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It's easy to call yourself the ‘FIFA-killer’ and dress up as champion of justice against the gaming establishment. Not that there isn't a need for that: Ultimate Team is always in the eye of the storm and with EA Sports FC it risks getting even worse, eFootball has so far shown its will to become an alternative but is not up to par yet, and then there’s FIFA coming along with its weird "e-game" nonsense.

UFL, so far, has been the challenger that has most credibly launched itself in the pursuit of the giants of soccer video games. However, a new gameplay video showing footage from an alpha build of the title clearly reminds us of how the road to topple these brands is more complicated and rocky than fans could’ve ever imagined.

First of all, the delays. UFL was expected to launch last year and has been postponed to a later date, with a release window generically set for 2023 – and we can now only assume it’ll be around the beginning of the next season, this Summer.

UFL’s gameplay video opens with a warning: the "new animation system" is still being "polished," and therefore it’s apparently not featured in this video, despite the game being relatively close to launch.

It follows, clearly, that any early judgment regarding today's UFL could be overturned when this animation system is finally introduced, hopefully in time for release. As things stand, this addition must lead to a re-evaluation, because the current state highlights how lacking the animations are in all respects.

Players are very stiff, remaining practically standing still even when they should express their maximum effort, and transitions that should illustrate the movement from one state to another are almost completely absent.

This is particularly evident when kicking or heading, with bodies failing to convey the force exerted to get the ball into the goal – resulting, comically enough, in very powerful headers from outside the penalty area unexpectedly reaching the goalkeeper, without us being aware of it from a formal point of view.

Similarly, the athletes keep taking the ball away from each other without any proper collisions, so there really aren't any impacts between them – there are only light contrasts on the ball and side changes, and tackling and interceptions are nowhere to be seen.

These two problems could actually be resolved in the beta phase, when presumably the new animation system will be introduced, but quite worrying signals also come from the shots: we have practically only seen one single type of shot all the time, despite claims in the last months there would be a variety of them. Needless to say, this has been far more complex and nuanced in FIFA games for ages.

One thing we’ll need to check in person is how defenses will be able to face long high balls and through balls: in fact, defenders seem to get into trouble too easily. Just like it happened with the latest FIFA iteration, we could already have a first UFL meta on our hands even months away from release.

A soccer ball on the pitch.

There is no doubt about the passion of UFL's developers, and the alpha footage has its charms.

A great deal of attention seems to have been placed on the skill system, with a consistent depth in all the tricks available which can already be perceived from these few minutes. Although overused in this video, sole taps seem to have a real impact on the direction of the ball, and it’s nice how they can really open a passing line or a space for you to move in.

As for the graphics, it’s an alpha build from the first ever free-to-play game of a new indie developer, so we’ll have to always keep that in mind going forward. And it’s all as expected: the stadium is always in the background and the audience blurred in a predictable choice, so as not to expose the production values which will never be able to rival the most prolific competitors. Players’ faces, despite being generic, manage to avoid the annoying "default face" effect we have been used to from EA Sports over many years and offer a decent degree of variety, at least.

Overall, Strikerz Inc. seems to be aiming at the overly spectacular and dynamic gameplay from FIFA and eFootball’s extreme (if too slow) simulation. Should they be successful in this effort, it could prove interesting for soccer fans, as the two big franchises have been polar opposites so far, and there’s been a lack of middle ground between them over the years.

At the moment, though, UFL seems a little too light and rough, so we’ll need to get back and re-evaluate it once these new animations flesh out the package, on top of checking business models and gameplay modes when it’s ready for launch.