Before playing this game, I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of Le Tour. Don’t get me wrong, I had nothing against it, I had simply never taken the time to really get into it. I knew what a Peloton was and I knew what the jerseys represented, but I would have certainly struggled to explain the finer points of the sport. Now, having spent a considerable amount of time with Le Tour 2011, I can honestly say that little has changed.
Le Tour feels crude, rushed and at times, very unforgiving. It’s not that it’s an incredibly hard or bad game for that matter (fans of the sport should pick it up in no time) but thanks to a poor tutorial, a general lack of explanation and a plethora of rough edges and poor design choices, for all but the initiated, Le Tour will often feel like an unforgiving, unenjoyable chore.
It’s a shame too because when everything falls into place, Le Tour can be an addictive, highly tactical sports title quite unlike anything else on the market. With the exception of these all too brief moments though, Le Tour proves to be a major let down thanks to its often unintuitive controls, shoddy graphics and largely boring gameplay.
Rather than taking the traditional videogame racing route, Le Tour only offers the player minimal control of the steering of their bike. Although disappointing when in clear air and extremely so when rushing down hill at high speed, it’s an understandable choice on the part of the developers, Cyadine Studios, given the nature of Le Tour’s racing.
By taking away much of the skill associated with the steering of the actual bike, Le Tour puts a more tactical emphasis on managing ones stamina and alliances. If you are going to get anywhere in Le Tour, you’re going to have to plan each part of every stage very carefully. With a set pace established automatically, you can increase and decrease your pace via a single button press or make a dash for the front of the pack by holding down Y. For the majority of each stage, it’s a matter of managing your position within the Peleton before deciding when to make a dash for the front of the pack – leave it too late and the winners will already be celebrating, but go too early and you may well run out of puff before the finish line.
It’s a simple enough system and one that, on paper, does sound rather tedious. While it can prove laborious and rather uneventful at times, just like the real sport, it can also be strangely hypnotic once you get into the swing of it. By calling your teammates into play, you can form up lines that decrease wind resistance and thus energy output, while alliances can also be made with other teams as you ride up front for mutual benefit before deciding the right time to pull the trigger and make your move. While these options do add an extra layer of tactical depth to proceedings, the extremely unintuitive command menu makes the experience more of a chore than it should be and, despite making each race a more involving experience, will not be enough to entertain those who aren’t already huge fans of the sport.
Although all 21 stages of the Tour are present and accounted for, you do not race anywhere near the full length of each stage. Instead, each stage is split up into three sections that include the start, finish and a middle section in which you can race for a particular jersey based on sprint and king of the mountain challenges. While this keeps the middle section interesting and the event as a whole more palatable, the AI that decides your position for each section is severely lacking. Between each section, the AI takes over and (supposedly) determines your position for each subsequent stage based on your previous performance. The problem is that your position often seems completely detached from your performance and thus drags the whole system down with it – there’s nothing worse than riding to a respectable finish, only to find that the AI has gone and stuck you at the back of the pack for the next section. Shocking!
While the screenshots might suggest a game that is at least graphically impressive, once up and running, Le Tour fails to impress. All the riders look exactly the same, the animations are surprisingly disappointing (especially when sprinting) and the crowd and locations are of a consistently low quality. There are moments when everything comes together to provide moments of visual quality, but like the gameplay, these moments are fleeting at best.
Le Tour de France 2011 is a strange beast. It’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but despite its best efforts to put you off, it can be a bizarrely compelling experience. Fans of the sport will certainly find more to love but even the most casual of cyclists may well find themselves dragged into the addictive stamina management that makes up the core gameplay experience. Behind the poor design choices, shoddy graphics and somewhat boring gameplay is an addictive and strangely enjoyable cycling simulation. At times it will infuriate, at times it will disappoint, but if you’re looking for a truly unique sporting experience, Le Tour de France 2011 might just fit the bill.
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