What is it? The F2P successor to PES.
Expect to pay Free
Developer Konami Digital Entertainment
Reviewed on i7 9700K, 16GB RAM, RTX 1080 TI
Multiplayer? Online, local
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
You've probably heard about eFootball 2022 in these terms: historically disastrous Steam launch. Dearth of content. Dire bugs, sketchy online play, overwhelmingly negative reviews, death of the franchise. Sadly the plucky foil to FIFA's microtransaction-hoovering behemoth can be described quite accurately in all those ways this year.
The thing is, it doesn't play that bad a game of football. Somewhere under the rubble, there's a good soccer sim waiting to be pulled free.
The idea behind this bizarre and totally ill-conceived launch is that Konami releases the bare bones on day one, then puts some meat on them in future patches. The shell of the game is free, with a 'premium player pack' offered for £31 on Steam which adds in-game currency and 'chance deals'—two mechanics for modes that don't currently exist. They're for modes that are planned in future updates.
In this free version we've got nine licensed domestic clubs to play exhibition games with, plus four more Serie A teams and Zenit St Petersburg which can be selected for the Partner Clubs online challenge mode only, and never changed once selected, plus the Portugal and Argentina national squads who appear once in the game's tutorial match never to be found again. Completing this online challenge awards you virtual currency which can't currently be spent.
And that, friends, is eFootball 2022 in its present state. Utterly perplexing. Some people have said it's like a demo, but it isn't really—demos give a free sample of a full product which can be bought. This is all there is right now.
Big content drops are planned, the first of which is due 11th November and adds Creative Team—think FUT in PES clothing—and will cost £34. The developer has also rolled out a hotfix already which addresses some of the most disruptive bugs, netcode wobblies and animation mishaps. The visual bugs many players reported on launch day have been absent from my experience—whether by hotfix or by luck. In any case, it's essential that they deliver several more if anyone's going to buy that Creative Team pack.
How did this happen? It began with a decision that made sense on paper. By forsaking a full release last year and instead opting for a 'season update' which simply updated teams and players according to real-world transfers, the eFootball 2022 team gave themselves the breathing room to take virtual football a sizeable step forwards.
The advent of new consoles would let the team push some fidelity boundaries, which the PC version would also enjoy. We've all been saying that for years in the throes of our best Michael Pachter impressions, haven't we: Annualised Franchise 2019 should skip a year and do something that's really worth playing next year instead.
Evidently, it actually takes longer than that to achieve. Setting aside the eerie absence of longform modes, there are animations and even kicks absent from the current release that are planned later. An update that adds more kicks. This is no way to unveil the successor to PES.
It's now running in Unreal Engine, and perhaps the momentous task of engine migration explains the bugs and bizarre collisions that discern eFootball 2022 from its predecessors. Some have levelled accusations that the grass looks plasticky now and that players all look like haunted waxwork dolls—your mileage may vary. To this reviewer's wizened eyes the stadiums, crowds, and pitch surfaces look better than they ever have before. Players do have a disquieting sheen about them though which detracts from the face scans, and an odd way of articulating their facial expressions when arguing with the ref or pinging around like detritus in Goat Simulator after a stand-up tackle.
On that: there's something ungodly about the collisions. Isaac Newton would be in tears if he were in the stands, and the fundamental dodginess is only exacerbated by a revamped pace system which so often sends players hurtling into one another at full speed.
But I'm not ready to give up on it. Even though I've been playing as Napoli and only Napoli in Partner Clubs mode for hours on end, even though I keep going back to the main menu, the hideous main menu, and clicking on the greyed out icons to make sure that nope, this really is it… I'm not ready to give up.
Because I can see the intention in its football. It's slow, and fiddly, sometimes to the point of ponderous and frustrating, but it's also impressive in how forensic it is about dribbling. Rather than a hold-to-beat-defender button, sprinting has been reworked to reward deft taps. You can wrongfoot defenders by changing your pace and direction every kick, and pull off massively satisfying chops by directing the analog stick away from the player and tapping sprint. In these moments, a Bayern defender lolloping hopelessly behind you, you feel that rarest of sensations: like the player and the ball are separate entities.
And this focus on the minutiae of one-on-one battles has, at least, the potential for fascinating online matchups. Were it not for the horrific collisions it'd be possible to get some genuinely tense and subtle matches on the go—dinking it this way past a defender, dropping a shoulder to create space, crafting a chance out of three perfectly judged touches. Infrequently, it's actually quite thrilling.
It needs help from the passing and a minor miracle from the AI to make that happen more. Currently ground passes seem glazed in treacle while squaring the ball the width of the pitch with a lobbed pass takes next to no time. But the real problem is team AI behaviour. Just as they did in PES, players on both sides will go to sleep and watch balls travel huge distances like annoying passive jerks because the game has simply decided upon the (distant) player who'll receive it. Defenders get tangled up with one another like they're all made of un-baked pretzel dough, and nobody seems 100% clear on the tactical system you're using—not enough to reap the rewards of picking one that matches your squad's attributes, certainly.
And it all could have been avoided. Because what we're playing right now is actually just a public beta with an accompanying PR disaster. We might have worried for eFootball 2022's eventual release if this current build were presented to us as a beta, but we wouldn't have given up on the whole prospect and thrown it on the bonfire No Man's Sky once smouldered.
Like Baddiel and Skinner in '98, I still believe. In mechanical terms there's a huge amount of work to be done, but prior PES titles achieved drastic on-pitch changes with Data Packs. And as the aforementioned Hello Games saga taught us, studios have little choice in the wake of a PR shitstorm like this but to keep pouring resources and updates into their game until people quietly decide, even years later, that they quite like it now actually.
It feels likely that in some coffee-strewn office somewhere, previous update prices are being hastily revised. Sure, I like the sprinting controls, but £34 for one more mode feels almost like charity.
The best we can hope is that eFootball 2022 is a late bloomer, because although there really is something worth saving in here, at present there's no reason to have it installed.