The eventual successor to Pro Evolution Soccer was always destined to be historic. For three decades, Konami’s football sim happily embraced its plucky underdog status, often surpassing EA-owned big-money rival FIFA in pure gameplay terms. Yet recent sales struggles ultimately saw the Japanese publisher pull the plug on PES, taking two years to craft the free-to-play eFootball 2022 in its place. Indeed it is historic – for all the wrong reasons.
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Release date: September 30, 2021
You’ve likely heard about the Steam feedback by now. Of the 16,000+ user reviews so far, just 10% are positive. Overall eFootball 2002 is classed as ‘Overwhelmingly Negative’, and by some metrics, it’s the worst Steam release of all time. I can confirm that it doesn’t fare much better on console, although there’s a sizable dollop of recency bias to social media claims of it being the worst football game ever made. During PES’s lifetime we had to endure Pure Football, and O’Leary Manager 2000, and Chris Kamara’s Street Soccer, and the genuinely unplayable Xbox 360 version of FIFA 06: Road To World Cup. Konami’s sequel to Pro Evo doesn’t plumb such depths – but it’s still dreadful.
Less Messi, more messy
Put simply, this glorified demo patently wasn’t fit to be released. It’s an annual tradition that Konami gets its football game out before EA’s, and sure enough eFootball 2022 preempted FIFA 22 – by a single day. Without wishing to sound entitled – it’s worth reiterating that unlike those clunkers mentioned above, this is free – that decision was a mistake.
There are no leagues or other long-form modes to speak of. In offline play just nine teams, and six stadia, are available. More are controllable online, via the limited-time Worldwide Clubs mode, although you’re locked to one team once you enter it. That lone mode is the only way you’re able to utilize cover star Lionel Messi, after his move from Barcelona (available offline) to Paris St Germain (not). Oh, other than in an introductory, scene-setting fixture between Argentina and Portugal – two countries who are also unplayable, save for that one-off match. Baffled? You’re right to be.
More players, teams, and modes are coming soon, and wins in the Worldwide Clubs event score eCurrency for future use – but is anyone going to be interested following such a sloppy launch? After all, licenses aren’t the real issue. The disaster is gameplay itself.
With Konami utilizing the Unreal Engine for the first time, two Spanish World Cup winners, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique, were consulted during development in order to fine-tune dribbling and defensive mechanics. Sure enough, one-to-one battles serve up occasional enjoyment. Sensitivity of the R2 button is used well: the harder you push, the further you knock the ball ahead of you, and beating a defender with a deft nudge feels good. At the back, holding off an attacking winger with a perfectly timed press of L2 – putting yourself between opponent and ball – is satisfying too. But like watching your team notch a consolation goal in a 1-5 defeat, the joy in these moments is fleeting.
Let’s play Pique boo
Iniesta and Pique are colossal names to have attached to eFootball, but their studio time appears to have been spent solely focussing on individual behaviors – with Konami seemingly forgetting the nuances of 11-a-side team intelligence. The AI here is erratic at best, abysmal at worst. Defensive positional play is a lottery, support runs in attack are unreliable, and an assortment of bugs and misbehaving animations mean you can never rely on any simple pass, let alone mazy dribble, being actioned as intended.
PES’s deliberate, cerebral intricacies consistently provided a welcome break from FIFA’s end-to-end, you-attack-then-I-attack goal-fests, yet eFootball feels cumbersome. Crossing is joyless, heading arbitrary. Mixing up tactics and strategies – a constant Pro Evo delight, across 30 storied years – feels redundant. Partly because there are only five play styles to choose from; chiefly as there’s just no belief that your team will behave as you want it to.
In terms of saving graces, I am enjoying the ‘oomph’ of the shooting, through balls are more reliable and effective than in FIFA 22, and Konami also outdoes EA where commentary is concerned, staying with likable PES duo Peter Drury and Jim Beglin. That’s your lot. And even that above-par through-ball mechanic will drive you mad when you slide your winger in behind his full-back – and he inexplicably runs the ball out of play.
As for the visuals? Oof. Unconventional menu screens were as synonymous with PES as Master League legends Castolo and Valeny, and that tradition continues here – but the lurid yellow/blue color scheme eliminates any throwback fondness. Player likenesses are inconsistent. Leroy Sane’s huge mane is perfectly recaptured, and Bukayo Saka looks exceptional, whereas Joshua Kimmich is a digital Madame Tussauds piece. Facial expressions flit from bizarre to downright terrifying, with wide-eyed, terrified looks of surprise found in every replay, and already meme-d to infinity on social media. As for crowds: just don’t look. To call the watching fans PS1-era standard would be kind.
Bucks to the future
The great shame is there was potential to break the mold here. The monetization of sports games in recent years screams greed: as I mentioned when reviewing FIFA 22, EA made $1.62 billion last year from purchases made after FIFA, Madden and NHL players had shelled out £50-70 on their initial products. So there should be much to like about a model in which the base game is free, and paid-for extras are down to user choice. For that to work, however, that base game has to function to at least a reasonable level. eFootball 2022 does not.
Even so, the publisher deserves some benefit of the doubt – for now. This is, after all, a free download. Konami says it’s listening to the heavily critical fan feedback, and working hard to make adjustments based on the launch reaction – but there’s a specific deadline to take into account.
The first paid content arrives on 11 November, costing £34 for a host of goodies for Ultimate Team rival Creative Team. That gives Konami five weeks’ good grace, both to fix myriad gameplay woes and launch an entire new money-spinning mode. Should those things occur, we’ll consider amending this review, and score. Until then eFootball 2022 stands untouchable – but categorically not in the same way as Pro Evo in its prime.
Reviewed on PS5.