eFootball 2022 is no match for PES

2021-10-01  Gaming

eFootball 2022 rang alarm bells as soon as it was announced. Gone was Pro Evolution Soccer, the stalwart of slower, more considered football gaming. In its place we were to be given a free-to-play, cross-platform title in the form of eFootball. The change, the skeptics warned, was a downgrade designed to unite PC, console, and mobile players and cash in on microtransactions.

It’s too early to comment on eFootball 2022’s economics, but luckily its free-to-play format meant I could try out its gameplay without spending a penny. After a fair few games I can say that it’s not quite as bad as the graphical glitch memes would have you believe, but it’s much worse than last year’s PES and, technically, a long way from being ready for the public to play.

There are a few good ideas in there. The fluid ball collection system, where players will collect the ball to set up for set pieces without the usual fade to black, is a nice touch. But as with many eFootball features, it’s prone to confusing failures. The most common for me was a player setting up for a corner while the camera stayed static, stuck looking at the penalty area.

Konami has also tried to apply some of FIFA’s pre-match gloss with a new kit and lineup selection interface that does away with basic menus and builds these options into scenes of the teams arriving, warming up, and walking out of the tunnel. It’s a bit slow to have to do every time you play a match, but it does a good job of showing the atmosphere in the ground building up.

But we all know the most important part of any football game how it plays on the pitch, and it’s here that eFootball 2022 lets us down irredeemably. The game is so rough around the edges that it’s essentially an alpha at this point, but even then there are many features mysteriously missing that probably wouldn’t require any effort for the developers to implement beyond adjusting a few variables. There are only two difficulty levels available, for example, and it’s impossible to play a match longer than five minutes.

Despite the supposed engine upgrade, the graphics are a definite step back from previous PES titles. The stadiums actually look fine (although they have a startlingly loud new announcer who sounds like a random passer by at Konami HQ was asked to read bizarre lines like: “Smoking is only permitted in designated areas within these grounds” - what?!). But the pitch scenes, which you’ll be spending most of your time looking at, are so flat and lacking in detail that they are reminiscent of PES games from ten years ago.

Other visual changes include a new default camera that zooms in on action on the near side of the pitch, seemingly to show off the dearth of detail. This makes it hard to pick out passes more than a couple of metres away, and after a game or two I quickly switched to the classic Wide view. There’s also an odd choice to show a circle on the ground under the active player - something that persists even in some cut scenes. This is a feature last seen on a console in FIFA 2001, and is a jarring addition for a game that proclaims its realism and would probably like to avoid comparisons to mobile games.

Passing is key to football, and it’s horribly broken here. Opponents are absolute pros at interceptions - you won’t be threading any eye-of-the-needle balls through the defence because they desperately lunge at anything that moves, even in safe areas of the pitch. While that could be written off as an increase in difficulty, passing itself is horrifically slow. Recent PES titles have always offered an alternative to FIFA’s ping-pong exchanges, but even at maximum power it’s impossible to play a quick pass to a teammate. Only through balls seem to have any momentum.

This means that even if you do play a perfect pass to a man in space, it’s likely that a defender has moved to cover him by the time the ball arrives. And even when the ball gets to the recipient, you’re not out of the woods yet. Players have an infuriating habit of forgetting the ball at key moments and simply running past it, leaving it for the defender to collect.

Aside from the passes, nothing to the game feels like it has any weight to it. Shooting in particular is deeply unsatisfying. Even a shot from the most stable of positions in acres of space feels like a snatched, scuffed attempt at goal taken on the turn. The knock-on effect is that goals feel more a result of coincidence than skill, depriving players of what is meant to be the high of the football game experience.

Even if you’re perfectly happy to battle both the opponent and the controls, you’ll also have to fight the game engine itself. Despite downgrade the graphics have received, the game frequently stutters, especially during cut scenes, which run at a criminally low frame rate (and also, for some reason, you now have to press A or X twice to skip them).

If I was to choose a word to describe eFootball 2022 in its current state, it would be bland. Konami worked so hard over recent years to bring some fluidity and excitement back to PES, and it has all been undone in one new iteration. They have apologised and promised to take players’ feedback onboard in future patches, but it’s hard to see it would ever be possible match PES 2021 with such shaky foundations.

I planning to write a full review of eFootball 2022 once the Master League DLC arrived, but if the gameplay hasn’t significantly improved by then (and that would take such an overhaul that I don’t see how it can without a U-turn to revert to the FOX Engine) then I won’t be spending a penny on this game, and in its current format you shouldn’t either.

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