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The First Look of UFL fails to impress

It’s been a long time since we had a third soccer/football game attempting to coexist with EA’s FIFA and Konami’s PES/eFootball. I honestly can’t think of a publisher trying to get involved since Ubisoft’s Pure Football back in 2010. But a Belarussian studio is trying to do it with their upcoming game, UFL. We got a (very) brief look at it and there are still way too many questions that need answering.

What exactly is UFL?

Announced last August on the eve of Gamescom, we heard that a studio called Strikerz Inc was developing a soccer game that they labeled as ‘Fair to play’. This was clearly a dig at the perception that EA’s best players are only so because they spend the cash.

The presentation we got today (which I’ve linked above if you missed it) goes in a few directions. They start by briefly explaining their reasons for making UFL and a bit of information on their studio. After that, we see some motion-capture work, gameplay descriptions, club partnerships, athlete ambassadors including Cristiano Ronaldo. 

They close it out with a 90-second teaser that shows maybe 10 seconds of on-pitch action, a few animated cut scenes, and the game’s early UI. For a presentation lasting just over 15 minutes, I don’t know how many people left it feeling impressed or confident in the product.

An aerial shot of West Ham's stadium from the game, UFL

Vague on Purpose

The timing for this video is odd. Between August and now, no one was talking about UFL. The early buzz worked because it was when EA was prepping for FIFA 22 and Konami was dropping their beta for their shambles of a product. I wish they released this last Fall when the early buzz for FIFA 22 wore off and eFootball was getting delayed.

The video briefly talks about the studio but we don’t really learn too much. This is a young studio with no other releases to their name. They mention some earlier studios, one of which is Vizer Games, which specializes in games for Eastern Europe. A quick scan on LinkedIn and you’ll notice that staffers have worked at studios such as Gameloft, Wargaming, and even EA. At least we know these are not just enthusiasts hoping to make a quick buck.

But the rest of the information didn’t interest me. Ronaldo, being the face of the game is nice, until you realize he’ll shill for just about any product for the right amount of money. With how they announced things in this presentation, they should have probably done a series of smaller lead-up videos over this one long one.

Online focus

One of the areas where they talked a lot was about online play. This is where they are trying to earn their audience. From the host’s description, it definitely sounds like their want to reward the dedicated player and focus on fair match-making where a player’s skill with the controller determines the match-winner. Unfortunately, online play is something you have to show and not tell. If their match-making mechanics work correctly, then it could be a lot of fun. If it doesn’t pan out as they say, then the game will die very quickly.

Unfortunately for me, I hate playing online. I got so frustrated with FIFA 21 that I only played a couple of online games in FIFA 22. IF UFL is an online-only experience, I don’t think I’ll ever pick up and try it out. Part of the reason I haven’t bothered keeping up with eFootball‘s Early Access is that it’s pretty much just an online-only game.

If UFL is an online-focused game, it’s odd that they didn’t bother to highlight working with eSports gamers in developing the matchmaking and their online system. It might be too early to discuss it in too much detail, but it’s something that could help earn some early support. They are definitely some free-agent online soccer/football gamers who they could bring in as consultants to help shape the online experience. Thankfully, there is still plenty of time to bring them on.

An animated cutscene from UFL showing players walking onto the pitch

More information in the future

They say they’ll release the game when it’s ready but are still penciling 2022 as their launch year. With the club and player partnerships, they will have to get a game out soon or they lose the perks of having them. In the meantime, I think they need to keep a consistent flow of information to keep the game in people’s minds. Also, they must release a playable alpha/beta over the summer to attract the FIFA audience which will probably be dying down before the launch of FIFA 23 (or whatever EA calls it).

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