As an amateur cyclist at the very start of learning the sport, the Tour De France this year may pique my interest to a greater extent than it ever has before, But, if I’m honest, Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studio’s fourth attempt at digitising the legendary race on this generation of consoles alone feels to me as if it is intended for serious fans of the legendary race, which is no bad thing.
With a thematically recreated, multi-stage race through both this and last years tours, as well as three well known build-up events, there is certainly plenty to do. Players can opt to control one of the 23 real life teams (including an almost complete roster of real racers that only lacks Team Sky and one or two other famous individuals) or create their own team, recruiting riders and battling for an invite to the tour itself through winning the smaller events. There is also a challenge mode, and options to race individual stages including mountain ascents, sprints, solo time trials and so on.
To the untrained eye, relatively little appears to have changed since last year (or even the year before) but Tour De France 2017 actually features a raft of iterative improvements to gameplay, not to mention a few more direct additions. Most notable of these is the ability to fast forward entire sections of the race, right up to sections that can be marked as “key” so that you could, for example, focus only on sprinting, or being crowned king of the mountain. The AI is claimed to have been improved, but Tour De France 2017 isn’t a particularly challenging game from that perspective so it’s hard to say, the challenge here comes from managing the effort and stamina of your own rider and, should you wish, your team mates.
Much as it always has, Tour De France 2017 looks pretty rough. There are some nicely represented roads and the distant scenery does accurately represent rural France, but the roadside scenery looks pretty average on the whole. Most of the marketing screenshots show the interesting bits where people gather to cheer on the racers, but outside of those regions, there is a distinct feeling of monotony, as generic trees and bushes pass you by.
The feeling of speed is impressive though, and the game engine handles an obscene amount of racers on screen (there are 200 in each race) admirably, with the naked eye unable to detect even a marginal drop in frame rate. Cyclists look fairly decent as well, with the movement of riders peddling hard, cruising or hurtling downhill all represented in a fairly natural and realistic way. One thing I particularly disliked about the graphics was an odd sense of jerkiness that the game has, which seems to more related to the engine than the frame rate, but is distracting until you get used to it all the same.
The audio in Tour De France 2017 is basically abysmal. Bikes kind of buzz as the wheels spin on the tarmac, and crowds cheer, but not much else happens except for an abysmal pseudo-commentary from an incredibly posh English gentleman. This commentary is pleasingly contextual, informing the player about riders around him and events in the race ahead or behind, but it is incredibly repetitive and basic, offering little to enhance the experience and lots to detract from it.
Team management features are fairly light outside of races, with players able to hire and fire staff and choose their name and jersey, but not much else. From this point, most of the hard work happens in race, and I was surprised that there was little else to do by way of setting strategy etc. Instead, most things of that sort are achieved through the comprehensive team instructions feature that can be used in race. There are tons of options to choose from (many of which still elude me after hours of play) including orders to attack the competition, protect your lead rider, challenge for a particular stage and so on.
When controlling your racer in Tour De France 2017, undoubtedly the biggest challenges comes from energy management. Each rider has an explosive energy gauge, and another one that shows their overall stamina. For most of the race, you’ll want to use the effort control feature which acts as a kind of cruise control and allows the rider to maintain a constant pace without burning energy. In tandem with the fast forward feature, players can choose when to dip into the race themselves and challenge for a particular section.
The ability to jump between riders means that you can set all riders to conserve energy, then take control of your uphill expert to focus on that stage, then do the same with your sprinter. Should you have a decent all rounder in with a chance of winning, you can then focus all riders on protecting him and take control to push for the win over the last twenty or thirty kilometres. This is where the game is at its best – about four or five hours in, when the AI and stamina management is still challenging you, but you have got the hang of some of the more unique and advanced elements of bike racing.
Unfortunately for anyone who is not already a cycling fan, you may not reach the four or five hour mark, but then again, what are you doing buying Tour De France 2017 anyway? This is a game that unashamedly celebrates the most iconic cycling race in the world, and the people who race in it. It is not the most technically competent game, but it is certainly good enough, and the trend since the 2014 edition has been one of continual improvement, and the team behind the game are clearly passionate. I hope the next edition improves commentary and graphical quality, enhances the team development mode and allows more advanced features. As far as I am concerned, those are the only things that prevent Tour De France 2017 from scoring higher.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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