IHF Handball Challenge 14 – Review
Neither fans of Handball nor video games will derive any pleasure from this uninspiring and sluggish simulation of one of the worlds most exciting and athletically explosive sports.
IHF Handball Challenge 14 gets few aspects of handball right, making the entire package near impossible to recommend to even the most die-hard of handball fans.
For the uninitiated, Handball is the closest sport the world has to The Bitmap Brothers violent futuristic cyperpunk sport Speedball. Handball, just like speedball, is a fast paced contact sport mainly popular in Europe.
The bulk of the game is standard sports game-fare, the now staple in all sports games – career mode, where you create a player and battle from the lowest leagues upwards, hoping to get a move to a big club or drive a lowly team to glory. Once you’ve created a player from rudimentary body types you’ll be thrust into the laughable tutorial. The tutorial stumbles at the very first hurdle in its job of actually educating you in playing the game. Taking place while playing a warm-up game, you’ll be prompted to perform various moves, sprint, pass, shoot etc. However, ridiculously, since you are playing a friendly game against another team, once they have the ball you’ll be left frustrated by being unable to gain possession of the ball. Left dumbfounded you’ll either wait for the opposition team to score, lose possession of the ball or quit the tutorial altogether.
Sadly, once you proceed past the tutorial nothing gets a whole lot better. Playing the computer is lacking in all areas. Every lifeless team you’ll play for or against lacks variety. Teams perform the same basic passing patterns and line up each shot almost identically every time. However, knowing how teams perform, pass and play will give you no insight into how to beat the opposition. Dispossessing and intercepting the ball is near impossible, though to be fair, this is true in handball and is as close to simulating the game as IHF gets. This inability to dispossess and intercept the ball leads to nothing but frustration and you’ll be left waiting for the opponent to make a mistake so as you can get possession of the ball.
With the single-player’s problems, it’s tempting to turn to multiplayer but unbelievably in the connected age we live in, online multiplayer is not an option. Local multiplayer is available, yet still hampered by many of the same issues that plague single player play. It would have been nice to have had penalty shoot-outs or scenario options, but the game does well in a local competitive multiplayer mode in spite of its barebones nature. If there is some entertainment and joy to be garnered, local multiplayer is where it will be found, even if that is in the face of all the problems the game throws at you.
Annoyingly the commentary is just plain bad. Commentary comes courtesy of Magnus Wislander and Bob Hanning and they call the actions with very little personality. Now I feel bad saying this as it is audibly obvious that the commentary team are talking in a non-native tongue. Even giving leniency for this, comments are repetitive and inane but the commentary team, mainly the the co-commentator, often mumbles his words, making it very difficult to understand what the hell he’s talking about.
But all of the above could be somewhat forgiven if IHF Handball Challenge ‘14 delivered exciting gameplay. Unfortunately, it does not. Simply put, the game is a total mess. Player control in offensive passage is unacceptable with actions feeling disconnected from actual controls. A couple a standard passes and shots are available but the game lacks the inventiveness, zip and urgency of its real world counterpart. As awkward as attacking is, defense is somehow even worse. Intercepting opposition passes is haphazard and your best tactic in defense is to do nothing. Offer a solid defensive line and wait for the opposition to be penalised for passive play. The less said about Goalkeeper control, the better; Goalie control exists, but in what form I’m yet to discover.
Sadly, worst of all is the game’s weak AI, especially fellow team mates. For the most part you’ll feel totally alone, as if you are the only player in your team on the pitch. Burst forward in a decisive counter-attack and before you know it you’ll be isolated, looking for a pass, with your teammates still defending or dawdling up the pitch.
It is hard not to notice how the FIFA series has influenced the game. Menu structure, loading screens, player creation and progressive player skill unlocks all reek of FIFA. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes I understand that, but IHF Handball is a copy of a copy of a copy and as a result it has stunted its own look, so top to bottom feels lifeless and very very drab. Player textures flicker, look unfinished, while players animations are stiff, with players that rarely look in contact with the ball or the floor.
Bad commentary, poor graphics, and basic modes in a sports game can be overlooked when the gameplay is exciting and captivating, but IHF Handball challenge 14 falls short. The tiny bit of fun you’ll have in local multiplayer will be dwarfed by the frustrations springing from its weak controls. Additionally, the lack of modes means the game features almost no replayability. Neither fans of Handball nor of video games will derive any pleasure from this uninspiring and sluggish simulation of one of the world’s most exciting and athletically explosive sports.