The Tour de France. A long, exhausting endurance race carried out over hundreds upon hundreds of miles. It’s a slow, tactical slog where an individual rider isn’t as important as the team as a whole. Many riders won’t make the end, some will get bogged down in a group of six thousand other riders and not have the chance to run their own race and others will be in crashes on day one and never even reach the interesting parts of the tour. In other words, it sounds like an awful idea for a video game. Interestingly, this year’s Tour de France game is more or less as bad as the idea behind it, and it’s for a range of reasons which weren’t all unavoidable.
What probably is entirely unavoidable is the problems which arise from this being a cycling simulator. As you’d expect from a race where a single stage can take over an hour, you can’t just go flat out for the entire way in the same way you might in a motor racing title. You’ll spend huge amounts of time just cycling gently along, following a pack of other riders while carefully conserving your energy to make sure you’ve got enough left in your legs to do something useful later on. You can select which gear to use, send instructions to your team and tuck yourself in during downhill sections to pick up speed while preserving your energy. All of these things help to reduce the feeling that you’re spending hours essentially holding down the pedal button and watching the scenery roll by, but not by much.
Occasionally you get chance to hammer another button to get out of the saddle and give it some beans; it might be a sprint section of the stage to win extra points or the end of a race in an attempt to cross the line first. Maybe you’re just bored of riding with the others and want to break out to the front for a while, just before dropping back again to get your energy back up. At times like this you’d expect to see a few crashes – riders falling off, sending each other sprawling in knee-tearing pile-ups or going off the road into a nearby tree. But none of these will happen, not because of your stunning riding skills but because there’s little to no hit detection, and any bumping into riders or scenery just sees you nudged in the right direction again to carry on with no ill effects. In fact if you try really hard to get off the road, the game gets hilariously confused and doesn’t know how to deal with it. The developers clearly expected everyone to be interested in sticking to the road.
Despite this being THE Tour de France game released this year, the developers don’t have the full license for the rider names, meaning you get a Pro Evo Soccer style bending of names into bizarre and amusing variations of those that you may or may not recognise. You can edit the names yourself if you want which sis a welcome addition for big fans, but it’s a shame they couldn’t have been right from the start.
There are some positive elements to the game believe it or not. Passing through a range of regions in England and France allows you to take in some of the nice scenery scattered around the routes that you follow, and although it doesn’t scream next-gen in terms of the visuals they’re pleasant to look at while you’re trying to find ways to pass the time holding R2. There’s also a potentially enjoyable Pro Team mode, where you can build your team up from scratch through a series of events, taking on better riders for your team over the course of several seasons to try and become the best. That does, however, mean you have to do a lot of races. Long races. Either way though the tactics remain in place, and that’s what keeps this away from the “massive bag of cack” pile of games and safely in the “whatever” category: the fact that there’s a niche audience who will genuinely enjoy this.
It’s hard to criticise Tour de France on being what it is, due to the fact it was clearly designed for huge fans of cycling to get a glimpse into what it’s like to ride in the tour, enjoying the tactics, team instructions and intense battling performed by the riders. But for most gamers this kind of thing just doesn’t make an amazing gaming experience. You can save your race whenever you want, but that just means you’ll need 10 short sessions to get through a single stage, and the full tour has loads of the things. Playing a standard racing game then switching to this is a bit like watching the Olympic 100m final, then changing over to the walking event. Yes the latter sport has skill, technique and a definite set of tactics and methods behind it, but it’s not the most exciting thing to replicate in digital form. The same goes for Tour de France: the ideas are there, and fans might enjoy the purity and accuracy afforded in some areas of the game, but it’s buggy and long winded enough to put off the vast majority of gamers out there.
Unless you’re a massive fan of professional cycling (and can add 2 to the score below), I’d stay clear of this. It’s a huge shame and could’ve raised the profile of the sport, but it’s only going to please those who already know what it’s all about.
Reviewed on PS4