Le Tour. The sweet words ring in the ears summoning visions of mighty warriors charging forth into battle on their two-wheeled steeds… Well, at least that’s what the tour riders want you to think, but the reality is that Le Tour involves a lot of riding in big groups, riding uphill, riding downhill, with some sprints to finish the stage. Aside from the occasional pile up, positive drug test and rider being launched into a barbed wire fence, the wheels go around, and around and around, then around some more.
Yet strangely, if you’ve ever started to watch Le Tour you become transfixed, unable to resist the urge to stay up till the first rider finishes the stage. Le Tour 2011 somehow manages to do the same. It’s not a great game by any stretch but as you fail time after time to break from the peloton, repeatedly burn yourself out just short of the finish and see teams working together to whip your butt, you begin to realise that there is a lot more to it than increasing your pace with B and sprinting with A.
While you can almost imagine a motion-sensor app that requires you to move up and down in time to pedal, Le Tour 2011 is not so tedious. A basic pace is set and you increase it with B and decrease it with Y, which is essentially braking. You can try to break from the pack by launching an attack, or follow someone else when they attack. It all seems so simple you figure the yellow jersey is there for the taking, ready for the green and polka-dot versions to be thrown in for good measure. At least that’s how I felt, so it came as a shock to finish behind more than 100 other riders in the first stage.
It turns out that underneath the veneer of padded shorts is a strategy that closely mirrors that of the real Tour. You work with your team to conserve your energy, form alliances with other teams to reel in other riders or attack, rocketing from the front of the peloton. All the while you have to keep your eye on your main competition, if he breaks, you follow, if a nobody shoots ahead you stay with the pack. The rider’s headset allows you to communicate with the team car or you can communicate with your own team directly, controlling them to perform certain actions such as leading an attack, protecting you if your energy is dropping.
T he key is balancing a good strategy with your own energy levels, if you exhaust yourself too early you won’t have the energy for the final dash, and damage yourself too much and it’ll carry over into the next stage. The HUD allows you to judge if you’re in any condition to mount an attack or if maintaining the present pace will gradually wear you out. Just like in real life, charging up a hill will see energy reserves diminish rapidly.
With this sort of layered strategy you’d think that everything was in place for a great game, but as I said, it’s not. Organising relays with other riders is completely unintuitive and a trip through the tutorials doesn’t help apart from the 10 Gamer Points you collect. The pace button feels completely unresponsive often taking precious seconds to register an increase, leaving you to catch up to the group. The communication with your riders is also cumbersome with multiple communication routes needed for a simple command while the right thumbstick sits idle, begging to be used to shortcut the process.
In a sensible move you don’t need to ride every part of the stage and three or four sections are taken from each to give you the full Tour experience. It’s here that the AI goes off the rails with an incomprehensible set of parameters. The idea is to calculate how you would ride in these automated sections and start you at the next section accordingly, but even the tutorial can’t give you a clue as to how to achieve this. In one stage I rode with the front four riders for the entire first 20km section yet at the beginning of section two there I am, bringing up the rear of the peloton. The AI also takes too much control of your steering, perhaps warranted given the congestion but the downhill runs are sucked dry of their adrenaline-packed danger. Flying recklessly downhill gets you automatically steered around bends, when flying off the edge in spectacular fashion would be much more appropriate. Perhaps the licensing didn’t cover sending famous names like Cadel Evins (sic) and the Schlock brothers (sic) to their demise...
Graphically, Le Tour is not much to look at, although you would expect the rider animations to be smooth given that everybody does the same things. Sprints out of the saddle can look ridiculous at times and the spectators are taken from sports games of five years ago with the lush meadows of the French countryside not so much popping up but seeming to grow from the ground as you approach, retreating to bland roughly textured space as you past. The music, although suitable in style, lacks variation and becomes repetitive rather rapidly.
Le Tour is the sort of monotony that shouldn’t come near a videogame, but the developers have banged together a decent, if not flawed title that I did enjoy. While the strategy and ideas shine, the awkward execution leaves you alienated and confused as to how the whole thing is supposed to work. In all, the avid cyclist in me saved Le Tour 2011 and I eventually managed seventh place on one stage. But for the talkback radio listeners, it’s hard to see videogame cycling striking a chord either.