Handball 17 Review (PC)
It's always pleasing to see virtually underrepresented sports getting full-blown game releases in this day and age. In the case of Handball 17, the game marks the second iteration of a re-branded series that got off to a disappointingly rocky start 12 months ago, suffering a generally negative reception from critics and fans alike.
Unfortunately, this year's version isn't the definitive handball simulation we were hoping for. Its many downsides far outweigh the handful of positives, resulting in a game that doesn't live up to its costly price tag.
Gratification isn't easily gained by playing Handball 17, but it's found in surprising abundance when a well crafted attacking move is pulled off to perfection. It's easy enough to build offense with quick-fire passing when it works correctly, and the game accurately rewards you with an increased chance of scoring when creating space this way. Subsequent attempts at goal are pulled off with ease due to the simple and intuitive nature of shooting, which actually feels a little too easy to master.
Handball 17 is a somewhat entertaining game when it functions as intended, but those moments are few and far between. Attacking the goal can be a horrendously frustrating task on occasion, largely due to unbreakable defensive push-back animations that render players temporarily inoperable. Defending is worse, highlighting flawed mechanics that only occasionally work in your favor. The lack of an effective player-based collision system or intelligent teammate AI allows for opposing players to inexplicably breeze through your defensive setup on a semi-regular basis. This can be negated to a degree by spamming the "interfere" button, but it merely acts as a band-aid to paper over the cracks of a poor system.
There are a host of additional irritations and bugs littered throughout the game. Most of them relate to ball physics and the mechanics that surround them, resulting in scenarios in which the ball can get stuck, players struggle to retrieve it on the ground, and easy passes fail to reach completion. The latter is particularly prominent when playing with lesser-quality teams, where players have a tendency to let the ball slip through their fingers from close quarters.
This is a basic game at heart, but its intelligent implementation of the handball rule book, a fair refereeing system, and the ability to take advantage of official licenses elevate it above the confines of a generic sports title. Yet, the potential of generating further depth is stifled due to the numerous faults that plague the game on a match-by-match basis. As a result, there's very little in the way of tactical elements or gameplay diversity, and it all starts to feel a bit shallow before long.
The primary career mode in Handball 17 is a bare-bones affair, but there's just enough depth to retain your interest on a temporary basis. It allows you to customize a player and embark on a career in which upgrades can be unlocked and other teams seek to recruit your services. It's ultimately disappointing that you're locked to the entire team rather than your chosen star in this mode, and its limited depth and immersion won't satisfy your needs in the long term.
Elsewhere, there's a generic season mode that largely serves as a form of stat tracking and little else. There's also local and online play, and while I wish I could discuss the latter in further detail, I sadly gave up my quest to find a public match on PC after many hours of searching.
Visually, Handball 17 is reminiscent of a low-budget creation of years gone by, and while it certainly fails to dazzle, a suite of primarily realistic animations allow the game to flow in a natural manner when it's firing on all cylinders. Despite this, the graphical package as a whole lacks significant detail, and it pales in comparison to similar niche titles such as this year's Casey Powell Lacrosse 16.
In the audio department, the game suffers from "hit-and-miss" syndrome. There are some impressive crowd sound bites that populate each fixture, but they're drowned out by wooden commentary that also suffers from a lack of diversity. It isn't long before you've heard everything the game has to offer, and you might be reaching for the mute button once the repetition kicks in.
If Handball 17 had been released a few years ago at a reasonable price point, it would have staked a claim for a purchase. At this point in time, it feels too dated and lacking in depth to attract anyone but the most passionate of handball fans. Even then, they'll need to dig deep to find the appeal in an all-too-often flawed experience that fails to match its extortionate asking price. Short bursts of satisfaction highlight this series' potential, but it won't be truly realized unless major improvements are made by this time next year.