When it comes to real world sports as video games I am pretty narrow minded. Ice Hockey, Basketball, Soccer (yeah I went there!), Football, Tennis, Baseball and Motorsports. All of those kind of fit as videogames and sports I don’t mind watching overall in real life.
Cycling is a sport that I appreciate, but have never been able to get into. I understand the effort and dedication that is needed to compete at the top level, hell I even took my son to watch one of the UK stages of Le Tour De France, but it was 4-5 hours of waiting around for what seemed a few seconds of actual action.
I am not belittling the sport at all as I know different people like different things, so when it came to games such as Pro Cycling Manager, I just never felt the need to play them. I have no interest in it, so decided to just let it go. However Le Tour De France 2015 landed in my lap and well here is my view as a complete outsider.
I am thoroughly impressed by what I am playing, if you ignore the cycling aspect you are left with a pretty damn solid management RTS game, with the cycling itself acting as more of a wrapper, a visual aesthetic to appeal to fans of the sport.
For the uninitiated, of which I include myself, you essentially take a rider in the race and control him across the entire event, but at the same time you also need manage the rest of your team. Which is something that really surprised me, as I didn’t quite get how much of a team sport cycling is.
You’ll need to make sure you have the right members of the team at the right point of the event to maximise your team’s points. So you may have a rider who is a great sprinter, so you’ll want him challenging at the front for the sprint stage, or another who may be better at mountain stages. There are even riders who are there not to win, not to even grab points, but purely to help other riders get the best out of the race they can.
Then during each stage, the tactics that come in are almost mind blowing in their complexity. You may have a rider make a break from the pack to up the pace of the stage so it best suits his team’s best positioned rider to get maximum points, or you may get the sprinters push right ahead early on so as to be first over the line in the sprint, before either dropping back into the pack, or trying to push on to create some distance.
The leader at the end of each stage gets the yellow jersey and the next stage is then pretty much based around him; with his team hoping to keep him as near to the front of the overall standings as possible, whilst others try to counter that to leave him behind in the pack.
The back and forth that goes on every second is strangely compelling and really does make you appreciate what it takes to not just win but to even compete. I am not all of a sudden a massive fan of cycling, but I was given an education.
It’s not just the action and strategy that has impressed either. Visually the game looks fantastic, as you wind your way through European countryside and towns, concentrating on the road ahead as some pretty impressive scenery whizzes by. Riders and bikes are both modeled rather well and adds to an overall immersion that I just wasn’t expecting.
One thing to be aware of though and this depends on you as a gamer and how much effort you want to put into such a game. Despite stages being somewhat shortened compared to their real life versions, this isn’t like compressing a 90 minutes soccer match into 5 minutes, or a 60 lap Grand Prix into 3 laps.
Each stage feels gigantic, so that you really do need to pace yourself and manage your rider so they don’t get too tired too soon. Race off into the distance early to try and get a lead and hold it? Don’t think so, you will have nothing left in the tank at the business end of the stage and will lose badly, as well as letting your team down.
When you get a stage that is 130km, it may not be a real 130km, but the scaling sure makes it feel like it. Yet in a game type that I assumed would get old and dull pretty fast I found myself completely and utterly engaged and when you do get a victory, either for yourself or the team…well, you feel elated in a way I once again just didn’t expect.
I honestly expected myself to be finishing a review of Le Tour De France 2015 by telling you this is a game for cycling fans only, but I can honestly say that I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone.