Here we go again. The sun starts shining, the roads get clogged up with caravans and the vast majority of middle aged men decide that tight fitting lycra, stupid shoes and the shaving of their body hair would be the best look for the summer. It also means the Tour de France is in town.
Now, before I begin, I must point out that Le Tour 2016 will be the go-to game for fans of the iconic bike race for yet another year. That means we’ll have licensed teams, properly named riders and team kits which portray a real world feel. It also means that the videogame version of the Tour will also, quite possibly, only be of interest to those who have a penchant for all things two wheeled. Luckily for you (and of course my wife), I’m one of those such guys. In fact, you’ll find that I take a huge interest in all things cycling and will happily sit for hours watching mind numbing bike races unfold for hours, before bursting into action over the last couple of hundred metres. Therefore, chances are I’m going to love the Tour no matter what.
Except that from the very off, the inclusion of stupid made up rider names will put any self respecting bike enthusiast on the back foot. Yes, there is an editor, but I don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to bother changing a ton of names just for the sake of it. Whilst it may seem like a trivial thing, without those rider names, Le Tour de France 2016 could just be any other old cycling title.
Other than the bad start, Le Tour de France 2016 should still, in theory, be hugely suited to me. Unfortunately, much like the real world races, it can be damn boring and unless you’re in my little two wheeled gang, should probably not even bother giving it a download. But then I guess it’s trying to bring a high level of realism to our lives, giving us the chance to compete for that coveted yellow jersey. No matter how much we wish it didn’t.
You see, there are fine lines between realism, detail, enthusiasm, fun and downright monotony. Lines which Le Tour crosses far too often. In fact, something which it crosses every two minutes because for the most part, it is mind numbingly tedious. But that’s not necessarily a problem that Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive have caused. Instead they actually need applauding for bringing a realistic cycling experience to our consoles. But much like a cricket, fishing or farming simulator game, there ain’t a lot that can be done with an already numb subject.
Anyways, I digress. Let me get back into the actual game.
As you would expect the Tour is replicated in decent fashion. The correct stages for 2016 are all in place and the profile maps come out pretty damn close to what we should be expecting to witness in the real world. There are a few of the 21 stages which have had a bit of an artistic interpretation added to them, but, to a degree, I’m fine with that. It’s not like I’m hardcore enough to say I know each and every twist and turn of each and every stage. As long as the important ones like the Grand Depart, the conclusion round the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the climbs of Mont Ventoux and the Col du Tourmalet are included and fine to look at, then I’m happy.
Yes the visuals could still be better, and in a world in which numerous other Tour titles have released over the years, it would be nice to be able to say that the 2016 version is now giving the Xbox One a bit of a technical test. But it’s not and still the fans at the side of the road look average at best whilst the glorious scenery doesn’t ever make you sit back and want to take it in. Thankfully though, the riders themselves look better than before and are much more than acceptable than in previous iterations. However, yet again they seem to run on huge rails with little animation included – something which is especially noticeable when turning round a bend. In fact, other than seeing a mass of legs bang up and down a million times, there is very little to say about how the characters ride other than the left to right sway that accompanies them tends to remind me of Pole Position from 1982. It’s a bit of a terrible sight seeing a bunch of sprinters all jostle for position by banging into each other for 200km at a time, but until a full visual and gameplay overhaul comes about, then I think we’re going to be stuck with the same old mechanics for years to come.
One thing that the generic riders do possess though is the ability to stop at speed. And I mean really stop – dead in their tracks. Whether you’re pulling the brake lever with gusto, or daring to veer off the tarmac and onto the side of the track, when your team of riders decides to halt, stop they will. In the most hilarious way. You would therefore expect that a huge mass rider pile up would also make them think about progressing down the stage, but as yet I’ve not seen or been able to instigate a crash scenario so can’t comment on whether it is possible or not to send riders flying. Much like in F1 and MotoGP, bunch crashes are part of the charm of the sport and so it’s disappointing to not be able to action them. In fact, after spinning across many kilometres of tarmac, only twice have I managed to make my rider fall from his stead…and then it’s all done in a way that is so basic and laughable that it shouldn’t have a place in a 2016 video game.
What has been included nicely though is a tactical edge that will need to be utilised should you wish to come out as the stage winner, king of the mountains, sprint champ or overall yellow jersey winner. As the team leader, or anyone else who cares to deliver an order for that matter, you can get your team to press at tempo, cover a teammate or chase down the breakaway with ease. You can also fast forward the really boring bits, only deciding to take control as you come up to a Cat 1 climb or fast paced sprint. It certainly helps to take the monotony out of things, but if you’re hoping that means you can sit down and blast through a section within a matter of minutes, then regrettably it doesn’t allow for that.
You can also switch between teammates at any opportunity so when you find your team leader running low on energy with no gels left to allow him to attack, a swift change to a rider who is much less likely to bonk on the climbs is possible. How long they stay gelled up and in the zone though is up to you. If you’re anything like me you’ll normally be sat there praying that his energy levels hold on as that final summit is crested.
Controls wise, Le Tour yet again does away with anything too complicated, allowing for a few button presses to establish whether you wish your rider to scoot along at peloton pace, attack up a mountain or get into the most aerodynamic position possible for the long descents. A racing style arrow tells you when you’re going too fast or too slow for a corner and the option to hold the X button constantly so you may sit on the wheel of the guy in front is the easy way out. There’s even an auto mode that simplifies things even more should you so wish and ensures that Le Tour de France 2016 requires little skill and is far from riveting.
That is something which is no more true than when checking out the full Tour mode, something which is nice to see but in reality is pointless. Yes, we couldn’t really have a Tour de France game that doesn’t cover the Tour in full, but unless you’re some kind of manically crazed thigh rubbing nutter, will find that once you’ve attempted a couple of stages, it all begins to blur into each other. The fast forward option that I spoke about earlier will be key to your sanity throughout the Tour, but chances are you’ll rarely find the need to simulate the race in its entirety. Thankfully custom races, custom tours and numerous one hit challenges are in place for those who wish to check out a bit of bike riding but in a shorter format. These are an absolute god send, not just because they deliver in short, acceptable bursts, but because without them, everything would be hugely disappointing.
The inclusion of a Pro Team mode sounds pretty exciting, especially when you think how popular something like FIFA’s Ultimate Team is, but that unfortunately just expands on what we see in the usual Tour, with it turning into nothing more than a team building exercise and objective hitter. It’s nice to be able to load your team up with some of the best riders from around the world (at least it is once you’ve changed their names), but it’s all a bit of a lengthy process that many will probably decide isn’t worth the hassle.
Just remember though, no matter what option you decide to go with and no matter whether you’re battling through the Tour, participating in the Criterium du Dauphine, last year’s Tour or any of the few races which have been included, you’ll find nothing but a generic race, carrying generic riders over a ton of generic miles for far too many hours. And that really isn’t a great deal of fun.
You could of course decide to forgo the stale solo experience and try to inject some much needed competition into things with a friend, and the addition of both competitive and cooperative options for local players to get involved in is nice to see, but I struggle to see how anyone would want to settle down long term, pedalling their way through the split screen action. Admittedly though, split screen challenge mode is damn good fun and well worth playing through.
So, as that middle aged lycra clad man from hell, am I able to recommend Le Tour de France 2016? In fact, should you be buying the 2016 version over any of the, infinitely cheaper older versions? Well, if you must have the latest version and are enthused about replicating the real world action, then yes, it’s worth buying. Just. But don’t expect anything that is a massive improvement over last year’s effort. It is a slight upgrade though and I’ve got my fingers crossed that come 2022, we will be seeing a Tour title that blows me away.
That will happen. Won’t it?
Related: Let’s Play Le Tour de France 2016 on Xbox One!