Konami has a mountain to climb. When it decided to completely overhaul its Pro Evolution Soccer series by ditching plans for a 2021 edition and instead taking two years to create an entirely new, free-to-play title, hopes were high that this was the shake-up the series needed.
After all, the days of competing with FIFA – and outdoing it in many players’ opinions – had been gone for some time, and the hope was that this revamp would be a spark of life.
Instead, when the game, rebranded as eFootball, launched in an early version in September 2021, the reaction was about as cataclysmic as any game could ever receive. The game was riddled with bugs. The player likenesses were comically bad. Passing was painfully slow, defending was frustratingly difficult and shooting was woefully inaccurate.
On top of that, the bizarre decision to launch with a small handful of teams and the option to only play friendly matches left players bewildered at the serious lack of content on offer. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it’s fair to say that eFootball couldn’t have made a worse first impression, short of it hacking your phone while you played and texting your ex-partners.
Konami had always stated that eFootball, in this new free-to-play form, was going to be an ever-evolving service, and that the version released in September was a very early first sample. It had always maintained that the first ‘proper’ Version 1.0.0 update would come later, though it was initially supposed to arrive in November until the release date backlash pushed that all the way back.
Finally, Version 1.0.0 is nearly here, with a release planned for April 14. This is the update that, Konami hopes, will slowly start to win back the trust of a hurting fanbase. Earlier this week we went hands-on with a pre-release build of Version 1.0.0 and, based on what we’ve played, this might just be the start of a comeback.
The main thing we took from our time with the updated version is that we finally felt like we were playing the game, not fighting against it. While many ditched eFootball after that initial awful launch, I stuck with it out of curiosity to see whether it could get out of its rut. While it’s definitely improved since then – the current version 0.9.1 has far fewer issues than the day one shambles – it’s still extremely awkward to play.
Over time I’ve learned to get better at the game by working round its flaws. Defending isn’t very responsive, so I dribble a lot, that sort of thing. Version 1.0.0, however, doesn’t have so many of these flaws, and feels a lot more like a proper, accomplished football game.
There are two key features that contribute most to this. The first is an overhauled defensive system which brings back the ability to press players by holding down a button (X on PlayStation, A on Xbox). Holding that button brings your player closer to the opponent, then pressing it twice makes you tackle.
If that sounds like the way PES used to do it in recent years, that’s exactly the case, and we’re sure that’s no accident. Meanwhile, a new shoulder challenge move gives extra options to gain possession.
The other main addition is on the offensive side of things, and in true Konami style it has a ridiculous name: ‘Stunning Kicks’.
Players can now pull off a Stunning Kick by pressing R2 / RT at exactly the same time as they press a kick button. This turns the power meter blue and modifies the kick to make it more effective, but comes at a cost in that it takes the player much longer to wind up and release the ball.
“Players can now pull off a ‘Stunning Kick’ by pressing R2 / RT at exactly the same time as they press a kick button. This turns the power meter blue and modifies the kick to make it more effective, but comes at a cost in that it takes the player much longer to wind up and release the ball.”
All four main kick buttons have a Stunning variant. The Stunning Pass delivers a fast pass to a teammate, while the Stunning Through Ball is a similarly pacy effort that lands closer to the target’s feet than a usual through ball.
The Stunning Cross, meanwhile, is a low, swooping cross played with plenty of power. This is particularly satisfying, especially given that crosses actually work in general now – before, it was infuriating to deliver a cross into the box and not be sure whether a striker would actually connect with it properly. Now it’s far more accurate.
It’s the Stunning Shot that will get the most attention, though, especially because shooting has felt so floaty and ineffective in eFootball until now. If your player has enough space to pull off a Stunning Shot, it’ll have far more power and accuracy.
This will also come into play for players who have specialty shots like knuckle shots, dipping shots or rising shots: it’ll be the Stunning Shot where these are executed.
Stunning Kicks are the main new mechanic that defines eFootball for us now, in that they offer an interesting risk/reward system that FIFA doesn’t. Do you play it safe and take a normal shot or do you try to find enough space to set up for a Stunning Shot, knowing that the longer kick animation means it’ll be easier to block?
All this combines for a game that feels far more satisfying to play, though, of course, there’s still room for improvement. Anyone expecting this to be a FIFA challenger six months down the line is perhaps expecting a bit too much.
There are other questions that still need to be answered too. We were briefly told more about the ‘Dream Team’ mode – eFootball’s equivalent of PES’s MyClub and FIFA’s Ultimate Team – but didn’t get a chance to try it out. On paper it sounds like business as usual, but Konami’s been guilty of making MyClub needlessly convoluted in recent years, and so it remains to be seen whether this new take on it will be just as awkward.
For now, though, we’ve seen and played enough to give us hope for eFootball again, which is something we certainly didn’t have seven months ago. It goes without saying that FIFA will still be top dog, not just in sales but in reputation. Konami’s series may never have outsold EA’s but for a lengthy period it was considered by footballing purists to be the better representation of the sport.
The absolute mess of last September has ensured that it’ll take a long time for eFootball to regain that reputation, but the improvements made for Version 1.0.0 show that this is a mountain that Konami is willing to climb, and we’re curious – excited, even – to see what state this constant work-in-progress will be in a year or two from now.
Is it a FIFA beater now, then? Of course not. But the fact it costs nothing to try out and is actually much more stable now at least makes it a viable alternative for people getting bored of EA’s offering. It’s a start. A fresh start, perhaps, but a start nonetheless.