With the Champions League reaching its final stages and the World Cup in Qatar just around the corner it feels like the perfect time for somebody to take on EA’s FIFA franchise status as the best football experience in gaming. The 1.0 update for eFootball is set to drop on April 14th and developer Konami will be hoping could put them back into a two-horse title race with EA.
After declining sales for the Pro Evolution Soccer series, Konami decided to go big with a rebrand and last year released eFootball. A truly disastrous debut saw the game released too soon, with eFootball looking at best like an unfinished demo, not a serious contender to the FIFA franchise. What was at the time the worst-reviewed game in Steam’s history, it suffered from a serious lack of content, bugs, and an incredibly frustrating playing experience that saw disdain from both critics and a loyal fanbase.
This feels like a defining point in the history, and indeed future, of the franchise. After the terrible launch of eFootball, it’s essential that the 1.0 version of the game offers enough to re-establish the game as a contender and win back some of the legion of fans that it’s lost over the past few years. There is still a generation who were raised on this game, including myself, who would like nothing more than to see Konami regain its position at the top again.
Sadly, with the 1.0 update of eFootball there are still some wider questions and issues which overshadow the improvements that the game has made on the pitch. However, despite those concerns there have been real gameplay improvements that have made this a far more enjoyable experience than 2021’s rushed effort.
Konami, to their credit, has acknowledged the issues with the initial release, pushing back the launch of this update and taking on the thoughts of the community in order to ensure that they got things right. For the most part they have done that and there are parts of this update that do recall the glory days of the franchise.
A lot of time has been spent reworking the gameplay, one of eFootball’s biggest problems. Pleasingly there have been serious leaps in terms of passing. It’s no longer quite as slow and cumbersome as it was previously, with attacks feeling closer to what you see on the television and not at your local Power League. The rebalancing feels like it’s also reduced the number of unforced errors which had blighted the game, with stray passes occurring far too often and losing you possession.
Despite the increased pace to passing there’s still more work to be done and you rarely get the quick, zippy passes needed to exploit defensive errors when attacking. Despite passing routes opening in front of your players they’ll often play a leisurely pass rather than drill it with some venom. Nowhere is this is more evident than when you back the ball across the back four with the ball taking ages to trickle across from one side to the other, totally stopping any momentum or chance to go on the attack. This makes counter attacking in particular really difficult.
Previously response times were something that immediately leapt out when you moved between FIFA and eFootball. This has been rebalanced but it’s still too slow and you often find your players reacting too late to your commands. It’s arguably more realistic but playing video games is for escapism. If I wanted to see somebody’s body struggle to do what their brain is telling them, then I’d record my five-a-side games.
Whisper it quietly but defending might actually now be fun. What felt like an afterthought in the original release has been improved significantly. Much like a number of the new features it has seen Konami go back to the future, using previous releases to inform their changes. The shoulder charge alongside pressing commands have been reintroduced to the game and they’re both intuitive and effective. The team press allows you to push your players forward, applying pressure on the attacking team, a tactic used so well by Liverpool in real life. If you’re lucky the high press can even see you reclaim possession in the final third giving you the opportunity to get a shot on goal.
The best moments in the update all come when the developers have taken inspiration from previous incarnations of the franchise, the best example of this is the new “stunning kick” mechanic. An additional press of R2 (we got to play the game on PS5) as you either pass, shoot, cross or attempt a through ball sees you making a “stunning kick”. These actions take longer than usual passes or shots to make, leaving you susceptible to a tackle, but they offer you the chance of making a killer pass or take the net off the goal with a powerful shot. The crosses are whipped in harder more accurately, the passes have more pace on them and the shots, well they feel amazing when you connect. When taking a “stunning shot” with a player like Robert Lewandowski you can really feel the power drive through the shot as it flies toward goal and you can almost feel the power pulsating through the controller. It brings back glorious memories of hitting long-range shots with Adriano in PES6, arguably highpoint in the franchise’s history. That arcade feel, combined with the realism of the animation, is the biggest new gameplay feature in this update and one you’ll enjoy.
The game is noticeably less buggy and the game physics are improved with your players no longer bumping into each other like two people at 6am in Shangri-La at Glastonbury every two minutes.
The 1.0 update has undoubtedly made the gameplay quicker but it’s still behind that of FIFA, which is both a blessing and a curse. Pleasingly the game is less reliant on pace merchants than FIFA but there are times when it still feels far too slow.
So what else has changed? Load times are allegedly quicker, something that wasn’t really discernible to me, and there have been significant improvements to the online playing experience, although this is something we couldn’t verify when we got our hands on the game.
There is also ‘Dream Team’, a new card-based game mode that allows you to compile your own dream team. We didn’t get to play it hands-on, or even find out that much about it, but it sounds like Konami’s answer to FIFA’s lucrative Ultimate Team. You can develop and train your team to play your own brand of football before testing them out against other online players in the eFootball League, a division-based league system.
The lack of clarity and details around Dream Team, as well as a lack of news about new teams and playing modes is a little concerning and raises some questions about whether eFootball really is ready, even if the on-pitch action has been improved. Hopefully we’ll hear more about this and the game’s roadmap in the near future.
If we’re talking purely about gameplay then it can’t be argued that there have been improvements and the bugs with the original eFootball have been ironed out. At its very best it recalls the best moments in previous PES games but at its worst it still feels sluggish. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not clear yet whether this can really reinvigorate the series, let alone be a FIFA-killer.
For more information, check out konami.com.