Gamestyle Archive intro: GS was way ahead covering cycling back in June 2002 whereas now you cannot drive around a corner without meeting a Chris Hoy taking up more of the road than he should. This is a rare example from Michael Lysons.
Le Tour – one of the most gruelling adventures in sport: three weeks of cycling; twenty stages of cat-and-mouse strategy and bike wobbling bursts of speed; and over 3,350 kilometres in the saddle. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of Le Tour and looming in the distance like the legendary peaks of L’Alpe d’Huez is the latest Tour game from Konami. But can they deliver a game worthy of claiming the Maillot Jaune?
The game dynamic is simple: press X to pedal; press faster to pedal faster; pedal faster and you lose stamina faster; lose all your stamina and you can’t pedal. Energy drinks (of which you get five each race, plus a further two from a team mate if you ask for them) will replenish some of your stamina. Riding in the slipstream of other riders’ also replenishes stamina: opposition riders may not like you taking such liberties, but you can call for a teammate to ride ahead to create a slipstream. And so riding in a race is about the balancing of stamina and lung busting bouts of pedalling. It works well – get it wrong and you’ll be dropped on a hill or found wanting in a sprint for the line. The game centres on a 5-year career mode (TDF mode), with each year split into 12 months. The year culminates with Le Tour, which you can choose to enter if your rider is ready. So how do you ensure your rider is ready for the rigours of the ultimate bike race?
Each month sees you able to do one of the following; enter a one-off bike race, train your rider, or rest. Bike races earn you prize money to spend on training and equipment; training improves your rider’s stats, but at the expense of losing stamina at the start of races; resting recovers stamina lost due to training. As each of these takes a month to complete, it is important to combine them effectively so that your rider is constantly improving and yet still has enough stamina to win races. Equipment is also important and it’s possible to upgrade your bike from the dodgy lump of lead you start with, to a piece of lightweight perfection. Strategy plays its part here, as it is imperative that your rider is in peak condition, with the best equipment possible when Le Tour arrives. The same as any other title in this respect then, Gamestyle wonders when we’ll see more attention to the game rather than the banal pursuit of upgrades.
Sure, the upgrades are important because the game is created that way, but why not give us the bike and the rider ready to go and then give us a game worth playing? It’s like buying a real bike and riding it for two weeks before you unlock the third gear cog. Arcade (one-off races), Time Trial (against the clock) and 2-player options offer a break from the TDF mode and give you more chances to unlock such important items as a new helmet or wheel skin. Time Trial is probably the most demanding aspect of the game, because there are no riders to slipstream and no team mates to get extra energy drinks from. In this mode it is important to pedal and rest at the right moment or you won’t get a fast time. It is strange that Time Trial stages – so important in Le Tour – are missing from the TDF mode of the game.
Racing deep into the peloton Gamestyle found a few rogue riders riding roughshod over the whole experience. Despite the excellent dynamic, the races are too short to really exploit the strategy on offer. In TDF mode you start way behind the leaders in each stage (and the current holder of the Yellow Jersey), thus reducing it to a mad dash to the line. You won’t find yourself cruising in the pack, keeping an eye out for breakaways; you’ll be going hell-for-leather for the majority of each stage. This makes for exciting racing, but it’s no reflection of Le Tour. There are not even as many stages as the Tour proper and overall it’s a shallow experience.
Clearly the Playstation 2 is not being pushed to its limits with Le Tour and while there are no technical pile-ups, it’s not exactly busting a gut to sprint for the line: loading is long and plentiful and as noisy as ragged breathing after a 30 mile ride; graphics are functional and fast (although you’ll never be in a pack of more than six or seven riders, again nothing like the sport); sound is less than functional, being something of an afterthought it seems; the overall presentation almost crashes into the fence marked poor, but recovers sufficiently to cross the finish line of acceptability. It’s bland and lifeless, although the spinning cog sound effect of the rotating menus at least helps mask the loading noises. What we have here is a game engine that is suited more to pursuit cycling than the endurance test of the world’s premier bike race.
Le Tour De France is not to be recommended as an accurate depiction of the sport; it’s too shallow and one-dimensional for that. But it does deserve praise for delivering a well implemented dynamic and a fun, although ultimately short lived spot of gaming. There’s enough here to make Gamestyle think a further iteration could deliver the goods, but peddling second-rate wares so a sequel can be justified happens too often these days.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10