A handball simulation is a game built for a very specific target audience. How well can this niche sport fare compared to the likes of football, ice hockey and basketball? Not very well, as you're about to find out...
Requiring only 4.6 gigabytes, it's no indie game we're installing on our Xbox One, at least not judging by the price. Handball 16 will set you back £55/€65 on Xbox One and PS4, a price tag that suggests great production values, a detailed and deep sports simulation. Unfortunately, the game is not very good... and that's putting it mildly.
Handball is very much a full-contact sport. Much like ice hockey, it plays quickly, with plenty of end to end running and lots of fouls (largely because there are only short penalties). The ball is small, bloody hard, and it's thrown even harder. In short, it's actually a good basis for a digital realisation. Afterall, it's like an old school version of Speedball.
Unfortunately, the video game incarnation of the sport is a little bit limited. Obviously there wasn't enough money to make something really great; Handball 16 comes across as a low budget offering. The logo and the whole interface looks like it's been drawn in Corel Draw back in 2002. The game characters seem to be made from the same collection of six models. The commentary is virtually identical in every match and extremely generic. There are exactly two camera settings for the court. They also haven't invested in alternative sets of team jerseys, so you sometimes have to play games with two sides dressed almost the same as there's no alternative kit. Chaos is inevitable.
We created a player and got stuck into the career mode. The SV Henstedt-Ulzburg Frogs were one of three German teams that we were allowed to choose from. This was disappointing because in solo matches you can also choose other teams. If you want other teams in the career mode you have to wait for a job offer. The mode isn't all that different from playing a full season (the other game mode). You can also level up your avatar, but this makes little difference to the underlying feel of the game.
The six handballers move, more or less, towards the opponent's goal. They pass the ball looking for a gap through which they might score. There are a few throw variants, you can also dodge and initiate body fakes. The gameplay is simple, miles away from the finesse that FIFA 16 or Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 show in terms of game control these days. On the other hand this ensures that this is a relatively simple affair, and sometimes it can be fun. The top teams of course play a little faster and smarter, their players scoring with more ease than the teams from a second league.
The graphics would probably have been somewhat convincing back in 2002, but nowadays they feel completely outdated. The animations are generic, repetitive, and look stilted. The players from the featured teams are not individually captured, instead they're only shown in the team photo pre-game. The virtual character is, at best, somewhat similar to their real life counterpart, this as far as you can tell given the distance between the camera and the players on screen. This will take away some of the potential pleasure for handball fans wanting to get the feeling of playing with their sporting heroes.
The game might spoil you with achievements, handed out for completing simple tasks, but this in itself isn't a convincing reason to play the game. An online mode is also available; we would have liked to play a round or two, but there was nobody there. We let the matchmaking search for a long time. A very long time actually. No-one came calling. Handball is obviously not that popular among video game players. You might want to get stuck into local multiplayer against a friend, anything to replace the dull AI, where each match follows a similar pattern, the moves are predictable, and it's not long before nothing surprises you.
We don't know how anyone can seriously ask full price for such a game. The licenses can't be that expensive, even with respective top two leagues from Germany, Spain, France and Denmark being included. The technology is outdated thus the production costs can't have been that high. The attention to detail that's been paid (or not, as the case may be) can't be the reason for the premium pricing. Handball 16 is a generic game, one which aims to collect a maximum amount of money from a very narrow target audience. Had Bigben Interactive brought it out as a download title for £15/€20 this would have been an entirely different matter, but at full price this bland offering is a borderline rip-off.