There’s a whole lot more changing this year than just a name for Konami’s flagship football game. After spending two hours playing a build of eFootball 2022 that includes features coming post-launch this September, it left me hugely conflicted.
Everything I played comes with a few caveats, mind you, which we’ll get to. But the word that comes to mind when I think of eFootball 2022 is “interesting”, and if what I played is indicative of the game Konami is ultimately aiming for, this one could split the fan base wider than ever before.
I cannot stress enough how much of a “simulation” eFootball is this time around. The first thing that stands out is how incredible it looks, but anyone who plays PES or FIFA all year round knows that visuals, audio, and commentary are all things designed to impress upon first look: gameplay is what matters, and it is an area where Konami has had its ups and downs over the years.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, either: this game is free-to-play, launches with 9 teams (all of which I’ve seen in action now), and there’s no gameplay good enough that is going to make that feel like enough, free or not. Regardless, work has been done to make this game look exceptional. Aside from some crowd faces that wouldn’t look out of place in the original Quake, the licensed stadiums and players look superb. There are small touches that keep the game flowing as well, making the presentation seem generally better. Couple all of that with a new camera that zooms in and out subtly, and it looks great. But before you ask: no, the commentary is no better than usual.
But that simulation aspect is something I can’t stop thinking about. eFootball 2022 is slower, for sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever played a digital football game that is quite as physical as this one. L2 allows you to grab a shirt, or “get physical” with your opponent during a one-on-one, and it feels like something entirely new to learn. If you hold it down you’ll foul them. I even accidentally elbowed someone in the face trying to get ahead of them defending a break, such is the vigor and ferocity of the physical nature present here.
It feels like this new physicality is designed to be used in tandem with, not instead of, the defensive skills that already exist. You’ll want to almost feather the left trigger to grab the shirt, just before you time tackle and win the ball. It’s a micro-moment in a match, but pulling it off feels incredible. The trouble is, the same old collision issues remain from previous games.
This means that there is still a lot of “tackle-bounce”. It’s a bugbear of mine, but as defending has gotten more skill-based in football games over the last few years, when you do time a tackle well, the reward should more often than not be you coming away with the ball. Currently, you sometimes have to tackle three times to get the ball away. If your tackle is head-on, you will almost certainly win the ball, but your follow-through will take you away from it, or onto the floor.
On top of that, players feel either too animated, or not animated enough. Harry Maguire, Giorgio Chiellini, and Gerard Piqué are tanks, strong and almost impossible to tackle, and it’s fine if they are cumbersome to actually move with, but hardly any of the players can turn quickly. In fact, there feels a real lack of pace overall, with even the quicker players just, well… not seeming very quick.
These issues, I’m told, are due to it being an older build. There are also a number of AI issues that I was informed would be fixed; and they really must be. For eFootball to compete at all this year, the gameplay has to be exceptional, and there were a few moments where I wanted my AI teammates to pick the ball up and they just let it pass them by. Changing tactics didn’t alleviate the problems, so it seems a core AI issue, not a tactical one.
The tactical options do make a noticeable difference on the pitch, though. Even changing Barcelona to an “on-the-break” team made them more enjoyable to me. The slower nature of the game meant I didn’t enjoy their usual possession style, but a style-change made them better. Juventus and Bayern Munich felt the best, though bizarrely the lower quality teams like River Place and Corinthians made for an interesting matchup, too. Changing the options to a more manual feel meant that these teams required a little more work to score with, which I liked. The default mode is far too automatic, resulting in passes going to players you didn’t intend them to.
eFootball also seems like a game where you won’t win games 10-0 all the time. Goals are hard earned, and it’s a more defensive experience than ever this time. The one-on-one battles are hugely emphasised thanks to the slower movement, and those big strong defenders do stand out, able to put their arm out and bat weaker players away like flies.
The tricks are now more in line with the competition now, and while not as easy to pull off, it sort of makes sense given the simulation nature. I deliberately tried to bait players, while also purposefully being over-exuberant in the tackle, but the refs seem good so far, though a little lenient sometimes, perhaps.
Playing against the AI was fine for the most part, and offered a decent challenge. But I think this is mostly because I’ve never felt so alien playing a football game before. The pace and physicality feel so different, and that’s what’s so interesting about eFootball this year. Yes, the name is different, but based on my first two hours with this one, I finally at least understand why they’ve changed the name.
The trouble is, with so many issues from the PES-era (and it feels weird to be saying that), the discussion around the launch for eFootball 2022 being more of a demo, does feel like a relevant one. I’m not sure that launching with so few features, teams, and just saying “it’s a sim now!” is enough. I enjoyed my hands on with the game, for sure, but it doesn’t feel done right now. Go into the launch knowing that, and aware it’s an ongoing “live service” product, and you’ll likely have a good time, however.