Over the last decade or so, I’ve become seriously engrossed in the world of road cycling. I’ve ridden tens of thousands of kilometres, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the saddle, and I’ve spent what seems like a few million quid on the latest bikes and gear. I’ve been glued to the TV for days on end as the Grand Tours and One Day Classics sift the wheat from the chaff in the realm of professional road cycling, and I’ve spent time racing around my local bike scene in the hope for Strava KOMs. Hell, I’ve even taken in the boredom of Zwift virtual racing. But in that time I’ve also played the official Tour de France video game, quite possibly for longer than I care to remember, with every single past year of the franchise finding a home on my console of choice.
In those years though little has progressed with the franchise, with it failing to ever be able to replicate the draw of the real cycling world. Instead, small annual updates have come across as nothing more than a cash grabbing increment – not any revolution of the wheel. Do things change with Tour de France 2020? Have Nacon and Cyanide finally decided to put some effort and dedication into the series, without just making the most of the usual copy and paste formula?
Well, I’m sorry to say that once more the official videogame of the Tour de France is a disappointment, with little in the way of upgrades present for long term fans to enjoy. In fact, it is just more of the same that has been thrust out across the last few years, and honestly, once again it feels more like a game that has been pushed out to make a little bit of money, with little care or attention provided from the development team.
Tour de France 2020 really could be TDF 2019, 2018, 2017 or even 2016 – the changes across the years have been that insignificant. For this edition though we once again find multiple game modes in place, with the overriding goal being completion of the 2020 Tour itself.
The Race mode will be where most people start their love/hate affair with this game, and it has to be said that there are a whole host of races available. Not just is there the main Tour de France and its 21 stages of cycling goodness, but the Critérium du Dauphiné is in place again, as is the iconic Paris-Nice and that of La Route Corse. Further options will mean you can play through the Open Tour, across the Euro equivalent and through the short, sharp Breizh Cup. You will have to unlock the majority of these races though, with XP earnt for every tour and race you finish.
The big new addition with TDF 2020 though is the inclusion of Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the oldest of the five cycling Monuments and quite possibly the most hard-fought one-day race of the calendar. Really though, with the vast majority of race types available here already present in games from years past, why would you really need to buy this? It’s certainly not for The Old Lady herself.
One reason could be for the most up-to-date rider roster, and that’s always a nice little addition for any official game of any sport to have. The problem is, yet again TDF falls short here, with the very biggest team – that of Team Ineos – running with a completely made-up team name and set of riders. Obviously licensing issues stop Nacon, Cyanide and Ineos from being a match made in heaven, and so if you wish to see Froomey, Egan Bernal or the best rider to ever come out of Wales, Geraint Thomas, in place, amending rider names, ratings and team starting line-ups in the editor will have to be a route to take. But why should you? And really, why would you want to? It’s just another majorly disappointing aspect of the game overall.
When in game, it doesn’t really matter what team you are using either, in fact, it doesn’t even matter which rider you are using. Due to the way the Tour de France series plays, rarely do you find yourself ever really controlling one rider. Whilst you will start off with great intentions, with a punchy climbing stage or quick sprinter’s paradise tempting you in from the start, the truth of the matter is that after just a short amount of time you’ll start to look to utilise the many different team comms and team management options that come in. This means that should you find yourself slipping back from the front of the pack, a swift transfer to another rider in your team should ensure the fun never stops. Further to that, utilising the comms to dictate when your team should go full tempo and hunt down lone frontmen is easy to action, as is when the use of specific energy gels should be taken in. There are a good few moments like this which really let you get to grips with everything that being a bike rider consists of, but then it all goes to pot.
Instead of wishing your life away as you pedal across 200km or so of the finest French tarmac, it is all much easier to just pop into fast-forward mode, speeding things up when the race is at its most boring, only easing up and taking control again when a fast sprint ups the ante a little. This isn’t just a personal thing either, as throughout your time with TDF 2020 you’ll find the commentator urging you to use this speed zone – it’s as if the developers know that what they have created is a tad boring.
But then, for all my love of bike riding, those long, drawn-out real-world races can be a little tedious, so I guess I must applaude the teams behind this for making something so realistic. It’s just a shame the rest of it isn’t.
Aside from partaking in the biggest races, Tour de France 2020 allows for you to take on a Pro Team and manage them as they make their way up in the world. This sees you making the most of a motley crew of riders in the hope you can turn them into world beaters – and if they don’t, you transfer them out for someone who will. Being able to buy the likes of Thomas, Froome, Dowsett, Martin et al – eventually – should your finances allow for it is a fairly cool thing to do. Mixing and matching a team of climbers with a few sprinters and all-round rouleurs brings a little tactical nous to the game, and it is possibly here where TDF20 is the most interesting. Particularly as you can play through each event as normal, or simulate it at super speeds in order to get through the seasons quicker. Whilst this option is possible across all the game modes in TDF20, it is here where this feels best suited, allowing for a more managerial role to come to the fore. The only problem I really have with this is the fact that those events which your team aren’t yet qualified to take part in need to be simulated still – it’s a waste of time and effort and I wish we could just concentrate on our own fortunes. For instance, it’ll take you a good few seasons to qualify for the Tour proper, and spending minutes watching some bars simulate the 21 stages it holds is frustrating.
Similar to that is the Pro Leader mode, which pretty much covers the same bases but requests you to keep an eye out for one particular rider, nailing objectives as you go and seeing your skills increase from there on out. Whether or not you have the time and inclination to spend hours building your own Pro up to race-winning levels is up for debate, but the option is there for those who wish to do so.
And then there is also the addition of the long-standing challenges. These have, for some time, been my favourite moments of any TDF title and the same is true here in 2020. Running at the complete opposite end of the scale to the long and drawn-out races, these are over in just a minute or two, and are ripe for those times when you just have a quick five minutes to sit down with a controller. With downhill and sprint options in place – along with versus modes for each of those should you have a local like-minded friend alongside you – blasting through challenges and taking down bronze, silver and gold medals is a great way of getting a quick Tour de France fix.
However you play though, visually Tour de France 2020 is no great shakes. But then, it hasn’t really had much about it with any of the past editions either. Once more the character models when on bike are cardboard-like, with just the pumping action of a million little legs bringing any form of entertainment. Off the bike these pure riding machines all look like stiff mannequins – again with the visuals obviously taken from last year’s effort. This is most noticed when the TV-style broadcast sweeps across the full peloton at the start of the race, and when the medals are being dished out again at the end. C’mon Cyanide, surely you can import or create some different character model other than a Vincenzo Nibali wannabe at some point? And even when racing, the mechanics which should be the main focus of any game are disappointing – pulling a trigger and then mashing a sprint button when time calls isn’t really a whole load of fun, especially when it’s frankly impossible to crash, with riders bouncing off each over and even happily riding through railings and spectators, if you wish to try.
Thankfully the bikes they sit astride look decent, with a whole range of colour found in both those and the well-replicated team kits – at least that of the official teams. I’d personally like to see a variety of bikes and wheels utilised though as there are a massive amount of brands and manufacturers that could easily be implemented if the care was put in. But to the layman, what is detailed here should just about suffice, especially should they decide to make the most of the rather cool on-bike cockpit-styled camera.
The same can be said for the scenery that is taken in throughout each race. Whilst you may well find yourself enjoying these races at high-speed with the fast-forward button constantly depressed – and if you aren’t, then you really need to find something else to do with your life – those who spend time taking in the best French towns and most stunning vistas will find that Tour de France 2020 kind of delivers. Just don’t expect anything other than blocky buildings and decent alpine scenes, and you should be content.
In terms of the audio and once more things are very samey, so much so that I’m pretty certain that the same lack of variation found in the commentary, the crowd calls, or the sounds of bikes whizzing down mountainsides has just been grabbed from last year’s game and dropped into this. Even though there are some slightly interesting moments as we get a little commentator’s insight into a specific climb, or how the breakaway is doing in a certain race, for the most part repetition is at the fore of everything sent towards your ears. I get that, as a sport, the audio that can be reproduced from bike racing as a whole is fairly minimal, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that all we are hearing here is the same old thing pumped out time and time again. Allez, allez, allez over and over again just doesn’t cut it.
With any annual gaming experience the development and publishing teams behind the franchise need to find new ways to immerse the player into the latest offering. FIFA and Madden just about do it with a few new tricks up their sleeves each and every year, but Tour de France continues to plod on with the same old tired formula. I’d hazard a guess to say that I’ll be sat here in 12 months time pretty much rinsing and repeating these same old thoughts again, but I sorely hope Nacon and Cyanide take a long hard look at themselves, going deep within and heading back to the drawing board in order to provide cycling fans with a game worthy of one of the hardest sporting events in the world. The Tour de France, the grandest of Grand Tours, absolutely demands it. Yet, I feel like I may be living in hope for a while.
At the end of the day I just can’t see any reason why any gamer – or bike fan for that matter – would want to fork out on a game that is pretty much a carbon copy of the game that came before it, and of the one before that. For that reason, recommending a purchase of Tour de France 2020 on Xbox One is a seriously hard push. If you’ve not played any of the TDF games that have previously been thrown out to the world, but love your bikes, it’s one to just about consider – but personally I’d grab an older game that will be available at a cut-price.