Cycling is an expensive hobby. Not only do you have to buy the expensive bike, but you also need to kit yourself out in expensive lycra and with expensive shoes, whilst expensive energy gels will quickly become your friend.
If you’re a cyclist who likes gaming, then there is one more expensive purchase that you really do need to also consider. Your annual purchase of the official Tour de France video game. No matter how bad it is.
And that is the case again here as with the Tour hype beginning to rumble, Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studios have combined once more to deliver the 2017 version of Le Tour for all us cycling enthusiasts to enjoy. Or not as is normally the case, because without being too harsh, previous iterations haven’t exactly set the world on fire.
But have things changed for the better this year? Has the video game version of Tour de France actually become something that will not just appeal to cyclists, but also to the general gamer?
Um. No. Not really. Because if you’ve played previous games in the Tour de France series over the years then you’ll pretty much know what to expect with this one. Disappointment. Again.
In fact, very little has changed with TDF 2017 over either the 2016 or 2015 version – two editions which you can now pick up dirt cheap. It comes with the same poor visuals and mechanics, the same boring gameplay and the same despair that this is the best cycle based offering the gaming world can muster.
They are some new bits and bobs included, but at no point do they combine to make a game worthy of playing. I mean, it’s all well and good seeing amendments to the pace of the race, and stamina management, whilst those hard climbs and fast descents have been recalibrated to provide improved realism and immersion. It’s also great that tempo management is a key part of any team strategy, allowing you to drop opponents like never before. Hell, it’s even a bit of a bonus that we can modify the faked names and stats of our favourite riders and team rosters should we so wish.
But honestly? The latter of those options should never be required as real-world riders and teams should always be in a game that sells itself as the official game of Le Tour, whilst it must be said that stamina and tempo management is never going to sell a game to the masses.
But hey, it is what it is and as a hardcore cycling nut, I’m always going to be willing to give Tour de France 2017 a decent go. For my sins at least.
Tour mode is probably where most gamers will try and start, and not only is there a solo career, but you can play your way through it locally in either co-op or versus modes. You should be aware however that by doing either of the multiplayer options, you’re seriously limiting your achievement hunting options, with them being locked down completely for those who wish to play against another person. Why would that be? God only knows.
Whichever option you choose though, you’ll find no less than six different events and four testing difficulty levels for you to run through. Will you take in the Critérium du Dauphiné on Amateur, the Triptyque Tour as a Professional, L’International racing in Champion format or the whole damn Tour of 2017 as a Legend? The choice is yours, as is the opportunity to unlock and race through the 2016 edition of the Tour or the Circuit des Grimpeurs. At the end of the day, your decision will probably boil down to just how easy, or downright difficult you want to make things… and how much you can put up with the frustration and tedium that comes with it.
As with previous versions of the game, you’ll be tasked with choosing your team, and then attempting to take them to glory. Objectives will be your maker and your directeur sportif will happily try and push you along, hyping up the stages you are expected to compete near the front at, whilst downplaying matters when a stage appears that doesn’t suit your team. Whether you actually pay any attention to him or not, is completely up to you, and it matters little whether you hit these objectives or not. In fact, the only real reason you’ll want to bother with them is to earn a bit of XP and unlock three of the initially locked down races.
After scouting out the stage, hitting up the elevation charts and beginning to worry about the big climbs, hopping on your bike and preparing for the depart is your next port of call. With a hold of RT, you’ll successfully be able to move your rider forwards, whilst a bash of the A button sees him attack at tempo. Those will be your key button presses throughout the whole of Tour de France 2017, but you’ll need to be careful how often you do this as energy and stamina are critical to your race success. These can be replenished slightly by taking up an aero position for the downhills, whilst a couple of gels will see you gathering stock and getting ready to fire out a burst or two again. But on the whole, button mashing with a bit of a break is the way forward.
Should you bore of holding your forward motion button, you can even tag along with other riders, sticking things into auto and sitting back to try to enjoy the ride. With your designated rider following the exact path of those in front of you, automation can quite easily become your friend.
You can also drop in to team radio and command individual members of your squad, or the pack as a whole, to action specific techniques. You may wish them to hold in the peloton, push for a sprint section or go all out for those precious King of the Hill points and polka dot jersey. With the race pausing the second you open up the team comms, it’s a simple process to get your tactics and strategic calls straight.
It is also a simple process to jump into the shoes of a different team member, perhaps trying to save the day as one drops out of the peloton and begins to struggle for pace. It most definitely ensures that Tour de France 2017 is seen as something of a ‘team’ race, but that in turn guarantees you never really get to build a one-to-one relationship with any specific rider.
Your relationships with these riders suffers even more when you find out that you can easily skip huge sections of the race, fast forwarding through the boring bits and only ever jumping back in when the big climbs or fast sprints occur. Should you so wish, you could in effect speed things up for the entirety of a stage, or even play it out so you have absolutely no say over any matters with the quick stage option. But seriously, the point of that is what exactly?
Cross under the Flamme Rouge, signifying 1km to go, before finally making it to the finish line and you’ll get rewarded with XP, and a bit of a boost to your team stamina stats, before heading off to do it all again – taking part in another race or time trial depending on which event you chose. Unfortunately that is when you’ll need to listen to your directeur sportif yabbering on about nothing exciting, before attempting to tackle further unimportant objectives once more. Repetition is king with the Tour – and that is where the previously talked about tedium comes in.
Should you manage to escape the Tour, then there is also the option to take part in the Pro Tour – creating your very own team full of superstar riders, before firing them to glory. This will see you go a little more in-depth with matters as you attempt to meet the desires of your team sponsor, improve your team ratings and partake in new races. Don’t expect to be able to grab the superstar riders initially though; you’ll need to work your way through multiple races in order to earn the dough and reputation so you can attract them. For the lack of longevity that the Tour mode brings, Pro Tour turns things on its head a little and will give those who love a bit of a challenge something to aim for.
You could also take part in the training mode, aka, the tutorials, if only so you can learn all the small little niches that the cycling world encompasses.
Seeing as the training section consistently talks about the ‘in-game manual’, I feel now would be a great time to bring that up. Or should I say, bring up the lack of a manual. You see, even after huge amounts of in-game prompting, notifying the player that more info regarding advanced riding techniques or about the Tour itself can be found in the manual, it is all a bit of a lie. The option is there, but upon opening it you’re taken to the usual console help screen that a whole number of games use, with a link to the official website, forums and the mailing address for technical support. I’m sorry guys, but that is in no way ‘a manual’. It is just slack and at no point helps out a budding TDF rider. But perhaps it is this ‘manual’ which is the most telling aspect of Tour de France 2017 as a whole. I mean, if you think you can get away with cutting corners in one aspect, why not do the same with the rest?
And that’s because things get worse when you look into the visual aspect of TDF 2017. Generic riders are here once more, whilst racing mechanics aren’t great. Riders flick between positions like they are on rails, never properly crash or fall over – ghosting through other bikes and riders in the tightest of pelotons – and will ride into barriers at the side of the road before stopping dead on the spot or sailing right on through them. You’ll also find yourself bouncing off of the moon-walking, hugely generic crowd as they cheer your progress and wave at you from the side of the road. It would have been nice to have seen some kind of progress made in this area over previous games, but there hasn’t been, and I can’t help but feel that TDF 2017 has just been thrown out to take advantage of the grand tour hype. I’ll give Cyanide the fact that the stage environments look decent – as long as you look past the reused trees, bushes and rocks – but on the whole, the visual identity of TDF 2017 is a poor one.
So we’ve already established that the vast majority of the gameplay mechanics are a bit rubbish, whilst the visuals are pretty much a basic rehashing of TDF titles from the last few years. But what about the audio? Well, in a word – without repeating myself like that damn directeur sportif? Poor.
Whilst the basic ‘Allez, allez, allez’ coming from the crowd is just about fine, and the chinging of pedal strokes and whistling of wind on a fast descent are probably highlights, the actual effects used for specific actions are nothing short of terrible. Taking an energy gel for example results in nothing less than listening to your rider bear down on what sounds like the crunchiest snacks the world has ever seen. Even more irritatingly is the directeur sportif who is supposed to help you out on your quest to become the yellow Jersey winner. He is repetitive, dull, repetitive, lacking enthusiasm and repetitive, failing to even perk up when you find a rider from your team on the top step of the podium. Surely it isn’t too much to ask to see his hugely limited vocabulary increased year on year? Have I mentioned that he – and the game as a whole – is repetitive?
Thankfully – and as disappointing as this sounds – the button mashing of the Challenge mode represents the most fun found in Tour de France 2017. But when you are left to rely on ten short sharp hits for the best cycling experience, then you know something is wrong. The fact of the matter is though, the draw of earning bronze, silver and gold medals for hurtling down some fast stages, or up and through the best climbs – either alone or with a friend – is much more exciting than the full tactical bundle.
If you haven’t worked it out yet, I don’t care much for the videogame version of Tour de France 2017. To be honest, if Focus Home and Cyanide Studios can’t draw in someone who adores not just the watching of the best grand tour of them all, but happily dives headlong into the entire sport, then I’m not sure who they are trying to appeal to.
Save your cash and buy some new lycra instead. I promise you it’ll be more fun.