Hands-On Impressions: FIFA 23 plays like the icing on the franchise's cake
We played a bunch of matches at EA Vancouver and left the studio itching for more.
When it releases later this year, FIFA 23 will be the very last iteration into EA Sports' long-running series. It'll be it's 30th main entry into the 29-year-old franchise, so no matter how I looked at it, I couldn't help but feel like playing it for the first time the other day at EA Vancouver was a historic moment in video games. But the better part for fans and football (soccer!) aficionados alike, nostalgia aside, is that the game felt pretty damn good for an early build.
We took a studio tour, we attended a comprehensive presentation, we talked with the producers, but there's a lot we cannot talk about. For now, what we can say is that FIFA 23 feels like a couple of entries-leap forward from FIFA 22 in terms of pure gameplay.
I've always thought FIFA was a bit too stiff, a bit too rigid, scripted and floaty regarding player movement, but the truth is this one felt much more fluid and grounded for the bunch of matches I tested in 1v1 multiplayer. It might be the HyperMotion 2 technology and animations (we'll delve deeper into this and other modes and new features in the near future), or it might be the many other things that are now seemingly taken into account or the AI improvements, but I saw myself much better connected to the players and to the pitch via the controller. Perhaps the most fitting word is, at last, that it just felt natural.
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Generally speaking, the match pacing was very realistic, which in turns becomes quite engaging to play, and both the defending and attacking situations seemed interestingly varied. Then, regarding that "grounded" feel, the welcomed added weight to players apparently has to do with both animation innovations and some of the HyperMotion 2 advancements, together with interesting graphical tweaks, but I cannot share more details on either as of yet. I also liked the new controls and mechanics, especially the new penalty kicks, with a timing and emotion component added to it in the form of a shrinking, pulsating circle to mark the best moment to shoot.
I played with PSG, Atlético, Real Madrid and certain other squad, and for most of the time both the teams and the players behaved in a recognisable way. I absolutely loved the new type of more powerful shots (but I will not say how they work or what they trigger today), and I could spot a good number of new animations, some of them so subtle that you think they happened live only to then be amazed at how they actually happened during replays.
Before my trip to Canada I played some FIFA 22 matches to refresh my memory and to make any potential difference more glaring, and that was pretty useful. Remember how in a very Canadian term some players would "do the totem" when getting the ball as some sort of faked faint? I saw none of them in FIFA 23's demo. How counters were too effective, how the defence line was positioned badly or the attacking line put too much stress into the box? It didn't feel as bad this time around. Of course we'll need hours for a full review with the final game, but it really looks like they listened to feedback, and they apparently plan to do that more often throughout the full season.
The press build we played ran on PS5, but it's also worth mentioning that, as the very first cross-play FIFA ever, this time around PlayStation 5 players will be able to play with and versus Xbox Series X|S, Stadia, and PC (as it's now been upgraded to the current-gen engine) for the biggest pool of players ever, while PS4 and Xbox One will be able to share the last-gen version without HyperMotion 2 and many of the new graphical and system updates.
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I'd really love to tell you much more as this game is going to be, other than a historic turning point for the franchise, a truly massive production once again ("the biggest FIFA ever"), but for now these are my first hands-on impressions with FIFA 23. I was kind of hooked by its smoothness, response and natural feel, and I did not feel cheated by the game, so things are looking very good ahead of its last season.