When it comes to sports in the video games market, it’s pretty slim pickings. While the likes of football, NFL, basketball, hockey, and UFC have become mainstream, cycling has also managed to break through to gamers. With a couple of iterations under their belt, does Cyanide Studio’s 2016 edition of the Tour de France leave its predecessors for dead or has this series hit the wall?
Newcomers are guided by a series of tutorials detailing the basic and advanced controls in the game. A cyclist’s speed is controlled by using the right trigger (accelerate) and left trigger (brake), but it’s also useful to maintain the same speed as the person in front of you by holding down X/Square to not expend too much energy.
And managing a stable level of energy plays a huge part in determining your success. Throughout each stage, players can consume one bag of red and blue energy gel – stamina and acceleration respectively – until they are refilled at a ‘feeding station’. Knowing whether you’re racing on a mountain, flat or hilly stage, as well as around the obstacles that await you, is very important when refuelling your rider. Another tactical advantage to conserve energy is to use opponents or teammates as shields during windy conditions. A shield icon next to your speed highlights the effectiveness of this strategy, ranked on a scale from one blue line (g00d) to three lines filling the icon (excellent). This can better prepare your rider for an upcoming sprint or maintain better positioning before a steep climb. It’s small and welcome improvements like these that make Tour de France 2016 more accessible to newcomers.
The Team Communications tab helps you keep all of your teammates in check throughout the entirety of a race. The additional features in team management allow control of the peloton (the largest group of cyclists) via a relay, reeling in getaway sprinters with responsive counterattacks, and calling on teammates for protection during climbs and breakaway groups. The tutorial narrator also acts as your Team Director when you choose to tackle the Tour de France or dive into some Custom Tours. He is surprisingly helpful, giving hints about the race route, frequent points standings on a range of rider classifications, and which particular riders pose the most threat amongst your group.
Of course, the immediate problem with this game is how Cyanide Studio makes the Tour de France a legitimately stimulating event. Despite the new and invaluable fast-forward feature, where a stage can be accelerated to a point of interest, the excitement from Tour de France 2016 comes from living dangerously; you’re compelled to make your own fun. When I separated from the main group and found myself chasing down rogue sprinters, it added much more intensity where I could actively use the knowledge from the tutorials. When in a breakaway group, doing your share of the pace-setting will build rapport with your opponents and they won’t feel compelled to leave you behind to get swallowed up by the peloton.
If breaking away from a pack wasn’t exciting enough, riding an individual time-trial or turning that final corner in a lead group of riders tops it all. It’s a good idea to stick with the most dangerous opponents and stay behind their wheels until you can slingshot yourself to the finish line. The added bonus of a ‘bike throw’ mechanic – thrusting your front wheel across the line – adds a nice bit of realism to the experience, too. But it’s also important not to pull the trigger too quickly because using up energy too quickly can cause your rider to ‘blow up’ and subsequently ‘hit the wall’ – resulting in a drastic reduction in speed.
One of the most evident downsides to Tour de France 2016 is the absence of a legitimate collision system. Having over 150 riders jostling for position invites trouble but not when you can simply bump and grind your way to the front of the pack. This is shown particularly during the fast, steep descents, where I bounced of opponent riders – around sharp corners – to re-establish a better position. It took the thrill out of high-speed descents, where I could manually tuck into a more aerodynamic posture without using energy through pedalling.
There have been a few occasions where the game’s AI have clogged the roads after a crash, but it was far out of shot, and resulted in me clipping through some fencing to bypass it anyway. Whenever my game passed an autosave/checkpoint, it forced me to break my overtaking position with other riders and reset my rider’s speed, which soon snowballed into a real annoyance. Occasionally it happened just before I turned a corner which, in the end, caused me to crash into barriers – harshly affecting my overall position.
There’s also a pretty uninspiring unnamed commentator handling the pleasantries in each stage – briefly at the start and during the presentation ceremony. Couple this with no dynamic weather effects, a crowd that likes to scuttle across the roads like bunch of crabs, no spur-of-the-moment events – like mechanical failures, and you have a game displaying a pretty poor level of authenticity.
But Cyanide Studio’s Pro Tour game mode definitely has to be commended. It’s the game’s career mode, in essence, where you help steer a new team of riders through qualification events all the way to the pinnacle of open-road cycling, the Tour de France. Along the way, there’s a budget to manage, sponsors to sign and a team roster to tweak and it’s all quite engrossing.
But depending on sponsor, your in-game and Pro-Team Missions may seem ludicrous at first. For instance, not only did I have to win a few stages, but I had to get three separate team members on the podium during a mountain stage and have a rider place in the top 15 overall to get an invitation to the next event – all in my first race; it’s a bit too ambitious for newcomers to the franchise, I feel. But if you do manage to secure these Missions, the rewards add a nice bonus to your overall budget and open the door for new signings to the team.
Thankfully, there’s also a straight-up Tour de France mode for those wanting to jump directly into the action. With 20-or-so stages across the whole race, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to keep in the running for the Yellow Jersey.
On top of this is also Challenge mode, filled with high-speed descents that can be played solo or in split-screen with a friend. Times are awarded with gold, silver or bronze medals and world leaderboards account for a satisfactory integration of online interactivity. For a game with such a limited scope, the amount of content on offer is a pleasant surprise.
In many ways, the Tour de France name is still in its infancy when it comes to video games. Cyanide Studio’s 2016 offering shows improvements with more content than meets the eye but still has more issues that need to be addressed. Some genuine, lively commentators – Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen come to mind – simply have to be brought onboard and a more televised angle – a fancy stage-by-stage recap or highlights package, for instance – wouldn’t go astray. This underdog sports simulator continuously shows potential among its improvements – enough potential to be a very good title in the future. However, in its current state, this remains a game for only cycling fans and enthusiasts of the world’s greatest road race.
Keeps Getting Better
Despite a bulk of content and some tactical improvements, Tour de France 2016 is let down by technical issues and lacks that element of realism needed for a cycling video game.