I’m no sports game fan – hell, I’m no sports fan in general – but something about Handball 21 intrigued me. It looks to be a bit more of a rough and tumble sport compared to its foot counterpart, and so I was interested to see if the game could replicate this. While those of you out there who know the sport well will likely get on just fine here, i came away from my time with Handball 21 decidedly about as enthused as i came in; i.e not very.
It has the usual sport game visual flair, with some smartly presented menus and flashy TV-like presentation when moving through menus and in replays etc. In game action leaves a little to be desired though. Player models are, I’m sure, representative of the real players and teams, but they also look a little…uncanny valley for the most part. The action is viewed from high up and behind so it’s not too bad while playing, but the replays certainly don’t have the same flair as a Fifa (nor does the game have the same budget I’d wager, so this is to be expected).
Visuals aren’t everything, but unfortunately the gameplay isn’t really all that exciting either. I made a point to go and watch some of the real game as a comparison and, to be fair, DEVS have managed to pretty accurately capture the sport in terms of the gameplay options. It just feels a little too stilted at almost every turn. Attempt a jump shot too near the opposing teams defensive line and they won’t so much block us as nudge us backwards repeatedly until we’re over the line and they feel safe. When taking a shot you better hope it goes in as, aside from wanting to win, if we miss the ball will just aimlessly roll until one of the opposing team pick it up. I had to check this wasn’t a rule, but it appears that the AI just seem flummoxed by a loose ball for a few seconds. On two occasions did the shooting team repossess the ball, but otherwise we have a Bulls VS Lakers situation here. (Sorry, in-joke for one Tavern member).
Attacking at least gives us some control over our approach. We control the ball handler directly, with various pass and shooting options available. Take a jump, direct or spin shot and we get a brief slowdown to aim the cursor – this takes a little getting used to, but does let us pin point our shots once so.
Defence is a bit more underwhelming. Our team of five (and a keeper) hog it back to the defensive semi-circle as the opposing team approaches. Instead of controlling the players directly we use the stick to sweep a cursor over the team, with the various defence moves performed by the player nearest our cursor. Should the team get a shot on goal we’re again treated to a brief slowdown where we can flick the right stick to send the goalie towards the reticule. Again, these elements take some getting used to, though it’s always entertaining to see the keepers agility (this seems to perfectly match the real life players though, seriously, they are some bendy lads!).
Elsewhere there are little quirks of the systems that were good for a laugh; when the end of a half comes round the players all instantly swivel and start walking toward the team area, no matter what they were doing. This often sends the ball flying upwards at a rate of knots, and it just looks odd. Another example is…well, check out the video below:
In terms of modes there are; quickplay, League, and solo will be the main go-to’s. The first two are self explantory, while Solo tasks us with managing a team through a season. My Squad lets us customise a team to use in local and online multiplayer, while Challenges are rotating tasks to try and beat. The is also My Collection, a sort of FUT for Handball that lets us buy and sell player cards.
As someone wholly unfamiliar with Handball it’s perhaps expected that I might not quite get it, but despite a good few modes and teams to play with I can’t shake the feeling that even fans of the sport might come away underwhelmed with Handball 21 thanks to it’s stuttery, simplistic gameplay and lack of visual sheen.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.