It was really nice of Konami that they were completely determined to invite a selected group of journalists to have some proper hands-on time with their newer, different football simulator. Granted, it was a very reduced group, with all the needed measures for the safest experience given the current global circumstances, but a physical, in-person event where the devs and reps were real people eager to show us how much has changed. For, after all, and free-to-play model aside, eFootball 2022 is a much more physical game when it comes to how you play and what you feel, and as such I was glad to play and learn for about two hours.
The code I played was a "pretty final" build on PS5 devkits. As such, it already looked better and more polished than some of the recent official videos, and it was close to what players will be able to download for free on September 30 (but it even included some features that won't be there yet at launch).
The key here is to try out the new mechanics. If you want to play eFootball 2022 just like you've been playing PES for many years, it will feel clunky and slow, like half-baked, and you will think it just doesn't work as intended. If you actually push yourself towards training the new actions, you will find a range of interesting and fun ways to deal with every play. That's why I appreciated my many matches with director of football data and scouting Klaus Ganer, who was pretty used to the innovative defence and attack moves.
The main difference here is how you use the analogue triggers (L2 and R2 in the case of the DualSense controller). You will notice that the ball is no longer glued to your boots, which gives both a more natural look to its behaviour, and room for you to essay some of the more body-based actions. It feels great to just walk with the ball and to suddenly press R2 to change direction with a nice touch. This works wonders with the more skilled players, and same as you've been recognising them for years to perform some of the craziest skillmoves, you now need to identify the strongest, tallest players to put L2 to good use. If you have the ball, you use it to shield it, for example blocking an incoming attempt of stealing. And if you're defending, you will find the new shield/physical defending like something fell from heaven. Like one of those defending actions one wonders why it wasn't there before, along with your regular tackle and sliding tackle.
So, before even getting into more elaborate passing plays and power shots, I'd recommend you explore all the new things you can perform with L2 and R2 (and some R3 dribbling for good measure), just getting the new feel of the players and the ball, seeing how the physical battles are a thing for real, and eventually rethinking how you approach your duels and your moment-to-moment tactics on the pitch. And this was all accompanied just by the subtle rumble provided by the DualSense's haptic feedback, as the very promising adaptive triggers (feel every touch and shot) weren't implemented yet on this build (nor will be at launch).
Again, it is pretty natural once you get the gist of it, but it takes time to master and it'll require long-time PES fans to delete some of their old habits and to read the different timing and distances accordingly. The revamped ball physics help as well, as it looks less scripted, more 'available' to both players on every situation. Then, my rival Klaus was really into the so-called "power shots" or "sharp kicks", impressive, optional, greatly satisfying shots or passes that activate their own, special animation. To perform them, you just need to make yourself some time/space and press R2 all the way down plus your pass or shoot button, and you'll see your power gauge turned blue. The very best goals during our session were performed like this.
I'm already eager to see what pro players can do with all this, as I think it opens up for more exciting, less artificial encounters. Besides, the new Duel Camera seems like a welcomed addition when you want to nail your dribbling, as it elegantly zooms in whenever there is a physical battle.
As I kept getting used to this new way to play I moved my focus from the so important duels to developing my field tactics depending on the chosen team. There's a good flow to the whole game, with fewer interruptions from either the referee (they give more advantages) or the game's own cuts. It's a very "keep playing" philosophy, which goes well with the added physicality. And the aforementioned team of choice makes an important difference, perhaps bigger than ever, as there are so many things to consider both in the 1v1 duels and when it comes to deciding what you can, and what you cannot do with your squad.
AI-based tactics are much deeper, but at the same time presented in a simpler way on the new game plan screen (which is more transparent in terms of stats, now shows values together with "out of position" warnings). I noticed significant changes moving from Manchester United to Barça, then to Portugal national team, then to Juventus, finally to Arsenal. Each team's playstyle is more prominent, and it means you can power-shoot your opponents down with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Thomas Müller, while you better opt for more tiki-taka with Dybala or Pedri, and the same goes when it comes to defending the toughest players, or when choosing when to go for quicker transitions and counter attacks.
Elsewhere I found a more solid and polished product than I was anticipating, given the very early test demo released earlier this summer. Yes, there are a few bugs, artifacts and glitches here and there, most of them acknowledged and being worked on (such as power shots' lip animation, some sudden appearances or the no-3D grass kickoff sequence), same as I found a couple of framerate drops (on intro cutscenes) and the occasional weird shadows or articulations. But for the time played, it was in a good enough state to start training already. The player models, which looked ugly in some of the official assets released so far, looked amazingly real and detailed when we paused the game, at a level above previous iterations, which is a minimum we wished for (hands, fingers, muscles, skins, shorts clothes physics, and more have changed).
And for those worried about the "messy cursor", it's an introductory feature (given the new moves) that can be turned off completely, same as with the power gauge and the stamina meter. And if your concern is about game speed, it still can be adjusted from -2 to +2 but, again, I advice you to get into its new flow first.
My concerns in terms of gameplay are mostly about the always difficult balance, and it's clear that Konami will have to keep tweaking the game as the season progresses, both with humans and the AI. Well, same as every ongoing service game out there. I found it perhaps too easy to steal the ball in the rival's box, and some of the tactics and playstyles might be too OP compared to other teams looking at their players, but that happens in real life, doesn't it?
Just like the release version, our build included the five European stadiums (for Bayern Munich, ManU, Barcelona, Juve, Arsenal) and the generic eFootball Stadium for the American clubs (Corinthians, Flamengo, Sao Paulo, River Plate). The former looked incredible already, and you will feel much more like you're there with the many added pre, half, and post-match cutscenes, including warmups, locker rooms, press areas... It's also neat to change the time of the day at the stadium screen, seeing how the day-night lighting cycles like in a vampire movie, to get you in the mood.
This will mark after all the release of the platform itself, which will feel like a pre-season sort of deal. And when it's all up and running, with players learning the ropes, a big autumn update will provide for a way more complete football game-like experience, with additional teams and modes, together with a further-implemented purchase model. It's a bold, risky, ground-breaking move, but at any rate after playing I feel like Konami is into something here, and the good thing is that literally everyone will be able to give it a try for free come September 30. And that it has the flexibility to embrace players' feedback as they also learn the new ways, all while more content and features are added to the platform regularly. What might seem like limited appeal at first might actually turn into universal with time...