Konami's cult Pro Evolution Soccer series is trying a new tactic in its endless duel against FIFA. To stand out from its bigger rival, the soccer franchise is adopting a new name, eFootball, and going free-to-play on consoles, PC and mobile.
Clearly, this isn't a one-off. Konami has rebuilt the game using Unreal engine as part of the shift to providing a digital service. The biggest change to gameplay is the new "motion matching" technology designed to make player animations more realistic. Gamers will choose from different movements in real-time during matches. Seeing as the original Pro Evo's gameplay is what helped to distinguish it from FIFA, motion matching could prove a make or break feature.
As you'd expect from an F2P title, eFootball will regularly receive new updates after its launch this fall. Konami will have to tread with care, however. Free-to-play games have attracted the ire of players and regulators alike due to their exploitative nature, best summed up by loot boxes that cost real money to obtain. The last thing the storied developer wants is to sully Pro Evo's name. Maybe, that's why it's changing it.
But, the news will probably raise alarm bells for fans. Konami said that only "local matches" featuring FC Barcelona, Juventus, FC Bayern, Manchester United "and others" will be available for free at launch. While, certain game modes will later be sold as optional DLC, "giving players the freedom to build an experience" that matches their interests. It's a major risk that Konami is banking on to restore the franchise as a regular feature in dorms and living rooms around the world.
The game will land in early fall with cross-generation matchmaking between current and last-gen PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Later in the fall, you can expect a managerial-style team building mode, online leagues, and a match pass system that rewards you with items and players. At the same time, cross-platform play will be introduced between consoles and PC. The winter will see the release of mobile controller support, full cross-play including mobile and the launch of professional and amateur eSports tournaments.