Not, as I first thought, football in Yorkshire.
A note – we were promised B-Roll to go along with this piece, but it did not arrive. As a result, there are very limited screenshots and footage available to press and public alike.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited down to Konami HQ in Windsor to go hands-on with eFootball 2022. Having published a video a few days earlier about not really being enthused by the existing crop of trailers and assets that were out in the wild, I think it’s safe to say I was a little apprehensive. I’m not going to BS in this video, and the fact we were told that no capture was available for the day was the first red flag.
Formalities out of the way, I got sat down in front of a PS5, DualSense in hand, and was thrown into an international match between Portugal and Argentina. I guess they need to get Messi in there somewhere, eh?! After that, I was given free reign to essentially play what I wanted with an advanced build of what will be there at launch, and… Well, here are my thoughts on what could be the most turbulent year in Konami football game history.
I should state here that this build will talk about things that will not be in the day one release. For example, the “sharp”/power kicks were in here, but the team lineups and everything else, from what I’m told, should be included.
Firstly, let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there legitimately are some good things to glean from this! The ball physics felt borderline perfect. Floated crosses hang in the air, driven shots absolutely ping off players’ boots, passes zip off the pitch, and it feels like a completely unique entity in a way that it hasn’t done for quite a while. I honestly think that the days of hitting a pass and knowing it’s going to end up exactly on someone’s foot or head, regardless of whether they’re on your team or not, are gone. It felt genuinely refreshing to have to chase balls down after they cannoned off defenders and into open play on several occasions. Similarly, I’ve got to praise the pace of the game. It didn’t feel like the ball was being pinged about with abandon, but also didn’t feel like I was wading through treacle to get any sort of advantage. For want of a better word, it really did feel solid.
The tactics and game management side of things are also pretty solid, with a decent array of attacking and defending styles. But the one thing that really threw me off was the orientation of the pitch. Instead of being top to bottom, it was left to right, which really throws you off when you’re setting a formation or choosing which player to bring on. However, with that aside, the interesting thing this year is that the dev team have chosen to keep player ratings the same when you bring them into unfamiliar positions, but will display as a yellow or red number to indicate that, as an example, Samuel Umtiti should really not be playing in goal. It’s a change that might irk some, but I quite liked it, giving you the sense that while this player’s overall ability may be top class, he won’t perform that well between the sticks.
I wasn’t sure about the 1v1 close up camera when it was unveiled, but having spent quite a bit of time with it, it actually makes for a more dynamic feeling game. The camera comes in quite close when you have a defender to beat, and naturally zooms back out when you get past them (or, inevitably lose it, in my case).
Equally as pleasing was the revamp to defending. No longer can you just hold down X and watch as your man either gets skinned for pace or you clatter into them with all the grace of a reversing dump truck, but you have to take positioning into account a lot more now. Holding X will still attempt to put your defender between the attacker and the goal, but there feels like there’s more nuance to it. Standing tackles have been moved to the square button, much like the competitor, and it feels a bit more natural to attempt a challenge rather than double tapping X. It felt to me like the defensive line moved in sync with each other a lot more, and I felt more comfortable knowing that I wasn’t going to get hit on a break easily with a tightly compacted midfield and wide defenders.
This does translate into attacking play as well, with players making off-the-ball runs that I wouldn’t have expected to see in previous iterations of PES. I only had around 2 and a half hours of hands on time, so didn’t get as in depth as I’d liked to have with attacking play, but fundamentally, scoring feels rewarding. It’s the same story with every new football game for me, it takes ages to nick my first few goals, then they start flowing like a leaky tap, but eFootball makes you work for those initial goals, and when the net ripples, it legitimately feels like you’ve earned it. Same goes for passing as well, which ties into the previous ball physics comment. Not every pass will find its way to someone, and you have to work to get to a point where you’re comfortable pinging the ball all over the field.
There has been a lot of thought put into streamers, content creators and people who just don’t like the commentary (more on that to come), with some new audio options that allow you to set “stadium mode” as a default, making it feel like you’ve been put into the crowd. It’s a small touch, but it’s one that does bring me nicely into the next part of the preview, and that’s the bad.
It feels like an easy shot to make at this point, but honestly, the commentary in eFootball has not evolved a single bit in multiple years. There are still the odd stilted readings of player names followed by an excited “Takes the shot!” or similar, which make it feel really disjointed. I said in my PES2019 review that Konami needed to improve on things away from the pitch, but it doesn’t feel like the work has been done to improve things in this area, and unfortunately, the commentary isn’t the only example. The new “game day” introduction sequences certainly look nice on first glance, but after the third or fourth time, you begin to notice how lifeless it all feels. One particularly egregious example is when you’re in the changing room and the players are getting ready. One player is sitting doing up their boots, but the boots are already tied. The hands just float in mid-air without the laces in their hands. I know, it’s a very small detail, but when the whole point of that moment is to get your “big game feel” right, it unfortunately falls flat.
I’m not a huge fan of the new player indicators, which crib from the likes of NBA. The circle gets bigger if you sprint, with a very prominent arrow also pointing in the direction of your direction of travel. However, there’s a bigger issue with some of the controls, which I’ll come to.
I don’t know if it’s due to my limited time with it, but shooting felt a little bit off. One of the reasons, I suspect, is due to something that I’ll come on to shortly, but on the whole it felt quite erratic. One moment, I could be approaching the edge of the box and let loose with an absolute screamer, the next could be 6 yards out and ballooning it over the crossbar with the slightest tap and no defenders within 6 feet of me. I don’t want to say that it felt random, but there were moments when things should have been nailed on that resulted in someone in the stands getting thwacked in the face.
Ah yes. The crowd. With that perfectly weighted segue, I will come onto the section that I’m sure you’re all clamouring for, the ugly.
See, I don’t know if it’s just me, but one of the things I enjoy about football games is slamming one into the top corner against your mate in the 90th minute, and watching the crowd in the game go ballistic as you bask in the glory, knowing that your friend is probably looking up whether “controller damage” counts as a valid reason on their home insurance for a TV replacement. The thing is, the crowd in eFootball just… Well… Looks bad. I appreciate they’re there as a peripheral more than anything else, but when you go to take a corner and you see a bunch of repeated, pixelated character models just moving up and down to get some sense of movement, it really takes you out of things.
Next up, while I quite like the level of detail in the closeups and stadium intros, it just fails to carry through to the actual pitch. I played on an LG OLED, so this wasn’t a bad TV, but the pitch, which looks as flat as I feared it would. Even things like slide tackles leaving marks on the grass, which has been a bit of a staple in graphical flourishes, is conspicuous by its absence.
Definitely not absent, however, is a slate of bugs which really doesn’t bode well, given that this is apparently an advanced build with more features than will be available next week.
It ranges from the minor, with things like player markers being stuck on the pitch during a replay, to the major, with collision bugs appearing in more than a couple of instances. This ranges from weird collisions leading to a foul or a missed call from a referee, to arms full on appearing like jelly when challenges are made. I pushed a couple of games to penalties, and with ever one, the goalkeeper just jittered along the line before the kick was taken. It’s a really weird issue that doesn’t look like it’s going to go away just yet.
However, the most egregious issue with the build I played was with the sharp/power kicks. To do these, you hold down R2 while pressing the button, the player winds up to take the kick, and unleashes a shot that could be compared to something like the Predator Kick from Adidas Power Soccer from way back in the day. It’s not that extreme, of course, but it’s definitely more marked. The problem with this is that R2 has also been mapped to sprint. So, if you’re running down the wing and want to float a cross in, you have to let go of R2, which results in a slight animation as the player slows down, then put the cross in. If you’re somehow still holding R2, you’ll start a power cross. This is shown by a different coloured bar underneath the player icon, and it’s immediately apparent that things don’t feel quite right. If you’re sprinting in to reach a cross or through ball and hit it first time, it’s the same thing. It just doesn’t feel good, and bursting into the box to stroke the ball calmly into the top corner is going to be a very tricky thing to get used to, if indeed you can at all. There were a few times as well where attempting to hit a “finesse” style shot resulted in cancelling everything that the player was doing and the ball rolled loose. Combined with the other issues, just points to something that doesn’t feel ready for primetime just yet.
Overall, eFootball feels like there’s something that could potentially be decent at some point. At its core, there’s the glimpse of a solid football game there. The ball physics are exceptional, and defending feels like an actual job this time out. However, in its current state, I’m really not that confident that it’s going to reveal itself for at least a few months, if not even longer. I really, really want to believe, but right now, it just doesn’t feel ready. We’ll see how it pans out in a week’s time.