In a deleted scene in Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace says that there are two types of people: Beatles fans and Elvis fans. You can like both, but you like one more than the other. We didn’t like either but the point kind of works for FIFA and PES. Back in the day we were PES people. In fact, we were ISS people. To this day, ISS Pro Evolution Soccer remains one of the best football games ever made.
Since those halcyon days on the PS1, EA and Konami’s fortunes have shifted somewhat, as have their flagship footie titles. Where ISS was seen as the simulation and FIFA was the more arcade-y game back on PS1 and PS2 (PES4 also is one of the best football games ever made) these days EA have kind of had things their own way for a while with the FIFA games. They’re not just seen as the better simulation but they’ve pretty much had the genre sewn up for a decade. Indeed, a chap from EA told us four or five years ago that PES hasn’t even been a blip on their radar for a decade.
While EA continued to churn out FIFA games, all of which hit the top of the gaming charts and stay their for ages, Konami seemingly gave up on PES in 2019 when they released eFootball, a game that was hamstrung by a clunky, unfamiliar name that had now dropped the PES from the title, but also a fairly disastrous launch. Indeed, we fired it up, said ‘what the fuck is this shit?’ and uninstalled it almost immediately.
The problem was that the game had gone free-to-play and in that process, everything was stripped out of the game. The career modes, the couch multiplayer, the leagues and cups. Everything was gone except for a new take on MyClub which was PES‘s answer to FIFA‘s Ultimate Team mode. We never liked either of those and combined with some dodgy controls, laggy gameplay and rough graphics, it looked like our interest in Konami’s footballing efforts were done forever.
On a personal level, all my happy memories of the old ISS/PES games were tied to Master League, the mode that saw you struggle with a piss-poor team full of famous old names like Vorlander and Minanda before earning enough points to buy better players. Winning games, building up your team and putting together your dream squad was interesting enough to me to keep me hooked all the way up to PES 5. After that the series came in and out of my gaming life, mainly thanks to the occasional review copy, but, as with FIFA, they were trying to cram too much into it and after two decades of incremental updates (for both series), I had kind of lost interest in ever playing a football game for fun.
But then I fired up eFootball 2020. While still lacking in all the modes you’d normally get in a football game, what it did have was the Dream Team mode. Here you’d start with a basic squad and you’d win matches (against the AI or an online opponent) and earn GP (one of eFootball‘s currency systems) and buy new players. Unlike FIFA, the game was pretty generous with rewards for logging on, taking part in events, watching videos and so on and so, before long, I’d put together a half-decent side of affordable players.
I went online and promptly got beaten by some prick with a team full of galacticos (mainly built from Liverpool players which made me hate the a bit more). But before long, I’d earned more points, bought better players and developed the ones I had using the game’s experience system (which lets you train up players and enhance their various statistics) and then I was handing out some beatings of my own and all without spending a penny on the game.
Now, look. I get it. There’s no Master League, no cups, no anything. All you get are a couple of ways to play. But like I said before, I spent years just playing Master League and just doing this. Winning matches, earning points, upgrading my squad and eFootball does that in a refreshingly minimalistic way. If I want to play online I can, if I want to play offline but keep making progress, I can do that too. And while there’s not much point playing in an event once you’ve earned its bonuses, this suits me as it means I can drop the game for a few days and then come back for the next event.
On the pitch, things are absolutely fine. I’ve spent two decades essentially using 1-2s and lobbed through balls and my tactics work as well in eFootball as they do in FIFA 22. The action itself is as slick as it needs to be. The ball is nicely unpredictable giving the gameplay a slightly random, chaotic feel which is what you want from a football game. Building up play from the back is rewarding, the defending can be gloriously shambolic or incredibly effective and shooting feels satisfying. What’s more, for the first time in over a decade I actually feel a degree of excitement when I score now. It’s almost nostalgic.
Anyway, that’s been my eFootball experience in the last few months and it’s still my go to game when I want to chill out and play something that I’m not reviewing or don’t want to think too much about. But now Konami have dropped a major update. We’re on version 2.0 and the game has officially updated its name to eFootball 2023. So what do you get in this new update?
Well, disappointingly the answer may as well be ‘bugger all.’
The ‘big’ news is that the two Milan clubs are now licensed (which means nothing to me as I just want to play as QPR) and some Mexican teams have been added. In terms of things you might want – you know, Master League, new game modes, the ability to edit kits or even see them properly when picking them for a match – well, none of that is in there. Indeed, if you hadn’t noticed the change in name, you’d be hard-pressed to even recognise this as an update.
Sure, there have been a few tweaks on the pitch. Things seem a tiny bit slower, defending feels slightly ‘different’ and Gareth Bale no longer seems to be as deadly on freekicks leading us to believe these might have been nerfed. Off the pitch there are a few new tunes in the menu (and to be fair, we’ve been mostly impressed with the songs before and after the update compared to the awful FIFA soundtracks we’ve been subjected to over the years) and the commentary has been updated a bit (it’s still not great but is occasionally funny because of just how weird it is).
So, we have to admit we’re a bit disappointed with the lack of new content. On the plus side, our Dream Team has remained intact. We were worried that we’d have to build a whole new squad but so far it seems like progress in this game is permanent. That’s a way better deal than seeing your FIFA Ultimate Team destroyed each year while those games cost you £70 or however much they are now.
There’s some nonsense about new types of players you can earn but again, we’re doing fine with our squad that’s got Mbappe up front with Bale and Zaha supporting along with a defence and midfield full of 90+ rated players. So really, unless you’re one of those people who inexplicably spends money on this sort of thing, you’re not limited from building a world class team for free. And Konami just loves to fling free points at you.
Here’s the thing though. The thing we like about eFootball is that it leaves out things we don’t care about. After doing it dozens of times do we really want to play an entire Serie A campaign for a trophy? Do we need to play through the European Championship yet again? Do we need a pretend inbox telling us that we’ve got to negotiate for some player or play the same mini-games over and over to increase a stat? The original football games Match Day, Sensible Soccer and so on didn’t need to cram in every possible off the pitch scenario and they did just fine.
Overall, eFootball continues to do just the things we want it to do. It’s minimalistic like we said before, but what really gets us is how much it feels like old PES. It’s unfussy, almost punk-like in its simplicity. The equivalent of a three minute song or an 80 minute movie. It’s not all good news though. The old series staples are still there too like team names that are literally the worst option they could have picked. QPR are Queen’S Park BW now. The BW stands for blue/white. The capital S is just eFootball being PES (who remembers the whole ‘Oranges’ debacle or when Crystal Palace were called ‘Crisis Bless?’). Brentford’s badge now hilariously says Hounslow on it rather than Brentford. LOL.
So yes, it’s weird, it’s shambolic and it’s arguably unfinished but on the pitch it’s a lot of fun and off the pitch the squad-building stuff is fun and easy. There’s some weirdness about contracts which we’re not sure is particularly well-implemented but equally the whole thing is a lot less faffy than how FIFA handles contracts and fitness cards and all that extraneous nonsense. And look, yes, FIFA fans won’t be turned and PES fans might be disappointed but if you want a simple football game that gets the basics right and just lets you play without too many distractions then whisper it carefully but eFootball 2023 is actually pretty damn good.
+ You can have a lot of fun for no money at all
+ Squad building is addictive
- Still a bare-bones package
- Presentation is a bit lacking