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I’ve never played an actual game of Handball in my life. Where I grew up, rural Wales, football and rugby were the main sports, as well as shearing sheep. And yes, we only sheared them. Handball is a relatively new sport that’s been gaining ground in Europe over the last few years, but it’s not very mainstream and you’ll struggle to find a match being played on terrestrial television. So, for most, Handball is an unknown sport.

Handball 21 aims to replicate the thrills of throwing a mini-football around a basketball-sized pitch. As I’ve never actually played Handball, I’m not sure how it translates. For the purpose of this review, I did watch a thrilling match between France and Denmark, but I’m still no expert on the sport.

What I can say is that Handball 21 is very awkward to play, and it’s probably not the best introduction to the sport if you’re a newcomer. The controls are mostly fine, with simple passes and shots being easy to pull off. The real issue comes with the flow of play, or should I say, the lack of it.

Each game starts with a throw-off and then it’s to the races. You pass the ball amongst your players while the opposition holds the defensive line outside the goalkeeper’s area. You’ve got to figure out how to squeeze a shot off amongst the mass of bodies to score a goal. Simple enough and this part of the game was actually OK, if a little bit uninspired.

But once you’ve taken your shot and the ball is in the opposition’s possession, the tables flip and you’re now defending, and this is where the ball-aches began. To defend you’ve got a few different controls, with each button instigating an action, whether that’s a block, a show, or a rush. Simple stuff, then. But you also have complete control over the defensive line, shown in-game by the left-stick icon. You drag this across the area and your dudes will move with it. If you want to control just one man and get him to do an action, you need to move the cursor to line up with his body, and then you can order him to do something. It’s weird and it didn’t sit right with me, but with the way Handball is actually played in real life, I can’t see how it could have been done any better. So, fair play to the developers for coming up with something, it’s just a shame that it’s not all that great.

What is great is the goalkeeping. Not because it works really well, but because the goalie may as well as have been sat in the crowd watching with everybody else, for all the good he was. It’s not unusual to see dozens of goals scored in a game of real-life Handball, and that’s the same in Handball 21, but I’m convinced it’s because every goalie has had a line and a toke before each game.

When the opposition takes a throw at goal, you get a chance to save by flicking the right stick in the direction shown on screen, and you can pair it with a button press for a light save or a heavy save. Nine times out of ten, the goalie would do a spazzy jump with his arms and legs thrown out while the ball mosied on into the net. He was useless. Or I was useless controlling him. Either way, I got some good laughs out of my coked-up keeper, but it didn’t help me win any matches.

Truth bomb coming in: I never actually won a single match. The only way I could win was by simulating a match. Am I just total shite at Handball 21? Or is Handball 21 just total shite at being a handball game? I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to go halves and accept my portion of the blame.

If you’re interested in Handball as a sport, my recommendation would be to go and find a local group to play with, when you’re actually allowed to be in groups, that is. Handball 21 doesn’t leave a great impression, at least not on newcomers.

Seasoned Handball fans who have suffered through the previous games, you’ve got a new game this year with lots of real-life players and teams, and this has been made for you and nobody else. Enjoy it, ya bloody weirdos.

Handball 21 PS4 Review
  • Overall - Bad - 4/10
    4/10
4/10

Summary

Handball 21 is not the game that Handball players have been waiting for, unfortunately. The developers have done the best they can with a sport that really has limited mainstream appeal, and perhaps just isn’t suited to video games in the same way the football, basketball, and other sports are.

Pros

  • It looks OK and the characters are well modelled
  • There are loads of official teams, leagues, and players, which should keep the hardcore fans happy
  • While the goalies are useless, they are at least hilarious

Cons

  • The flow of gameplay is mind-numbingly boring
  • Anything more than a basic pass or a basic shot and you’ll be clawing around your controller for the button combinations
  • Lacks pick-up-and-play accessibility

Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy

Reviewed using PS4 Pro.

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By Chris Harding

Chris has been writing about gaming news for far too long, and now he's doing it even more. A true PlayStation know-it-all, Chris has owned just about every Sony console that ever existed. Trophies are like crack to this fella. (Bronze trophies, that is - he only has one Platinum.)

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