The yellow jersey. The peloton. Stages. The famous Champs-Élysées. These are all words that mean something to you if you’re a keen road cyclist or follow the most gruelling road race in the world, Le Tour de France. With the recent success of Bradley Wiggins in this year’s tour, when the opportunity arose to don my lycra and review Le Tour De France 2012, it was too good to resist. In retrospect, I wish I had resisted.
To summarise, the Tour de France it’s basically one large race with lots of little race stages in between. For example, the overall Tour winner is the rider who has the fastest time over the 21 stages, which take place over 23 days, but there’s also an overall sprint winner along with mountain winners and overall team winners. So basically a lot for winners, but there’s also a lot of riders who don’t get anything but sore legs, as there are over 100 riders vying for each of those titles.
From the outset it’s clear the game is aimed at road cycling enthusiastic gamers, of which i’m not sure are in abundance. It's extremely detailed and intricate when in and around the menu system. Obviously you can take part in the tour and manage your chosen team to victory, but you can also entertain yourself with a quick stage where you can practice your mountain climbing or sprinting skills. The most recommended option to start out with is the training screenshots. I didn’t initially take my own advice and jumped straight into the game, and as a result, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Trust me, if you want to play the game and haven’t played it before, do the training screens first, so you have a rough idea of what to do, but even then, the training screens are very complex and aren’t very user friendly.
Even with the training screens scrutinised, the game isn’t easy to understand and it takes a lot of patience when riding. Obviously the Tour is massive, so each stage is broken down into mini-stages in which you can control the rider. The game is fully licensed, meaning us brits can choose Team Sky and ride the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and sprint specialist Mark Cavendish. This was pretty cool, until you actually start riding.
You can choose to simulate each stage, which is handy as everything about the racing is bad, for want of a better word. The mini-stages are still long and you can often see yourself sitting holding the A button while slowly starting to daydream. It may be that because I’m an inexperienced Tour de France’r that I just didn’t quite know how to use team instructions and different strategies to ensure victory, but I just found it extremely dull and mundane.
Using the control pad you can build up your speed to your liking then just hold the ‘A’ button to maintain that speed. It’s at this point you begin to start daydreaming. Even though there are lots of riders, the stage is so vast that I often found myself detached from the peloton and riding alone to the very annoying music you’d often find in a lift.
Just when you think things will liven up during the sprint sections, they don’t. I ended up just wanting to play something different, and that’s never a good thing in a game. Again, if you were a keen follower of the Tour and fully understood the strategies required to win, you might find the game more interesting, but it’s that slow and monotonous, I highly doubt you will.
If offline doesn’t kill you then fire online and try and find a race. In the unlikely event that you do manage to get a race it’s exactly the same as the single player experience but only better as you know there is someone else sitting playing through the exact same pain as you, so you’re not in it alone.
One thing that I did enjoy - a word I use loosely - was the graphics and the gigantic routes that are on offer. I would be interested to find out whether all the routes on offer were identical to the real route. I’d find it hard to believe, but if so, it would be rather impressive. It can appear jaggy at times, especially when the peloton are riding past me, as I can’t keep up, but overall for the amount of riders in the game, it copes well.
Overall, I think the idea of a Tour de France game appeals more than it does in reality. The reality is the game is extremely slow, tiring and offers very little frills. The key demographic for this game is someone who loves the Tour de France and enjoys the prospect of managing your own team throughout the Tour. For that reason, it won't be long before you’ll find Le Tour de France 2012 in the sale shelf, if it’s not already there. Thankfully, I can now take off my lycra shorts.