Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive are at the helm(et) again with the latest incarnation of the Tour de France series, rather aptly suffixed 2018. Have they created a tour de force to be reckoned with? Let’s find out.
With over 2 decades of creating cycling video games between them and being almost alone in creating this type of game, you would hope that they would have it nailed. Up until last year’s TDF game the series hadn’t really picked up any momentum and was rather bland and boring to play, especially for non cycling enthusiasts. With the advancements in gaming tech really shifting up a gear over the last few years has this enabled the guys to make a TDF game worth investing time and money in? Not in 2017 they hadn’t. In 2018 you’d be forgiven for expecting more of the same and I am sorry to say you’d be right.
I’m a keen cyclist but not to the point I’d rush out and buy a cycling game. I’m quite happy gaming from the comfort of my sofa in front of my massive telly – loo breaks are lots more comfortable too and attract less nettle stings. However, with the benefit of having access to a review copy of the game I thought this might give me a chance to find a game type to love that I would normally have ignored. My initial expectations were quite high as the game is sponsored by LCL and has quite a fresh and funky but sedate audio backdrop. I was looking forward to Froom(ing) along country lanes in my yellow jersey, battling the other competitors of which there are many. I was also impressed by the amount of content on offer – especially compared to last years TDF game. Despite their tendency to lack depth I do like a good racing game, if done well.
Up until the 2017 iteration of the franchise, gameplay depth was lacking which didn’t change apart from some amendments to the AI, the race pace and the inclusion of stamina management. In 2018 they have built upon and improved every facet of the previous games from the graphics and physics down to the array of content which I must say is rather astounding. Added to the arcade Race section of the game we have Pro Team, Pro Leader and Challenges. As well as these four main game modes we also have a surprisingly in-depth Training section and an Editor Mode. The latter enables you to edit the teams/riders etc and you have yourself what appears to be a very involving racing sim. I’m excited at the prospect of tearing up over 21 stages, 3500 KM of road and reaching over 40 mp/h average speed!
Race Mode gives you one day races, tours of several pre-set stages and customisable races where you decide the stage composure.
Pro Team sees you managing a racing team, recruiting better racers for your team as you progress through the world rankings.
Pro Leader gives you a rider to build yourself from the ground up, assigning racer attributes as you see fit. Starting life as a baroudeur and challenged to a series of missions over the course of the calendar to progress through the seasons to become a pro.
Challenge Mode is a dedicated downhill biking section where you challenge other racers’ times to the bottom the decline as fast as possible.
With this huge amount of content, apparently massively overhauled graphics and physics, this can’t fail. Or can it? Putting my lack of enthusiasm for a cycling sim to one side, I jumped into this racing sim with high hopes only to hit a bump in the road almost immediately and come off my metaphorical bike. It’s still boring. And feels empty. Gameplay wise you accelerate and brake as you’d expect, use momentum, gravity and slipstreaming as you ride along the road. It just feels so lacking in something. Maybe it’s the dull speed. Maybe the overall empty feeling you get for the majority of the race when you’re not part of the pack. Maybe it’s how it looks. Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above. Sure, the graphics aren’t terrible; the riders are individually identifiable and the scenery isn’t ugly. However, after all this time you would think they would be a lot better. Look at how other developers churn out decent looking racing games year after year- and they have much more work to do as there are more differing models to produce, texturise and animate.
Apart from the menu music, the audio while not awful is bland and again, empty. There’s very little to hear as you’re racing, maybe the odd bird tweet, badly drawn spectator whooping encouragingly as you cycle past or the sound of wind as you build up momentum on your 10 speed bike. While this isn’t necessarily a slight against the creators of the game it just adds to the emptiness of the gameplay. Even the addition of a kind of ‘slipstream minigame’ doesn’t make it more fun, if anything it’s actually quite an annoying game mechanic. So is the fact you have to manage your energy levels using different types of gels. They leave as much of a bad taste in the mouth as their real life counterparts.
I am sure those who are staunch Tour de France supporters and exceptionally keen cyclists will, if they’re also really into racing sims, quite like this game. I have a feeling there probably aren’t as many as the game developers would like to think. It’s a shame because it’s a popular sport, I just don’t think it transitions well into a video game.