The writing has been on the wall for the venerable Pro Evolution Soccer franchise for quite some time. Konami struggled to keep up with the commercial might of EA’s FIFA series through the last generation, and the last few years has seen the introduction of the eFootball brand alongside PES, a free to play ‘Lite’ version of the game, and a simple DLC update for the 2021 season last autumn instead of a full new game. Now the pretence is gone, the series going fully free-to-play and leaning on seasonal updates and rolling live service content.
They’ve clearly been biding their time, laying the foundations on the Unreal Engine game engine, and now they’re ready to shake up the balance of power between football games. Kind of.
eFootball’s release next week on 30th September will only have some of the features that you would typically expect from a full eFootball or PES release. At launch, you’ll have just nine licensed teams, six stadiums and local and online multiplayer. It is “basically a demo” as fundamental football game features like the team building Master League will come later in the year, as well as a battle pass-style Match Pass, the return of Option Files and more.
All that said, Konami are still aiming to make the kinds of steps forward to the core footballing gameplay that you expect from a yearly franchise, reworking and revising ball control, duelling, shooting, tactics and more.
The duelling has been reworked from the perspective of both attacking and defending, with Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique brought in from Barcelona to consult. On the attacking side, the speed of the player and the ball both inform how you can dribble and block, but you have full freedom to try and dribble past or wrong foot defenders, or simply get physical with a more imposing player. All of this is done through a combination of the right stick for feints and dummies, while the A or cross button and left stick let you motion to match up against a defender.
Defensive duels can be about winning the ball back through tackles, blocks and interceptions, but can also be about keeping hold of the ball, with the left trigger shielding it from other players. Simple.
These moments should feel more impactful with a more dynamic camera that will zoom in when duelling against another player or dribbling, and then pull out when looking to cross the ball to the other flank.
What’s sure to be more divisive is the new Power Kicks system. An ‘optional’ system, it’s intending to recreate the kinds of driven passes, crosses and shots that you see in the game, both with rising and dipping paths through the air. Simplistically, you’re just holding the right trigger while passing or shooting, but you also need to have space around you and accept that there’s a little more risk and reward to these kinds of kicks – symbolically the shot power gauge changes from green to blue, so you know what you’re doing. The danger, of course, is that they end up too dominant in the game’s balance, so Konami will have to be on their toes to keep them in check.
Alongside the direct control, the entire team tactics and playing styles system has been rebuilt, with more control over what your team does when attacking or defending, and after gaining or losing possession. Of course, it’s going to depend on the type of team that you have selected or built to play with, whether you focus on possession and wearing down the opposition in their own half, or are the type of team that soaks up pressure and then steals the ball, goes for a long ball pass to your speedy wingers or target man in the middle.
Konami has been painted a pretty picture of what eFootball intends to achieve, but the big caveat is that we’ve not gone hands-on with the latest iteration of eFootball since the brief unbranded tech test that Konami held earlier this year. The initial iteration of this game will appear next week on 30th September, getting out the door just ahead of arch-rival FIFA 22 and with the initial price tag of nothing at all. First impressions mean everything though. Will the new game engine hold up? The all-important net code be stable? The new takes on duels and shooting be popular with long-term fans?
It’s squeaky bum time, as they say.