In the past two decades, there hasn’t been a better time to put out a football game. eFootball is still in the process of gathering up its shattered reputation, and FIFA is boringly unchallenged. If you’re a football sim, particularly one that’s aiming for a touch of realism, then now’s your time.
Football Cup 2022 has chosen it’s moment well, then. But, as a debut it’s a bit of a Jonathon Woodgate. It turns up, gives away a penalty, let’s in a couple of goals and then gets sent off. It’s a game of football that’s as fluid as granite.
We barely know where to start. Presentationally, Football Cup 2022 isn’t the absolute worst. It’s interfaces are crisp, if a little simplistic, and you could imagine them doing a job on a PS2 era FIFA which is intended as a compliment. There’s even a Badges system for unlocking new kits. The music is more muzak, but we hardly expected a modern soundtrack licensed from dozens of artists.
If you squint, and nobody is moving, the matches don’t look too bad either. Football Cup 2022 looks faintly realistic. That all changes when the models move or the camera zooms in, of course. There’s something Goldeneye 64 about the characters, with their face-textures wrapped onto their faces like they’re clingfilmed.
It goes without saying that Football Cup 2022 has no licenses, so it does the Sensible Soccer thing of changing a letter or two in everyone’s names. It does a good job of this, actually: we’re enamoured with how Harry Kane is now Harry Kanu, like he’s been possessed by the spirit of Nwankwo. Teams are ‘Liverpool’ instead of Liverpool FC, with changes like the motto ‘We Never Run Alone’ written along the badge.
That said, for a game called ‘Football Cup 2022’ this is all decidedly 2019. Dele Alli is a regular in the England side. Dejan Lovren is playing in the heart of Liverpool’s defence. If there was one thing that would be easy to change and update, it would be the fake names, but Football Cup 2022 fails to make this simplest of amendments.
A similarly uncanny approach is taken to the game modes. You are offered various cups and leagues to play, including the Champions Cup (Champions League) and Europa Cup (confusingly, not the Europa League, but the Euros). Befuddlingly, instead of matching the structure of these competitions, which would have been easy to do, Football Cup 2022 makes a few bizarre decisions: it forces you to play the same teams every time, it skips any league formats and just plays a few knockout rounds (sometimes double-legged) and – most curiously of all – forces you to play a series of soccer-school style challenges before each tournament.
This last one runs throughout Football Cup 2022’s campaign and single-player modes. It’s obsessed with its own minigames, where you have to knock over ten-pins from free kicks, or tuck a penalty into the top bins. It certainly gives Football Cup 2022 it’s own identity. But that identity gets in the way of playing a flipping game of football.
What matters, though, is if Football Cup 2022 plays a satisfying game of kickball, and by golly it does not. From the kickoff, it’s abundantly clear that something is wrong.
Problem 1 is that it’s thuddingly slow. The latency from pressing a button and then seeing the action play out is the worst we’ve seen. You can be waiting a couple of seconds. Even a swift tap on the pass button still leaves you waiting. It has the curious effect of making you question whether the game has acknowledged the button press, so you press again or make a different decision. But, like an elephant, Football Cup 2022 remembers, and will play the pass even though you’ve changed your mind and gone for a run instead. It invites mistakes, simply because there’s no feedback about what you’ve done.
There’s no through ball, and you have to pass precisely to feet, or the ball will pass through your player, leaving you to clumsily switch player (erratic to the point of rage-quitting) and dance around the ball until the game realises you want it under your control. If you run with the ball, the rest of your team will run with you, as if you were the Borg and you’re controlling them through a hive mind. They will run into offside positions, which is fine, as there are no offsides.
Play against AI and they are disinterested ducks who have waddled onto the football pitch. You can run past them without any issue and then unleash your ‘win’ button, the LB-operated ‘trick’. If you get close to the goalie, they will rush you, and you can grab a guaranteed goal by tapping LB and scooping the ball over their head. It’s one of many cheese goals in the game, and there are no difficulty settings to make them more challenging.
Football Cup 2022 can feel like a weird half-remembered version of football. Throw-ins, for example: your players don’t approach you when you take a throw in. Instead, they stand in their kick-off formation, staying in their own half. So, you’re always throwing it backwards, building from the back. And since they don’t approach you, you have to absolutely hurl it to them, which is fine, because every one of your players is Rory Delap: they can chuck it as far as a goalkeeper can kick it. There are dozens of these weirdnesses throughout the messy lasagne of Football Cup 2022. You can’t substitute or make any tactical changes. The achievements are worded by someone taking the piss: things like ‘Shoot a corner’. It’s a travesty to play.
But we haven’t arrived at the most utterly confounding issue. Football Cup 2022 has no multiplayer. This is a single player game of footie, as if that’s something that should ever exist. No local, no online, just single-player tournaments that vaguely approximate the real world equivalents, preceded by weird challenges. We couldn’t even imagine embarking on a football game on a popular console without a multiplayer option. We’re still shaking our heads.
In a world where eFootball has crashed and burned, Football Cup 2022 could have taken its opportunity. But it’s crocked, about as likely to give you a game of football as Jack Wilshere. It’s unforgivably slow and clumsy, full of cheap goals and easy opponents with no difficulty settings. And to top it all off, it has no multiplayer. No multiplayer! Football Cup 2022 is almost aggressive in how much it doesn’t want you to play it.
You can buy Football Cup 2022 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S