- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PS3, 360, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Developer: Cyanide
- Players: 1-2 (offline)
- Site: http://www.cycling-manager.com/
Admit it; your favourite vehicle in GTA V is the bicycle. Incredibly rare but equally satisfying, it makes the GTA experience more ludicrous than ever. Le Tour de France 2014 doesn’t have death-defying stunts or pedal-powered drive bys, but it does have almost two hundred bicycles. You’d expect this to mean it’s about 200 times better than GTA V, but sadly this isn’t the case. We need to cut the snark now and backpedal (HAHAHAHAHA!!!) however because actually, it’s still quite good.
LTDF2014 provides not only a slightly awkward acronym, but also a fully licensed experience. Well, almost fully licensed. While it seems that every last relevant sponsor has (unsurprisingly) smoothed the path to inclusion, the riders themselves are an uncomfortable mix of the real and the imagined. This is particularly true of the British cyclists, with avatars that sort-of-maybe look like the real thing sitting alongside the names of their real-life counterparts – if those names had been typed by a drunken chimp. Braulio Waggons, we’re looking at you. We would innocently suggest that this situation played no small part in the inclusion of the Name Editor before noting that, in the real tour, Mark Cavendish has literally crashed out of the competition in the first stage, while Bradley ‘slightly less amusing name than his videogame equivalent’ Wiggins isn’t taking part this year at all.
An understanding of Le Tour isn’t necessary, but will definitely put you at an advantage in terms of not only understanding the slightly complicated points & ranking system, but also how the game is intended to be played. It’s best to think of this not as a racing game, but as an RTS on bicycles. The real competition is won through a combination of endurance and tactics; to the developers’ credit, this has translated very well to the game. You have a few gauges, but the most important is Stamina. The speed with which this decreases depends on the effort expended by your rider, and replenishing it is a very slow process usually achieved by taking a leisurely pace. Let your Stamina run out and you slow to a crawl, forced to wait many precious seconds for a tiny amount to regenerate. Almost every stage is of immense length, and knowing when to hold back and when to push forward is of the utmost importance.
The other main, much more rapidly replenished gauge is for Attack. Upon first discovering that there was an Attack button, we thought that perhaps we were in for something like Road Rash (but much slower, and with a hell of a lot more lycra). It’s not an attack button however, but an Attack button. What Attack means here, basically, is that thing where a cyclist wiggles their bum side to side a foot or two above the saddle. This increases maximum speed by deflecting wind with the buttocks or, er, something. Anyway, the point is that Attacking will decrease your Stamina at an alarming rate, which means you have to use it sparingly.
Last but not least we have Tiredness. All you really need to know is that this will decrease the length of your Stamina gauge, which can and will cause all sorts of problems. It also means that trying to stay at the front of the pack for as long as possible is actually a bad idea. Wind is a factor while racing and, unless you protect yourself from it by using other racers as a shield, it’s the single biggest cause of rapid Tiring. Before each race you get to choose two ‘feeds’ that can each be used once, during a certain time, to briefly but importantly recharge one or more of these gauges.
So, choosing what to do and when and how to do it is vital to success (especially in Pro Team mode where you create your own gang, which forces you to start with only middling-stat racers). We learned this the hard way as, more than once, we had the finish line in sight with a good placing when our Stamina died, and we wept softly as literally scores of cyclists breezed past us. The likelihood of such a mistake is theoretically reduced via Team Comms. At any time during a race you can issue commands to others in your team (speed up, slow down, protect, etc.) or even take control of any one of them. We, at least, found little advantage in this – not least because of the bizarre omission of a blanket ‘issue command to all’ option. What is included is not only the generous option of saving during a stage, but the slightly odd ‘fast forward’ option where you can pause and then essentially let the game play itself, for as much of the race as you want.
Budget constraints are seen not only in the licensing issues but also the graphics which, while not terrible, are merely ‘adequate’. The occasional frame rate blip is less noticeable than huge swathes of countryside sometimes having their textures pop in as you approach, as though you’re cycling through England and France while the Lord God Himself ushers them into being. The screen can be crammed full of racers with no slowdown, though – and that’s important. There’s local multiplayer but, DualShock 4 prices being what they are, we haven’t tested it ourselves at time of writing.
Considering the mostly sedate speeds and pretty ruthless difficulty, it’s certainly not a game for everybody. Not everybody will appreciate the constant encouragement and admonishment of The Unseen Welshman either, who frankly comes off as a granddad shouting ineffectually at the TV. We found failure and punishment to be incentivising rather than discouraging, and you can choose how much of the epic 21 stage tour you want to go through. There’s a little too much plodding steadily along waiting for your next change in pace but, nonetheless, it’s worth a second look for anybody who wants something different.