Konami has announced that Pro Evolution Soccer is no more, and that its long-running football series has a new name and focus. The venerable japanese developer's football games began under the names of Winning 11 (International Superstar Soccer abroad) and then from 2001 the name was Pro Evolution Soccer, which for a long time and particularly in the 2000s was simply a much better game than FIFA. Konami's been using the eFootball branding alongside PES for a while, but now it's just going to be eFootball.
The annual release cycle has been binned, too. Instead eFootball will be a free-to-play 'football platform' fuelled by DLC, launching this Autumn on PC. It's been built on Unreal Engine and features crossplay with console and mobile players. Mobile players, in case you're wondering, will only be allowed to crossplay with a controller.
The press release explains the DLC model: "Local matches featuring FC Barcelona, Juventus, FC Bayern, Manchester United and others will be available, for free, at launch. In the future, certain game modes will be sold as optional DLC, giving players the freedom to build an experience that follows their interests."
In Konami's reveal, it emphasises the overhaul it believes it's made with one-on-one encounters. The video above features footballing gods like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta talking about dribbling and decision-making, intercut with eFootball footage showing what's called the 'motion matching' animation system.
This sounds kind of similar to what EA's doing with FIFA 22 and what it calls 'HyperMotion', with one big exception. HyperMotion is exclusive to the new consoles and won't feature in the PC version, while eFootball's PC version is the full-flavoured big boy. Motion matching "converts the vast range of movements that players make on the pitch into a series of animations, selecting the most accurate one in real-time. The system provides more than four times as many animations as before, achieving highly realistic movement. 'Motion Matching' will be utilised across all eFootball platforms."
"Starting with the strong foundations of Unreal Engine, which has allowed us to massively overhaul player expression, we've made a number of modifications to virtually create a new football game engine that will power eFootball for years to come," says Seitaro Kimura, the series producer and a longtime PES developer. "By working closely with elite footballers, eFootball delivers our most tense and realistic gameplay to date.”
Konami's also released a roadmap of its plans for the game's post-launch support.
Notable is that Konami has abandoned its own in-house FOX engine for eFootball, which is clearly capable of producing magnificent games but feels like it's been somewhat under-utilised. The platform approach means eFootball will just be constantly updated rather than having new versions, with larger updates happening simultaneously with the start of major football seasons and tournaments.
At launch, however, eFootball looks like it'll be a little sparse. The roadmap shows there'll be 9 clubs to play as in exhibition matches, with other modes arriving later and presumably as paid-for DLC. There's also what looks like a battle pass called a match pass, but no mention of series features like MyClub (PES's FIFA Ultimate Team) or the career mode yet. You will, however, be able to customise and share teams as PES has always allowed.
I hope eFootball works out for Konami, and I hope it's fantastic. The decline of PES or Pro Evo has been so tough to watch. In the late 90s, ISS and particularly ISS Deluxe were simply the best, and had enormous character in their unofficial takes on the footballing greats: I'll never forget those pixel-art recreations of Roberto Baggio ('Galfano'!) and Fabrizio Ravanelli, nor the gorgeous feel and pace of those games. Over the next decade the series truly blossomed as Pro Evolution Soccer, with a particular golden age on PS2 (Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is a 10/10 and that's a fact) that coincided with EA and FIFA losing its way.
Pro Evo 3 will always be the best football game, simply because its cover art featured the bug-eyed and terrifying Italian referee Pierluigi Collina rather than some fancypants Real Madrid striker.
PES always had an uphill challenge with FIFA though, and even when EA's games weren't all that good the branding ensured they still sold. And when PES started to experience its own wobbles, FIFA was getting its house in order. Modern FIFA is excellent, has been since roughly FIFA 10, and is one of the industry's commercial juggernauts. Once PES wasn't objectively the better game, it moved from being a small-but-healthy competitor to an also-ran.
You could see FIFA slowly asphyxiating PES over the last decade. Around the time of FIFA 11 or 12 I interviewed the manager of a local games store about other subjects. As we were both football fans the PES/FIFA thing came up and he was a PES-liker. He told me with enormous sadness that for every copy of PES they sold, there would be fifty FIFAs.
So you can't say Konami has made the wrong decision. If this series is to live, maybe it does need a new start, a new identity, and a new approach. But for me, Pro Evolution Soccer is the best series of football games there ever was—and I can't see it go without a tear in my eye. Goodnight sweet prince, and thanks for the memories.