'New Football Game' beta impressions: new kit, new ground, same old PES magic

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
This week, Konami launched a demo called 'New Football Game' that is a network test for PES 2022 ahead of the full reveal on July 21st. Today, we'll call it simply PES as shorthand, but there have been rumblings about Konami potentially rebranding this year, which would explain the generic name for the beta. We gave it a play and have some thoughts, but please note: this game is nowhere near being finished. This is a beta and so our thoughts reflect exactly that and should not be mistaken for an actual critique of the full game.

pes 2022 konami fifa football sim

The beta is available until July 8th on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PS4 and features cross-play between console generations. The FAQ available to read when downloading the demo states that "gameplay mechanics, balancing, animations and graphics are all under development and will be improved before the official launch." Even though the visuals and gameplay are not finished, it gives us an inkling of what the game will be going for, at least conceptually. This is 1v1 online with no commentary and no shadows.

There are four teams available — Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Juventus — all of which have the end of season 20/21 squads. The demo is very basic: you leap in and play with little-to-no messing around. A strong suit of PES has been the tactical versatility that frankly makes FIFA look like Duplo compared to PES' great big Meccano play kit, but that aspect is currently under lock and key. You can make changes to your lineup, but can't switch formation. Player ratings don't matter too much as the players are from the 20/21 roster. I played five games, one of which was a laggy hellscape until in the 63rd minute. Everything froze in time a la Quantum Break until the in-game football universe shattered and kicked me into the main menu dimension. The other games were clean as a N'Golo Kanté challenge and ran without a single hiccup. As a basic FIFA boy — as Editor Luke immediately told me when he saw me play — I messed with the controls a lot to get the shooting button onto B because I'm incapable of playing without it. I have played PES 2020 to completion on PS4, so I'm reasonably well-versed across the board in football sims and have long preferred the way PES handles on the pitch.

pes 2022 konami fifa football sim

But let's get to that pitch, shall we? The aesthetics will obviously be improved drastically before launch and the reveal, but I just want to be clear: right now, it doesn't look good. The players look like they have been made from clay by a small child, thrown in the microwave, and then their guardian has tried to fix the horrific eldritch creations with acrylic paint. The grass looks like it was mowed with a combine harvester in potato season. The crowds look fine when still, but in motion... oh dear. They also sound like they were recorded in a bin. The menus, though, are crisper and cleaner than I have ever seen before in a PES game. Also, some of the in-game dynamic camera angles are actually heinous: zooming in on useless ball moves and widening the lens when you need to see something technical. But none of the prevailing ugliness matters, because PES is still solid on the pitch. The slow tempo allows for spaces to open up as they would in real life, you can perform tidy dribbles at slow speeds and then rocket ahead with a dash, and the passing — oh my — Phil Foden-smooth even at this stage of development.

On the attacking end, build-up play is satisfying for the most part. Players actually try and make space for themselves or will slot into useful channels. Curling shots or top-bin belters leave the boot with a slick look and feel. I scored two dreamy goals. For the first, Anthony Martial caught the ball in the crook of his foot, while jumping and spinning, and kind of flicked it into the net. I didn't get to see the replay, but at the time, it looked sublime. The second, meanwhile, saw Bruno Fernandes unleash a shot with such force that SpaceX may reconsider what fuel they are using to get to Mars — a kick from Bruno could apparently get them there. The ball cannoned in and the net should have stood no chance. Some of the animations are certainly canned or placeholder. The sprint, for sure, is a work-in-progress. It is worth playing the demo just to see Sergiño Dest of Barcelona charge forward with his neck craned forward like a pigeon and stiff lower body shuddering along like he has ostrich legs. However, the on-pitch ball recovery animations for when the ball goes out of play are wonderful, as are the occasional emotive hand gestures of the players while running or defending.

Another positive is that not once in five games did I lose the ball and think: "How in the name of my lord and saviour Andrea Pirlo did he tackle me?" This was because the dribbling was clean and precise, if perhaps lacking true directionality and smoothness. Gauging my level of play was hard, too. All the opposition were a little late-era Tottenham under José Mourinho. It was occasionally easy to pass it around them and into the forward channels or just dink it sideways across the midfield facing no pressure. The only opposition attacks were coming from counters on the wings, which were predictable and boring to face. I have no idea if this was the opposition being restrained by the defensive mechanics as I was (see below) or if that was how the game flow was supposed to be. Again, though, you can just feel that even at this stage, the simulation elements might open up if you could tinker with tactics. Five games isn't a proper barometer — to be honest, 200 games wouldn't even be enough for most football sims — but it played well enough to put a smile on my face. This is good news at this stage of development and I am certain it can only get better.

pes 2022 konami fifa football sim

Defensively? Not great. Here my skill was simply not adequate, but I'll try and give you a sense of the issues that would remain even if my poor performance was taken out of the equation. Pressing an opponent with 'Physical Defending' puts you right up in their grill, but then you end up sailing by sometimes. I assume that you need to lay off the pressure a little before you approach the player. Then again, sometimes I would win the ball very cleanly when the opposition saw Leonardo Bonucci steaming towards them. The opponent would try to dribble away, but accidentally move right into him because the Italian legend was actually running not directly at the player, but right next to them in their assumedly free dribbling space. The 'Match Up' mechanic is tied to a button press of your choice, but I actually have no idea what the advantage was. There was no visual feedback like normal showing the player squaring up to close down space. If any of you lot have a clue, then let me know. The perfect defender pace that PES has had over the last few years was actually present in the demo. If you get beat? Nah, you aren't catching up unless using a wing-back. Despite my issues, though, I could see the roots of PES' old-school "control the space, control the pressure" defending, even if I couldn't quite get it to click.

I think it is quite clear Konami is going to try and rework passing in the new iteration, along with the touch mapping, and possibly the method of defending is changing up. As far as I could tell, manual passing and second player runs are different, but I would need more time to fully familiarise myself with it. Certainly, some substantive changes will be made to the general feel of PES by the time it releases. The dev team is swapping from the FOX game engine to Unreal for this season, hence last year's low-key roster update for PES 2021 to give the studio more time on this iteration. The other sports games using Unreal are MotoGP and NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, so this is a pretty bold move for the staple franchise. Make no mistake though, this isn't going to be a 'test' year for Konami's game. The Japanese behemoth is revealing PES 22 the day before EA Play Live, where FIFA 22 is expected to debut. It is clear Konami is confident enough to acknowledge the direct competition for the first time in a long time. What the result will be when the final whistle blows? No idea. FIFA is a giant with footballing licences coming out of every orifice and certainly won't be 'beaten,' but expect more crowd noise for PES this year.

Have you guys played? Any big changes you expect to come? Let us know in the comments!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Working across TrueTrophies and TrueAchievements, Kes writes news, reviews, and a variety of bespoke features. Kes left university after four years with a first-class MA in English Literature — a subject that required research, creativity, and lots of writing. He also has dabbled in teaching, farming, and building websites. Some days, he plays Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to pretend he is a pirate.
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