Peddling around France on a glorious Summer’s day might be the holiday of choice for a variety of folk, but come June and July the roads are taken over by the peloton, sprinters, climbers and breakaway riders as cyclists and cycling teams from around the world compete in the most famous and revered bicycle road race in the world - the Tour de France. In its one hundredth year in 2013 Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive have released a variant on their Pro Cycling series to allow those of us with an interest in the sport but a little less ability to see if they can take a stage win, become King of the Mountains or even ride into Paris wearing the famous yellow jersey.
Cycling as a sport is fairly complex and if you’re not familiar with it and you start playing this game you’ll encounter major difficulties, frustration and further your understanding very little. The sport and the race are explained in basic terms via some text-based pages accessed via the main menu and whilst it’s great that this is included so as to open the world up to newcomers, it’s still not going to help a great deal. The nuances of road racing and the real-world complexity incorporated into the game ensure it will always feel like a closed book to many, unless perhaps you have an eidetic memory and can immediately reapply what you’ve read. But then the developers clearly recognise this and have focussed on making something engrossing and entertaining for the real fan.
You can take part in the Tour and are able to go the full way and progress through each of the twenty-one stages, or you can do a quick version whereby you’re involved in just seven key days on your way towards the finish line. You take the role of the Saxo Minkoff team, where Alberto Contador is the team leader, with no option to race as Movistar or Team Sky. This is a disappointment but it makes sense when you realise the licensing doesn’t extend to all teams and riders - Bradley Waggons and Chris Vroom aren’t quite the names you’d expect to see challenging at the front.
When starting out on a stage you need to choose your food to take with you. You have two slots in your inventory as it were and you can take something to restore stamina, boost your reserves when you want to attack or something more balanced across benefits. The foods you take do make a difference but only if you can work out when you need to eat them. If you’re in the hunt at a sprint, a climb or towards the end then eating a Kiwi fruit just before you launch your breakaway attack might push you over the finishing line to bag that stage win. Throughout your Tour you’re working towards meeting various bronze, silver, gold and platinum objectives. Launching a breakaway is a simple one - all the bronze goals are easily attainable for a newcomer to the game - but winning the King of the Mountains competition with one teammate and the Tour with another is obviously quite a challenge.
The whole team is in your control in each stage. The intent is that you ride as one member and give instructions to the others. Do you want the team to relay and help you all progress whilst maintaining energy levels? Do you want someone to launch an attack as a bluff before you go for the win yourself? There are multiple instructions on offer and each is actionable from within the riding game itself. The riding mechanics and engine are pretty basic. You can hold R1 to follow and then the cycling is automated and this works the bulk of the time, but of course isn’t conducive to winning. R2 allows you to cycle alone and you can opt for low or high ratio gears dependent on your needs. The graphics are very simple too. Each rider model is the same with a different skin and the stages are pretty sparse. It’s serviceable but absolutely nothing more. The actual riding and the setting reminded us of the Alpine stage in Gran Turismo Prologue and in the main felt rather relaxing but not at all inspiring. It’s fairly tedious at times given the length of a stage and even your Team Manager suggests you fast-forward to the end of the stage. This option is good in avoiding anything but the key moments in a stage but unfortunately it never seems to manage your team very well. You’re almost always way back in the peloton significantly behind a breakaway group so if you’re trying to win the stage, get competition points or something else then playing the whole stage yourself is the only option.
Winning a stage or the various points for the polka dot, green or white jerseys along the way is challenging. This is where knowledge of cycling really helps. You need to ride with the peloton, use your teammates and judge the right moment to attack. We found ourselves attacking far too early at first and this always led to a deflated moment when with the goal in sight you’d get passed on both sides by riders flying in comparison to you. But ride with the peloton, follow the right attacks, keep on their shoulders and launch your move correctly and the feeling is really quite something. The Team Manager is not very helpful in this regard. What you hear over the radio is at first seemingly useful but it gets repeated often and if you actually use the advice you’ll realise it isn’t going to end well.
Le Tour de France 2013 100th Edition is aimed squarely at fans of cycling road racing. There is no way it can be recommended to anyone else as it’s far too complex and despite some efforts by the developers the game will not explain enough in the right way to allow for actual improvement and success in-game (all the information is there but it would be nice to have been presented as a tutorial, or on the fly help rather than a separate part of the game and all text-based). If you are a fan of Le Tour then this will engage you for at least one run through and possibly more if you want to clean up all the objectives, or try a different selection of stages for the quick tour. Good luck as you try and emulate Chris Froome and company, albeit virtually.