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Of all the years for Konami to cock up Pro Evolution Soccer, now renamed eFootball, this is arguably the worst one. FIFA 22, for all of the franchise’s overarching flaws, feels fantastic: the ball physics are greatly improved, the heavily advertised HyperMotion Technology makes for a much more fluid experience, and even goalkeepers have been rewritten, preventing them from easily getting beaten at their near post.

For much of the PlayStation 4 generation, PES has responded to FIFA’s flash with substance: even the re-released eFootball PES 2021: Season Update played great compared to FIFA 21, with matches capturing the flow of real football. But by switching to the Unreal Engine, and a free-to-play format, eFootball feels like a significant step backwards – in fact, after a couple of hours play it reminds this bamboozled author of PS2-era soccer simulations.

For as hyperbolic as that statement may seem, it’s true: the ball feels like it’s moving through treacle, while players are robotic and slow to respond to the sticks. The actions you’re inputting feel frustratingly detached from what you’re seeing on screen, and it makes for a slow and turgid experience. There’s nothing wrong with toning down the pace of the sport, of course – real football isn’t played at 100mph for 90 minutes – but there’s a distinct lack of responsiveness here.

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The camera, by default, is setup to zoom in on one-on-one battles, which is a nice idea but is disorientating – and, to be honest, we’re not sure the take-on animations look anywhere near good enough to deserve being emphasised so heavily. Fortunately, you can tinker with the camera to find a setting that you find more appealing, which is a relief considering many of the game’s other options – like weather conditions – are currently greyed out.

Here’s the catch: eFootball is out today but this is a shareware demo at best. There are just nine teams and six stadiums available (unlicensed teams like Manchester Blue can be selected online), and – from what we can tell – you can’t even change the length of matches from the default five-minute duration. To be fair, the render of partner club Manchester United’s stadium Old Trafford is exquisite – better, arguably, than even FIFA – and there are some classy touches, like how you pick your strip from within the dressing room.

There are some nice atmospheric cut-scenes, too, like Bruno Fernandes chatting to press after scoring a winner against Barcelona and David de Gea taking off his gloves in the dressing room. All of the face scans are pretty good, but playing the native PS5 version doesn’t really feel like a step-forward from eFootball PES 2021: Season Update at all. The commentary is pretty bad, too, but Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are at least a touch more tolerable than FIFA 22’s dreadful duo.

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Even basic features, like the ability to save match tactics, are absent – meaning you’ll need to manually setup your squad how you want it each time you play. In a year where EA Sports has expanded on the tactical flexibility you can tinker with prior to and during matches, there’s very little to play with here. You can manually adjust the position of players, as you could in PES, but build-up play and defensive tactics don’t give you much scope to experiment.

Bemusingly, this build of eFootball is based on old code. From what we understand, YouTubers were recently invited to play a much newer version of the game, which apparently plays a lot better. Assuming this is accurate, we can’t even begin to fathom why Konami would release the title in this state: all it’s going to do is a leave a bad impression. As it stands, many of the release’s core gameplay features – like even driven passes – will be added in November.

The truly bizarre thing is that the game even launched alongside a bonus pack for PS Plus members today, but there’s currently no word on what that will even entail. The sad reality is that while eFootball had the opportunity to be disruptive, it’s the best advertisement for FIFA 22 that EA Sports could have asked for. Konami’s got a mountain to climb to save this series’ season, and it’s going to take more than Sam Allardyce to keep its hopes alive.

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How are you feeling about eFootball now that you’ve had a few hours to dig in? Is there potential here, or has Konami dropped a clanger? Take-on the comments section below.