First Impressions: eFootball 2022

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
eFootball 2022 just "released" on Xbox consoles. However, the poor thing is currently crawling around the pitch with two broken legs and a skull fracture. You see, publisher Konami has released it in a demo state without all the teams, a hampered online mode, no Custom Teams (eFootball's FUT), no single-player, two major gameplay features missing, and more. It's a very strange way to release, and it seems a decision made with one purpose: get to market before FIFA 22 officially launches and try to steal away a few customers with a new free-to-play title. It seemed very unfair to give what is ostensibly a demo of a game a review score, and that first big Autumn patch that will add much of the missing content listed above. In the meantime, we have played a few matches — online and offline — and feel ready to give you a first impression of what eFootball 2022 is all about. What is that impression? Well, my mother always told me you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but eFootball is a distractingly ugly beast. Open up the book and look within, though, and it is still — despite literally missing gameplay features — a compelling and intense on-the-pitch experience.

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That is to say, eFootball plays like a dream. The first thing you will notice is that it still has that old PES charm: a slow pace, precise passing, and alarmingly good dribbling. When on the ball, the world around me slowed to a halt, and all that mattered was using Lo Celso to get a low ball stuck under the feet of Lautaro Martínez, or using Martin Ødegaard to try and loft a beauty up and over the top to the onrushing Kieran Tierney. The ball spins and drifts with a realistic bumble and it gets fully controlled underfoot by only the best players. That makes general play quite tempered — you always know what will happen but not the outcome so it remains immoderately intense. You have to keep varying your passing so your opponent cannot read you, creating a sublime amount of variety in how the build-up from midfield is orientated. I started by using Thomas Partey as a destroyer, but his run from deep was so good he became my ballplayer, laying off Aubamayang with a superb dinked through ball. Considering that the game is still missing Sharp Passing to control how hard or soft you play, this is an impressive amount of range.

eFootball has essentially taken away running from the in-possession play. Instead, it's best to think of it as moderating the length of each touch in a dribble that your player takes. Using the left stick without the RT used to fast dribble keeps it as close underfoot as your player is capable of doing, meaning you can change direction quickly and neatly change the angle of your player's body for a pass or to beat a player. Pressing RT will trigger the player to push the ball out from under them and take longer strides, so you can beat a man or sprint to go, or dupe your opponent into thinking you are hoofing it at one angle, before laying off the speed, turning a shoulder, and heading in the opposite direction. While the game is still missing the proper ball-trapping system, I think that it is a genuinely ingenius gameplay method of distinguishing out-and-out pace from dribbling ability. It allows you to control the tempo of play while you are in control, gives players an identity of their own almost immediately, and it allows the game of virtual football to breathe with every touch.

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The game in and around the box is pretty interesting, too. It is much more chess-like than FIFA in the best possible way. You cannot switch off when you make it within shooting range. You have to line up your potential moves — "okay, the left-back is out wide for a cross opportunity, the striker is ready for a second ball, and there are two midfielders to recycle play or defend, so I'll shoot long-range" — and that only works because the game is always ready to give you time on the ball. That is not to say you won't be harried and pressed, but you know you will be able to slip the ball left or right at any moment. Then, when you get that ball under Aubamayang's feet and strike a controlled curler into the bottom left, you can finally scream and shout. You absolutely deserved it, you just conquered the opponent on the pitch and the opposing players mind, baby! However, the fact this game doesn't seem to be launching with any form of manual off-the-ball runs or directed sprints suggests that the attacking play will likely start lacking true depth and customisability quite quickly. That is especially true when the full tactics menus aren't in play. That is a big letdown, even at this early stage.

Generally positive, then. It is missing features, there is no doubt about it. Even so, eFootball has got me standing up during games because playing online has got so intense. It's a bit like when Sunderland were playing Charlton Athletic in the League One play-offs in 2019: when they lost, I had to stand in a corner of the room just to cool off a bit. While, thankfully, there were fewer tears when I lost at PES because I was in a 'professional' office environment. I don't normally have to do a voluntary time-out after a game of FIFA. In eFootball, though, I genuinely cared about my performance because it took so much effort and thought to put together a good display. So there I was, a grown-ass man standing in a corner while my editor wondered if he had made the right hire (thanks for the job, Rich and Luke). The passion inspired by eFootball's game on the pitch is — in part — because it straddles the fine line between arcade football and realistic football so well.

eFootball 2022 first impressions

Defensively, eFootball almost nails it. It's primarily played using two buttons. You can "Match-Up" (see: jockey) the opponent with the player you are using automatically stepping in to nick the ball away if there is an opportunity. The other is a "Physical Defending" option, where your player will bully the player off the ball after tracking the opposition down. The trade-off is that you will drag your player out of position and that you could give away a foul. Thrown in here are the normal manual and sliding challenges. There is real risk-reward play on offer here, with wrong choices leading to opposition scoring attempts.

However, there are huge issues with player momentum. Sometimes, when even slightly changing the run of my defender, his momentum will just stop as though he has crashed into a wall. It blows you wide open for the attackers. It is also clear that the game is missing the second man presses... abundantly clear, even. You cannot put pressure on a player from afar in any capacity. Another concern is that your player will sometimes just not intercept a ball that is right there. It's just sitting there, waiting to be picked up by the opposition and my player won't ever do a thing about it. It is infuriating and has led to a few conceded goals. I have literally shouted at the screen in frustration... I don't do that. I am annoyed this game made me do that.

eFootball 2022 first impressions

This good should all be underlined with a huge red mark, though. eFootball 2022 looks unacceptably bad. This isn't a case of "it doesn't look as real as FIFA!" whining. Look at the image above: it looks like a PS2 game, for Christ's sake. I have no idea what Konami was thinking releasing it in this state. The only time it remotely looks good is when the camera is at a distance from the players. Otherwise, kits and player textures just don't render, the faces are a mess, the game drops frames and judders like a steamboat that has crashed against a cliff in a storm, and the camera is occasionally atrocious. Sometimes, the camera zooms in to focus on 1v1 battles, but you lose all sense of space on the pitch. It feels like a feature made for the mobile platform that eFootball does intend to release on, eventually.

The feet of the players don't even connect with the grass of the pitch — they just hover above so you can see all the blades on the boots. Arms suddenly go wonky mid-game and... it looks abhorrent, it really does. The only excuse I can give is that the team had to move from the FOX Engine to Unreal Engine. At the very least, the commentary is a bit better than in PES 2021 and the menus are way better. It's not a conciliation, though. eFootball looks truly awful.

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If Konami wants to make a go of this as a free-to-play game, you cannot start life in this appalling state. Even if the game underneath is good — and it is — then looking like this cheapens the whole experience. It makes it easier to believe that Konami doesn't really care about the game, because how could they care if is released looking like this? It begins planting seeds of doubt into what is a very promising and potentially innovative idea.

Quick shout-out to the achievements, though: they are easy-peasy. Nothing is hard, everything is obtainable by playing naturally. It's about scoring conditions, pulling off a save, scoring a free kick from distance, and very little else. In fact, it is so easy I highly doubt that it will be extending anyone's time with the game. Will Konami see fit to add more achievements down the line? Only time will tell, but it's a quick completion for now, at least.

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eFootball still gives it large on the pitch despite missing features. It has a good tempo, the attacking game is solid, and the defensive end is full of risk/reward drama that is nearly there already. The intensity of those matches I played was quite staggering. I can conclusively say that the game on the pitch is enjoyable and exciting. It's definitely a good foundation for a bit of free footballing fun. However, the game looks comically bad. In fact, I would argue that in its current state, eFootball is only hurting its reputation amongst football fans for the long road ahead. We will have to give full judgment when the first major update drops, but as of right now, Konami's Frankenstein's monster is carving a horrifying, but compelling, tale.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Hey, I'm Kes! I'm a Staff Writer, and I've been here since 2021. What do I like? The Outer Wilds is top notch. The Witcher 3 blew my mind over the course of five years completing it. I want Burnout back — I really miss crunching mechanical wonders into walls to the sound of Guns N' Roses. Cool, now we are acquainted, I'll see you around.