For most of us these days (especially at High Rez Gaming), riding a bike down the street sounds an awful lot like hard work, so imagine riding more than 180km through some of the most beautiful, yet demanding terrain that Europe has to offer. Naturally, such a magnificent feat is beyond us then, but thankfully, that’s where Cyanide Studios have stepped in to provide us with a digital version of the tour experience, in the hopes that armchair cyclists will enthusiastically leap at the opportunity to emulate the greats, such as Jan Ulrich and Marco Pantani. Now, this is my first venture into the world of videogame based cycling, but by all accounts this is a massive improvement over the team’s last effort, but does that mean that you should rush out and buy this latest effort? Well, no, probably not.
You see, Tour de France 2015 is an unadulterated simulation (well, mostly), and it can be a thoroughly soul destroying experience for the gamer not quite as serious about their cycling as the developer would like. Most stages can last over 40 minutes, and whilst it is possible that you can lead the race from the start, it doesn’t really count for much if you end up blowing it on the final sprint, and mistakes are certainly not uncommon. So much clearly rides on strategy and gear decisions, meaning that for the less experienced Tour rider, the game can feel a tad overwhelming at times.
It’s curious to see that, whilst Cyanide have clearly attempted to make the experience as close a replication of the real thing as is possible, the game is lacking the real riders names, even if the full roster of team are all present and correct. And the inaccuracy doesn’t actually stop there either, for when starting a new stage, the player is presented with an overview of the course ahead, yet these, if I am not wrong, do not match up with the routes that real cycling fans will be watching their heroes traverse in only a few weeks’ time.
Furthermore, the art of cycling clearly doesn’t make the transition to the videogame world as successfully as motorised racing does, simply squeezing and holding a single button down feels as though it demeans the efforts of these incredible athletes, and whilst there may very well be a brake button, it certainly isn’t something that the player will be using much. It is entirely possible to simply use the invisible walls that line the road to bounce the rider around bends without sacrificing too much in terms of speed, combining this with some well-timed attacks makes the whole thing considerably easier than attempting to play the game properly, and that truly is a real shame.
The armchair fan’s favourite moments, the large scale crashes are here, though they are rather unconvincing as the physics engine is certainly not as robust as it should be, the experience as a whole feels altogether “floaty”, so collisions lack any real impact. Crashes also only seem to be instigated by AI riders, thundering into them only seems to send the player bouncing from one rider onto another. Additionally, watching those same AI riders take corners at full speed when you seemingly have to slow down to a crawl (if braking) is an infuriating, gut-wrenching experience. Yet the worst is still to come.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of it all though, is that for all of its shortcomings in the gameplay department, for the non-cyclist anyway, is that visually, Tour de France 2015 is altogether substandard. The environments are incredibly bland, with primitive looking buildings, shoddy foliage and ropey textures abound, which are matched by the game’s unconvincing rider and crowd models. The only positive aspect of the latter is that at least they are not too repetitive, not that that’s much to shout about. The wasted opportunity here though, is that if Cyanide had the technology and the know how to craft a photo-realistic interpretation of the real Tour route, many gamers would have been able to overlook the gameplay weaknesses to simply enjoy a leisurely jaunt through the glorious French countryside, but even that is rendered impossible here.
In terms of game modes, there are several to choose from, naturally Tour Mode sees gamers take on the main event itself, but on top of this, there are also challenges to complete and the extensive Pro Tour Mode. Pro Tour sees players create their own cycling team, drafting in professionals to make up the numbers and tackle seasons comprised of a wide variety of tournaments, with money to be won to facilitate the signing of even better racers, ultimately, allowing the player to form some sort of dream team. Qualification for the Tour de France may seem like some far off dream to begin with here, but with perseverance, that reverie may just become a reality, and immediately, this means that Pro Tour is a more meaningful experience by default. By having to invest more into this, Pro Tour becomes much more rewarding than the main Tour Mode, and should Cyanide manage to right at least some of the wrongs of this year’s version, it may very well have the potential to be a mode that’s actually worth playing at length.
Ultimately then, Tour de France 2015 is a bit of a disappointment; it’s a graphically poor and generally rather shoddy sports simulator that in no way represents either the superhuman efforts of the riders involved, or the beauty of the real Tour course itself. Yet it is quite clear that with a bit more work, Cyanide Studios may just bring their cycle of substandard releases to halt, which makes my final piece of sage-like advice rather easy; wait for next year’s version, because it just might be the cycling game that you probably didn’t know you were looking for.