The franchise formally known as PES has endured one of the worst launches since Cyberpunk 2077 but is there anything salvageable?
When Konami took the decision to release eFootball PES 2021 as a ‘season update’ this time last year it was seen as a necessary, if not entirely predictable, repercussion of a global pandemic that had put the brakes on much of the game development industry.
Essentially a transfer update to PES 2020, eFootball 2021 did exactly what was expected and was a perfectly decent entry in the franchise.
Such a move also bred optimism for eFootball 2022. Said to be in development for two years, specifically to harness next gen console technology and built from the ground up in Unreal Engine for the first time, there was reason for excitement among the PES community, even if the iconic brand name became a casualty along the way.
That optimism, it turns out, was wildly misplaced.
There were red flags all along the way. The first peek at eFootball 2022 came by way of an alpha release under the name of New Football Game which was roundly criticised for looking like PES mobile.
Though Konami moved to reassure fans that this wasn’t representative of the final product, and just a server stress test, it felt like a warning.
The first gameplay trailer dropped two months before release and talked up new features such as ‘Sharp Kicks’, a new dribbling mini-game mechanic and the ‘dizzying heights of next gen entertainment’. In-game footage was limited however, and left fans not much wiser as to what awaited them on launch day.
Following Gamescom, a Twitter thread went into further detail on many of the new features eFootball would bring to the sports sim world but actual marketing seemed on the low end of the scale. EA Sports meanwhile were really ramping up the hype for FIFA 22. eFootball continued to lurk in the shadows.
Announced as a free-to-play title, eFootball launched without any of the traditional game modes. MyClub and Master League (possibly under new names) should be added at a later date but launch gives fans just nine partner clubs to play with offline, albeit 200 or so (with made-up names) to use online.
Perhaps most worrying in the eFootball roadmap was the revelation that a number of gameplay features, including haptic feedback and adaptive trigger technology, wouldn’t be added until a future update.
If this all felt like disappointment, it turns out nothing could have prepared Pro Evolution Soccer fans for what was delivered on launch day.
It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say eFootball 2022 has had one of the worst launches in this generation of gaming, or perhaps of all time. At the time of writing, it is the lowest scored game on Steam ever and that feels entirely fair.
It’s almost hard to describe how underwhelming the graphics are. Where previous PES titles boasted player face likeness far ahead of FIFA, here we’re treated to models that give the infamous bronze bust of Ronaldo a run for its money.
Twitter has been awash in the last week with hundreds of examples of melted and disjointed facial features (and not just reserved for players, the crowd looks awful too), which whilst not the be all and end all of a sports sim still matters.
In this digital age, a quick meme can achieve more than a fully fledged marketing campaign (and in half the time), and as such this has been a deeply damaging few days for the eFootball franchise, especially at such a crucial juncture of its journey.
Inevitably Konami took to Twitter to issue an apology for the many issues fans have experienced. If you’re a glass half full type of person you might be encouraged to read that a patch is on its way, but this will require extensive surgery.
A key component of a sports sim is its collision engine and recreating the physical battle was highlighted as one of the major additions to eFootball 2022. Promises like using a ‘charging command’ in defence hasn’t translated to the virtual pitch though and we have experienced major clipping issues between player and ball as, well as player versus player, leaving those dynamic battles unpredictable and the outcomes downright bizarre.
Although it is a free-to-play title and should be respected as an attempt to disrupt the sports gaming landscape, it’s hard to know what Konami has gained from this launch.
Putting graphical shortcomings to one side, the gameplay itself has taken a backwards step. New features, such as sharp kicks, advanced ball trapping and power passes aren’t even in the game yet, whilst the football you can play feels dull in comparison to FIFA. A more measured style of football has always been synonymous with Pro Evolution Soccer, especially in the last five years or so, but eFootball has managed to remove every ounce of excitement.
The speed of matches is ponderous. Every touch, turn, and pass feels like a supreme effort. Simulating real football is the goal but you do wonder whether slowing gameplay down this much does more harm than good. Largely, football fans want to play as their favourite players and have fun and it’s not clear whether football at this pace could ever be fun.
And so with one game mode, nine partner clubs, dismaying graphics, and stodgy gameplay it’s already hard to imagine any way back for eFootball. Even at this stage, with the promises of patches and updates yet to be judged, it’s hard to see how this can be saved.
Playtesters spoke about the game in glowing terms two weeks ago but it’s clear that they were playing a different build of the game, so perhaps there is room for hope in the future.
Konami will need to move quickly though as the damage done already is something they may never recover from, no matter what the game eventually turns into. The mere fact that eFootball 2022’s launch is being mentioned in the same breath as the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 launch says it all.
This feels like the final nail in the coffin of an iconic franchise, that for years punched above its weight against the colossus of EA’s FIFA. At launch, eFootball 2022 isn’t fit to lace the boots of Pro Evolution Soccer, so in many ways it’s a relief that Konami rebranded the franchise and allowed the PES name to retire with dignity.
It is just a name though and eFootball 2022 is clearly a continuation of the same series, a reboot so bad that it may end Konami’s footballing career for good.
eFootball 2022 review summary
In Short: A shameful launch of a barely playable, graphically embarrassing game that shames the memory of PES and may have killed the new franchise before it’s even begun.
Pros: It’s free.
Cons: Too many to list but graphics, gameplay, menus, match speed, ball physics, bugs, crowd, and the same old tired commentary are all worthy of criticism.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PC, iOS, and Android
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: 30th September 2021
Age Rating: 3
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Author: Jay Jaffa