long ball from one side of the pitch to the other in unison and naturally, a player’s jersey drapes around their muscular shoulders the way it should. A sudden sprint looks like a sprint more than a car that suddenly hurtled forward.
But if years of playing Fifa has taught us one thing, it’s that graphics really aren't the problem with this game. In fact, for the millions out there who still own last-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles, the graphics remain exactly the same as they were in Fifa 21, as is the case for those playing on PCs.
EA told gaming website PC Gamer that putting Hypermotion on PCs would have raised the “minimum spec requirements” for the game to run, leaving out a “large proportion” of players. I have to be honest: those players aren’t missing out on much.
While we’re on the subject of graphics, players look slightly more realistic now, which is a change that’s limited to the really famous players and won’t matter much in the overall scheme of things either.
Other gameplay changes
Unlike Fifa 21 or Fifa 20, matches in Fifa 22 are quite noticeably slower. You can’t just take the ball and run to the goal whenever you want. The game wants you to pass the ball around and create a move, though you won’t notice this change if all you do is play in "amateur mode".
The most noticable distinction in gameplay is how goalkeepers have changed in Fifa. They are not only tougher to beat, but also make more realistic decisions. You will find keepers just tipping the ball away from the post in a close shot and the top keepers will often stop a shot that you otherwise thought was going to find the back of the net. The famous “finesse” shot button isn’t a surefire way beyond the goalkeeper either.
While all this will suggest that Fifa 22 is more about defence, it actually brings a healthy mix. Defenders can be challenging, but that should push the player to learn more attacking skills as well.
What else is new?
There’s really only one thing I enjoyed on Fifa 22, and that’s the new "Player Career" mode. When you start a career as a player, you have to accomplish specific challenges and prove to your manager that you belong at the club. It’s not just about getting on the pitch and scoring goals. I scored at least two goals in the majority of my first 10 matches, but Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær still decided that I need to go out on loan elsewhere.
The new "Player Career" mode gives Fifa 22 a role-playing game (RPG) like feel, something I’ve personally wanted in Fifa. In fact, you’ll see a cut-scene when you first start this game, which almost has you expecting that Fifa is turning into an RPG. Unfortunately, it’s not. You can come off as a sub at the 85th minute and make sure you perform the requisite number of interceptions, assists or score the number of goals your manager wanted, in order for him to accept you into the first team lineup.
Player Career aside, the manager mode is the same in terms of overall mechanics. You take over a football club and take them in the direction you want, while meeting challenges and expectations of the club’s board’s. This year, you can also choose to create your own club and drop it into a league of your choice, which is something I found more tedious and interesting.
There’s another new thing in Fifa 22, which you can access only on the weekends. It’s called Volta Arcade and gives street football, introduced in Fifa 20, a whole new spin. In this mode, you play squash or tennis, but instead of using racquets it’s a football and your feet. Volta Arcade is a multiplayer mode, which is less about scoring goals and more about just playing with others. If you ask me, it takes Volta one step closer to becoming a separate game, outside of the main Fifa series.
What’s downright bad?
Video game makers like loot-boxes, gamers abhor them. But as with any other consumer product, the decision comes down to those in power. In Fifa 22, EA is continuing with the loot-boxes in its most popular mode — FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT).
This is where you can get players from any country and league and build your own team to play online and offline games. You play to earn coins, use these coins to buy in-game items and packs. You can spend real money to buy loot-boxes that allow you to get ahead. Fifa 22 allows you to look inside some of these boxes before you buy them, but the mode is still designed to implore you to spend money to get ahead.
EA, like any other company who has tried loot-boxes, has faced controversy because of this. And needless to say, while FUT will likely remain popular, it's just sad that game makers won’t give up loot-boxes.
Should you buy it?
Needless to say, Fifa 22 is not an upgrade in any way. Hypermotion is a new feature, but it only makes a difference on the new-generation consoles. Which means that the only reason to buy this game is if you have a new-gen console like the Xbox Series X/S or the PlayStation 5.
At this point, we should admit that Fifa has become as good as it will ever be -- at least till we can experience the game in some sort of virtual reality format. Till then, I’d enjoy the game much more if it had a new RPG element or even better commentary.