For those of us who love our cycling, the Tour De France is the pinnacle of the sport. It’s a time when men from around the world don their lycra, hop on their stupidly expensive bikes and battle it out across 21 stages for the right to be named champion of the Tour. The world has gone cycling crazy the last few years and what was once a bit of an overlooked sport, tarnished with drug taking and cheating from all corners, has turned into one of the biggest watched events the world over. The Tour De France encapsulates everything good, bad, beautiful and ugly about the sport and with the release of Tour De France 2015, the same can be said of the videogame.
Although being honest, we can leave the good and beautiful to one side as the game is full of the bad…and the ugly.
Tour De France 2015 the videogame starts off fine, with some fast visuals highlighting the best moments of the race ahead, firing fancy graphics flashing across the screen in an attempt to get the blood rushing and push our enthusiasm sky high. It isn’t long however before we get thrown into a boring old menu system that urges us to pick between taking on Le Tour, creating a Pro Team or competing in a number of downhill challenges.
Whilst you’ll initially want to jump straight into the Tour, the smart money goes to those who learn the way of the rider in the warm up section. A bog standard tutorial, you’ll be put through your paces as you learn how to ride on a flat, ride up a hill and back down it again. The ever helpful but supremely posh old English commentators (where the hell did they get those guys from), will also give tips on how to tactically get your team working together and exactly what all the gumpf on screen is actually for. Seasoned riders will no doubt already be up to speed with everything that is taught in the tutorial, but if you haven’t checked out a Tour game before, then you’re probably best to have a little look to get your bearings.
And then you can fire yourself headlong into the Tour proper and whether you decide to take on a single route, a shortened Tour or the whole shabang, much of what you’ll be subjected to will play out the same.
Unfortunately, things really start to go downhill from this moment forward.
The Tour De France 2015 should, in as many ways as possible, attempt to replicate the real world Tour down to a tee. With all the real teams in place, it comes as a massive surprise to see numerous riders missing; instead replaced by ‘humourous’ monikers. This seems to have afflicted the Brits, with Team Sky in particular being hit hard. Thankfully an included name editor lets us change M.Civendash to at least pretend that the Manc Rocket, Cav, has made his way to the virtual world. However, with plenty of riders needing to be swiped by the edit brush, only those fully ingrained in the cycling way of life will even bother.
We are then treated to an overview of the stage ahead, but yet again, nine times out of ten, the stage plan doesn’t match up with what we should be seeing during June 2015; with the lie of the land and even the stage distances being some way off their real world matchups. With a lack of official riders and the stages seemingly being treated to a bit of an artists impression, this quickly turns the Tour de France 2015 from something that covers the world’s greatest cycling race into just any old generic cycling game.
Something which hits it hard yet again.
For no matter how hard developers try, cycling just doesn’t transfer itself to the videogame scene all that well. Whilst racers that involve engines require huge degrees of skill to keep complete control, stick a non-specific man on a non-specific bike and nothing more than a hold of the RT button is required to make him go forward. Braking is near on non-existent as it’s much easier to wall ride round the corners instead of slowing first. With invisible walls ensuring your rider doesn’t leave the confines of the tarmac, and very little slowdown occuring whenever he hits the sides, your fastest route from one point to the other is completed via RT and the occasional mash of the A button whenever you need to attack.
And whilst attacking the rest of the peloton and knowing when to participate in a breakaway is the key art to cycle racing, all you really need to worry yourself about is balancing your overall energy with your fatigue levels without blowing up. Manage to do that, and there is very little test on offer other than keeping your eyes open. Yes, you can control any of your team’s riders at any point in time, sending some of to keep a relay going or commanding others to sit in the peloton awaiting further instructions, but for the most part, you’ll find yourself sitting around, finger on RT or the autopilot equivalent, riding the wheel of the guy in front for as long as possible. Even if you do decide to control your rider yourself, the majority of what you do involved bouncing around, banging into one competitor after another as you attempt to create space. After many hours of gameplay and tons of attempts to instigate a crash, I’ve only ever managed to send other riders sprawling the once, all whilst I carried along on my merry oblivious way.
Thankfully, being able to fast forward through huge swathes of the race is a godsend. With the game keeping you fully in the loop to how your riders are doing in comparison to the other teams throughout, it’s easy enough to pause the game right from the get go and then watch it simulate itself until you’re a few kilometres away from the finish. All you then need to do is jump back on the saddle of your favourite rider and mash that A button until you get to the finish line. Occasionally, if you see the route has numerous climbs or sprints, then you may decide to participate in those as well, but with the yellow jersey being the main aim, and the green and polka dot tops mere side stories, the finish is really the only thing you should be worrying about…and much like the real world equivalent, that is about the only time you’ll find anything remotely interesting to bother about.
Aside from the main Tour mode, there is the option to create your own Pro Team, with the main riders from the UCI all being available to purchase for your small outfit. Entering the Criterium Int and earning cash will see you being able to transfer the better riders in, creating a who’s who of some of the world’s best peddlers. Depending on how well you do (or at least where your guys end up at the end), you’ll find an invite to the Criterium Du Dauphine and then eventually the Tour itself. You’ll need to grind through the early races though as only the best teams will be able to make it to the Tour proper and with measly amounts of cash coming your way unless you win the races hands-down, multiple seasons and numerous races will need to be completed before you can start even dreaming of seeing the likes of sprint king Marcel Kittel or ‘Bertie’ Contador riding for you. The Pro Tour is a strange one in itself because if you can see through the grind of several seasons, it brings more fun than the actual Tour itself.
As do the downhill summit challenges which bring something slightly different again to proceedings. Taking your one measly rider on a time trial journey should feel like a bit of an simple add-on, but the offers of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals being rewarded to those who break specified times, ensures that you’ll keep going back a few times in order to grab as many medals as you can. With challenges ranging in length from the super short 5km sprints, to slightly longer flat out TT’s, if there is anything more of a button masher available on Xbox One, then I’m yet to see it!
With visuals that would just about be decent back on the previous generation of gaming, and some of the most basic ‘allez, allez, allez’ shouts from the uninvolved bystanders, nothing about the Tour De France 2015 stands out. It is however infinitely better than the absolute tosh that was delivered a couple of years back with the 2013 version, but you still wouldn’t bother your best friend to play the local co-op with you this time round.
As a massive cycling fan who participates in the sport on a regular basis and religiously watches the Tour De France and other Grand Tours from around the world, I was hoping that cycling would finally be portrayed in a great light, with a great game. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that is something I won’t see in my lifetime!
And if that’s coming from a cycling nut, god knows what a hater of the sport will feel!