The game fans want, but not the game they deserve.
- Developer: Cyanide Studios
- Publisher: Bigben Interactive
- Release date: 27th June 2019
- Genre: Sports – Cycling
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Previous entries into the Tour de France series of games have always catered to a niche market, but they are still popular with fans of the annual road racing endurance phenomenon. One of the main criticisms levelled at the game has been that it isn’t difficult enough. Bearing in mind that the real event is one of the most gruelling tests of endurance in all of the racing calendar, fans have been eager for the game to reflect this. Fortunately, it appears the creators have listened, with Tour de France 2019 bringing increased difficulty, along with a wealth of improvements over earlier incarnations.
The game features all 21 stages of the Tour de France, as well as including some extra races and locations, including the Criterium du Dauphine, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, and the cobbled roads of the Tour of Flanders. Each race can take upwards of 45 minutes, if you choose not to advance time and instead let the race play out in real time. It’s possible to fast forward large portions of the race and just become active for significant events, like when the pack makes a break, or for the sprint sections, but I preferred playing the whole race – the Tour de France should be a test of endurance. It is clearly designed for cycling fans, and as such may alienate any casual gamers who fancy giving it a go. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as by gearing it towards cycling fans they have included plenty of features that help improve the immersion, and races are long and technical.
Controls are simple: rather than a heavily involved system of constantly pressing buttons. You have to set your pace, with the occasional section where you need to time your controller inputs so you can drive yourself faster, all while trying to manage your energy reserves to keep ahead of the pack, without exhausting your rider. Sharper turns require judicial use of the brakes, whilst ensuring you don’t scrub off too much speed. It’s a tactical balancing act, which reflects what you would experience in a real race.
The start of each stage has all the riders bunched together, with an impressive field of around 150 cyclists, although after a short while this is reduced to a smaller amount if you are in the lead group. You can choose to follow a rider in front of you, make a break of your own, or simply conserve energy by remaining in the peloton, which has been improved for 2019, with riders following a more natural route around the course than in previous years. I was disappointed that you can’t crash into spectators (even if it is understandable), although you can crash on bends if you get over-enthusiastic.
Tour de France 2019 does look a touch underwhelming; at times it can look almost like an Xbox 360 game, but the graphics serve their purpose, and are still a significant improvement on Tour de France 2016, which is the last game in the series I played. The frame rate stutters at the start, but quickly settles down, and I experienced a bit of screen tear when I was playing, but it wasn’t a major issue and didn’t detract from the gameplay too much anyway. The spectating crowds look good, with people at the side of course shouting out words of encouragement (although they soon begin to repeat themselves), and there is a decent view as you ride, with quaint villages to pass through, intimidating mountains to climb, and picturesque vistas to admire as you progress through the stages.
Pro Leader is the main career mode, which has you create a rider and complete missions, unlocking stats along the way, as you try to progress to representing your national team and becoming a Tour de France contender, whereas Pro Team mode has you manage a small team of riders, as you try to maintain your budget, win races, and buy and sell players to create a winning team. Unfortunately, in Pro Team mode, your teammates are powered by terrible AI, and even if you try and instruct them how to race, the actual results they achieve are hampered by poor execution from the AI riders.
The lack of customisation is a major issue, as for a cycling game you’d at least expect to have a few variations of bike to choose from, however every rider is on the same generic bike. Even the character customisation is limited to skin tone and jersey colour. For a cycling game, with so many options available to the developers, not having any customisation at all is very disappointing.
If you don’t have 45+ minutes to do a race, you can try one of the challenge modes. Downhill has you riding alone, as you compete against the clock to earn medals, as well as trying to beat your own PB. It’s a very quick race and is surprisingly good fun and a welcome break from the long races of the Tour de France. The other challenge mode is Sprint, where you compete against other riders over the final few miles of one of the stages. Even though it’s only a short race, it’s still very tactical, and will take careful management of your stamina and energy in order to finish at the front.
“For the first time in the series’ history, you can now partake in online multiplayer races”, the marketing claimed. It was advertised you could compete in 4 player online races, but I couldn’t find any option to do so. Local multiplayer is present, however, this is only for the downhill and sprint challenge modes, and online seems to be limited to leaderboards for challenge mode at the moment, which is a shame because it would be great fun racing against your friends. Whether I just didn’t unlock this option yet or have somehow overlooked it is unknown, but surely it shouldn’t be that hard to find?
There are very few games that are made to accommodate hardcore cycling aficionados, so it’s great to see them really making an effort to produce an authentic experience. Graphics aren’t particularly impressive, and the sound – especially the music – is lacklustre, but when it comes to the key factor of how it plays, it’s a good experience. It may not appeal to casual gamers or those who don’t follow the sport, but for any fans of the Tour de France, or those looking for a realistic cycling game, there’s no better option at present. Unfortunately, it’s still not the game the Tour de France deserves, but it’s a step closer.