Saturday, December 4, 2021

Konami’s new soccer game shows how far soccer has come

Written by By Imran Hayat, CNN Tokyo

On the internet, you can make just about anything, from a pig person to a dancing Superman to a hands-free automaton. And yes, it can do dirty tricks, such as displaying animated raccoons on your screen. The forthcoming title, eFootball 2022, is no different — except for the fact that it even has a soccer team.

Teased at the Tokyo Game Show earlier this week, the game — which is being developed by Japanese giant Konami — has an artificial intelligence in charge of the free-kick box (yup — it takes over on PlayStation or Nintendo consoles and PC or Mac).

While fans were excited at the prospect of FIFA taking on its more ethereal rival, developer Masamichi Shimizu’s team’s pre-match publicity campaign has veered into the realm of incompetence.

An animated dribbler dropped a bundle of coins and gold, and even used a chemical smell to suggest some kind of hidden treasure. The team’s name was later printed onto the field of play, alongside the slogan: “Let the cold playing snow fall.”

Inflatable swans

Ever since soccer and cricket moved the goalposts and other moving objects were removed from the pitch, a significant number of videos have been uploaded online.

While FIFA simulators provide an understanding of the rhythm of the game and bring back the element of threat and pace, eFootball 2022 attempts to add excitement to the often ordinary spectacle by causing human players to fall off their feet.

An illustrator clad in a football jersey rescues a floored player. Credit: MC2 Japan Co., Ltd. / NHK

Appropriately, the game’s marketing team drew on the idea of refereeing the pitch to give their final line of defense a high-tech edge.

One animated commentator implored the players to “cleantrain” — all the wind on their sleeves; all the inertia off their feet. An animated mascot even added an ironic dose of Japanese poetry to the proceedings, in order to pacify upset fans on social media.

Matsui Ikeko Photographer / Flickr

It looks like they may have misjudged the response.

Even if a talent scout were to sign up a lineup of the game’s best virtual footballers, the futility of eFootball 2022 becomes apparent within minutes of the first game taking place.

Handball and tackles — both primary through-lines for matches — are rendered impossibly slow due to the fact that if you looked closely, you’d see people doing some very strange things to the ball.

Dioramas filled with movement

A novice like me might struggle to tell the difference between a soft-handed passing midfielder and an artisanal in-goal attacker. However, those more familiar with professional soccer might have a much harder time distinguishing between a passing midfielder and an energetic forward who has sacrificed his mobility for the sake of space.

The incredible difficulty of this exercise is apparent in the game’s third match: a dramatic, sometimes hilarious drama between over-the-top icons on the field of play.

Unable to control the ball in the center circle, one player pops out from behind a giant water balloon to try and play for control. In the nearby corner, a bovine-like character mimics a series of slow-motion jump shots, capped off by a cross that actually finds its way to a midfielder.

A simulation of something to happen on the pitch. Credit: Konami

It feels more of a case of “This is football, but they could have taken it seriously.”

Per-formances like these are the only highlights on show during the game. The presentation is laughably awkward and surreal, with lovable “raving soapers” offering commentary. Like a global equivalent of Japanese anime, there’s a sense of a world outside the world of football.

This surrealistic, manga-like production value and the heavy (and often inappropriate) usage of emojis draw a clear line between this absurd sport and other alien and imaginary endeavors on the internet.

The game’s makers are clearly trying to create the ideal digital soccer — an alternative to the more realistic version. Unfortunately, the e-people just don’t seem to be cut out for it.

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