eFootball PS5 PlayStation 5 PS4 Hands On 1
Image: Push Square / Konami

You’re not going to believe this but eFootball feels better than FIFA 22 after its latest update. Konami’s disastrous soccer sim was the butt of all jokes when it launched last year, with turgid gameplay and some hilarious graphical glitches. But the publisher released its long overdue v1.0 patch this week, and the results are honestly more impressive than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. This looks and feels fantastic – better, on first impression at least, than even the excellent eFootball PES 2021 from a few years ago.

The changes are plentiful and wildly impressive. Passing feels faster and much more realistic, owing to alterations to the way the ball moves across the grass and through the air. It means moves like switching the play from left-back to right-wing feel absolutely extraordinary, as you slice the ball into the path of an oncoming attacker, and watch as it dips and spins perfectly to feet.

New mechanics have been incorporated to combat this, such as a shoulder barge which muscular defenders can use to dispossess an opponent. This kind of physicality is something we see in the Premier League and Champions League every week, but has been missing from franchises like FIFA entirely. Obviously you need to be careful using it, because if you overcommit then a nimble winger will dribble right by you – or you’ll give away an avoidable foul in a dangerous position. It’s a risk/reward system that adds depth to the flow of matches.

The same is true of the new Stunning Pass mechanic, which has a ridiculous name but attempts to replicate the kind of balls like Luka Modric made against Chelsea earlier this week. Effectively if you combine the R2 button with the pass button, players with the right attributes can play devastatingly incisive balls, but it comes at a high price: this kind of build-up play requires a more deliberate stride, which means you’re liable to interceptions.

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Image: Push Square / Konami

As you can imagine, pulling off these plays correctly results in true highlight reel moments – the kind that will have you reaching for the Create button on your DualSense controller – and there are other mechanics like the Stunning Shot which complement this. You can, feasibly, play an outside of the boot pass into Cristiano Ronaldo’s stride and marvel as he knuckle-balls it into the bottom corner and it looks truly sensational – the dip and swerve of the shot perfectly simulated by the improved ball physics.

There’s so much more like this in the game: the artificial intelligence has been improved overall to work more like a unit and create space for attackers, and you can now execute more life-like one-twos where the AI will be smart enough to receive the ball in open space. You can knock on the ball when it comes your way in order to create separation between you and a defender, wrong footing your opponent in the process. And if you think all of this favours the attackers, new commands like team pressure will help you to snuff out promising assaults – at the expense of team stamina.

It honestly all plays superbly, but the downside is that the wider package still feels like a glorified demo. The same selection of licensed teams are available – including the frankly awful Manchester United – but you can basically only play friendlies with these. The emphasis is on the new card collecting Dream Team mode, which sees you recruiting players using in-game currency – rather than loot boxes – and levelling them up using training packs.

The cool thing about this system, from what we can see so far, is that each player has a base set of statistics that you can then improve to suit your playstyle. So if you want to play a more possession-based game like Manchester City, you can level up your players to be better on the ball – or if you prefer Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal physicality, then you can opt for stamina and rapid counter-attacks.

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Image: Push Square / Konami

It looks like Konami will be launching some online tournaments in the coming weeks, but despite promises of improved netcode we struggled to setup a friendly against a stranger. We assume, with the gameplay significantly more polished, the publisher will now turn its attention to the game’s roster of modes, because right now this feels like a fantastic football game with very little to do in it. Master League will, supposedly, return at some point in the future – and frankly we can’t wait for that.

But make no mistake, eFootball is now a contender. In the span of several months and a single major patch, this title now comfortably out-performs FIFA 22 on the pitch. It’s now down to the publisher to give players a reason to kick-off in the first place.

What will it take to lure you back to eFootball, or has the ship sailed on this soccer sim after the sorry launch period? Make a tactical foul in the comments section below.