If only one thing is said about the Tour De France and its 106 year history, then it is that the greatest bike race in the world is unpredictable. Even with the Brits – Wiggins, Froome and Thomas – taking the crown over the last few years, and Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team doing some dodgy dominating just over a decade back, it has always been extremely difficult to judge exactly what will happen across the three week long test of stamina and bike handling skills.
But while that is certainly the case in the real world, the video gaming equivalent has been anything but, instead running totally predictably with yearly releases that have rarely built on anything from the year before. Now though, in the 100th year of the anniversary of the yellow jersey, we get the chance to once again grab our lycra, pick up a helmet and attempt to prove that we’re the best rider the world has ever seen. Yep, Tour de France 2019 is here on Xbox One and PS4, but does this latest edition break from tradition to deliver a game that is worthy of the TDF name?
There’s quite a relatively quick and very simple answer to that loaded question. And that is no, it isn’t. However I guess you’ll probably want to know exactly why? Well, anyone who has played any of the Tour games over the last few years will be hugely disappointed to hear that TDF 2019 is worse than, or, at the very best, just about on the same level as those which have come before it. For those reasons alone, you should just save that cash and step away right now.
It must be said that the sport of cycling is a pretty tricky one to replicate in video game form; long drawn out stages in which nothing happens for hours on end are a regular occurrence of any race, and that really doesn’t lend itself well to the vibrant gaming scene. This is possibly why the official game will always struggle to enthuse, and in fact even the most hardened cycle nut will probably fail to find much entertainment in what Cyanide Studios and Bigben have created here with Tour de France 2019.
Now, that may sound harsh, but I think of myself as one of those hardcore cyclists who just loves everything about the annual Tour, and so if I can’t get excited about what is on offer, then I really don’t know who can. Or will.
In the interest of fairness, the race types on offer are more than decent. There are the full 21 stages of the Tour de France route included, as you would expect to see, and this is replicated pretty damn accurately with all the sprints, climbs, and categorised inclines available. In fact, if you’re after a game which replicates the great race on a stats basis, then TDF 2019 does it. There is also the opportunity to spend some time in a couple of one-day classics with the Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Nice, the cobbled Vlaanderen and a London based flat scene all ready to roll. Throw in La Route Corse, an Open and Euro Tour and some of the finest roads from Paris to Roubaix and it’s a bit of a bike nut’s dream.
There is also the chance to take a Pro Team from zero to hero by participating in races, earning cash and recruiting better riders as you attempt to do a Team Sky/Ineos and dominate the landscape. Or you can even focus your efforts on your own unique rider and send them on a journey into the unknown, completing objectives, hitting mission markers and partaking in a series of season based racing. There can certainly be no faulting what the development and publishing teams have attempted to create in this regard.
Hell, should you still be left wanting then the opportunity to enjoy the series staples of the Challenge scene is also present. This time around a number of downhill segments are in place to see you hone your bike handling skills as you hit medal times, whilst a variety of sprints ask you to do the same. Nicely, should you wish to do so, partaking in both of these with a friend is also possible.
But then it all goes properly downhill and hugely off course. Rather dramatically.
It’s not long before you realise that team and rider licenses are not in place, with a custom editor leaving you to do the dirty work for yourself should you wish to have an up-to-date riding roster. That in itself is massively disappointing, particularly for an ‘official’ game, however should it have been the worst of it, then all would have still just about been good in the world.
It’s not though and for all the races included, if the gameplay mechanics and visual structures don’t deliver the goods, then any game is destined for failure. And with TDF 2019, both of those aspects are on the below average side. Yes, tactically you’ll find a half decent bike racer fighting to get out of the pack, but even though you can take charge of your team and instruct them to carry out a multitude of strategic calls as you pedal your way over hundreds of kilometres, for the most part that is pushed to the background by a huge number of problems.
As with previous years, it seems that in the eyes of Cyanide Studios all bike riders look and behave in exactly the same way. They are seemingly all modelled on Bahrain-Merida’s Italian rocket Vincenzo Nibali with a massive dearth of variety of character models, bike types and stage sceneries papered over with model clones, the odd change in frame colours to signify a different team, and stages that never allow for immersion. And while that may not bother the layman, this is a game that will be of appeal to cycling fans, and they deserve more. Much more.
The bikes control abysmally too, with any left to right movement seeing them spin along on rails without a care in the world. And should you find yourself missing an apex of a corner, hitting the barriers on the side of the road, or bumping and grinding your way through the peloton to the front of the race, you need not worry about taking a tumble, as instead you’ll either be forced back on track by the game itself, or just left to continue on regardless of any obstacle. Crashing in the video game version of Tour de France 2019 is extremely difficult, and is just another reason this game fails to capture any of the real world excitement. No matter how hard you may try, it’s nigh on impossible to hit the deck – if only that was the way in real life then Chris Froome may well have had a punt at becoming a five-time winner instead of being laid up in a hospital bed.
The audio is just as bad, and any veteran of the scene will probably be dismayed that the same old commentary that we have had to put up with in previous years makes a comeback here. It lacks character, it provides tons of repetition, and it’s so completely antiquated that it would probably sound out of place on a game from a decade past. Technically what is mentioned across the commentary script is of interest and there’s the odd bit of informative detail which is appreciated, but on the whole, again we have an audio system that is lacking. It isn’t helped much by the poor shouts of the crowd either, with the standard allez, allez, allez trumping all else.
As poor as Tour de France 2019 seems, at least it is playable, for the most part anyway. At other times though the whole thing struggles to move along, even at a snail’s pace. Throughout my time with this racer I’ve been subjected to frame rate drops, full on freezes, screen tearing and audio drops, with the very worst affliction muting the entire game before seeing it grind to a halt for nearly 5 minutes. Even then, as it kicked into play again, I was witness to a whole peloton of riders stuttering and staggering across the finish line.
Rewind to this time last year and the launch of Tour de France 2018 saw both enthusiasm and excitement met, as the videogame version of the greatest bike race in the world was on the right track to stardom. This year, with Tour de France 2019 on Xbox One, the whole cycling scene has taken many a step back. In fact, TDF 2019 is possibly the worst one for a few years with issues surrounding the mechanics, visuals and audio overrunning the good intentions that lay beneath.
In fact, I’d go as far as say that it seems like Tour de France 2019 could well have done with a bit more development time, instead of being pushed out in the current state just in order to meet the demands of the first stage of the 2019 Tour. But hey, I guess there’s always next year for us to be witness to a cycling game that will give Le Tour the attention it deserves.