As a rule, the phrase "fans of the series/sport/show will love it" is one that reviewers should try to avoid. The reason is simply because the statement is pretty much redundant. If you're a fan of watching paint dry, then you'll probably be far more forgiving about the shortcomings of Paint Drying Simulator 2015 than you would be about a game that isn't necessarily pitched right at you.
With Le Tour De France 2015 however, we simply can't get away from using those seven little words. Fans of the sport WILL love it. They'll love the fact that it contains all of the official stages from this year's Tour, as well as the Critérium International and the Critérium du Dauphiné events. They'll love the fact that the game manages to cram 198 riders into each race and that although not the most outstanding thing you've ever seen visually, it does a relatively good job of keeping the framerate up as it does so. They'll love that managing their energy, gear ratio selections, feeds and relay rates genuinely has an effect on the outcome of the race. They'll love that the tactics of riding a stage of Le Tour are pretty well replicated. If you want to be in the mix at the end of a 200km ride, you'll need to ensure that you manage the gap between the breakaway and the peloton for the entire time.
Should they be able to break through the almost Col du Galibier-sized learning curve, non-hardcore cycling fans should have a decent amount of fun with it too, although there are some notable shortcomings that may put them off. For starters, it seems to be impossible to crash. Riders have a small bubble of protection around them that prevents them from clattering into each other, sometimes to the point of not allowing you to attack or accelerate sharply if a rider is too close to your front wheel. Despite the game warning of having to brake for tight turns, you can hurtle at them at full speed and just bounce off a barrier without suffering anything other than a minor loss of speed. Then there's a somewhat limited an unwieldy menu system that hinders more than it helps. There are dozens of icons and ratings, some of which are never really explained anywhere. Beat a predetermined mission – ensure that Rider X is part of the breakaway, for example – and you'll get a checkmark and a "+1" indicator. Only it's never explained what that plus one actually is. Is it a skill boost? A recovery bonus? We've no idea.
The game modes themselves are also somewhat limited. You can race a full or shortened Tour de France, take on a few timed descent challenges, or head into "Pro Team" mode. In the latter, you start out with no money and some very untalented riders, with the goal being to race in the Critérium International so that you can gain a place in the Critérium du Dauphiné and then the Tour de France itself. However, so untalented are you riders that it'll take a few attempts to qualify for the second event, let alone Le Tour proper. Each attempt will award you with money to purchase better riders, but the majority of them are locked until you've qualified, so you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, somewhat. There are also minor but sloppy oversights such as having the ability to rename teams, but not their short names. So our "Team pX" shows up in the leaderboards with the short name of "EUR" as it was previously called Eurobikes. Riders can be renamed also, but their nationalities and ages can't be altered. There's also no option to be a rider on a team, following instructions and learning the ropes from an experienced AI captain. Instead, you're thrown right in to not only managing your own race performance, but also issuing team instructions to eight other riders whilst trying to stay on track.
These may seem like minor oversights and to an extent, they are. But they do illustrate the somewhat undercooked nature of the management side of the game. Given that the development team also makes Pro Cycling Manager for PC systems (but not consoles) we can sort of see why things are as limited as they are. More cynical folks would suggest that there's no logic in developing a fully-featured racing and management simulation for consoles, given that fans would expect it to be ported to PC, which would in turn effectively cut potential sales in half. But we won't suggest that.
The good news is that when your feet are in the pedals, Le Tour De France 2015 is a pretty accomplished game that does a good job of simulating the sport. The lack of crashes and falls aside, there's a lot to like here. Somehow, the developers have taken races that consist of a full hour of cycling through the French countryside, and made them into thrilling events that keep you on the edge of your seat. You'll constantly be second-guessing yourself, wondering if you've let the breakaway get too far ahead. Alternatively, if you're in the breakaway, you'll be wondering if you've set too hot a pace to be able to last the race. Plus if you're interested in skipping the less action-packed sections of a stage, you can fast forward through from the game's pause menu, jumping back in to take control whenever you feel like it. Even the climbs are fun, despite the fact that you're travelling at 18km/h up a 10% grade hill, the knife-edge decisions that you'll have to make are the difference between winning and losing. You may be low on energy, so maybe putting a quick bit of extra effort in now will create a gap to allow you to win the climb. But will you have enough to reach the top, or are you just burning yourself out for the rest of the race? Hang on…where's this lad on the left going? Is he going to be able to sustain that effort to the top? Should you go with him to stop him from getting away? What will that do to your energy reserves? These questions will all run through your head as you approach the summit at a snail's pace.
The same can be said for the intermediate final sprints. Riding the wheel of the rider in front is key, but not more so than judging the correct point to kick on and try to get to the front. Sometimes, opening up a gap and trying to maintain it is a much better idea than facing off with some of the world's best sprinters and again, pinpoint decisions based on how you've managed your energy levels earlier in the race will be the difference when it comes to the crunch.
As we said, there's a lot to like here. Some will find that the whole idea of managing a team is a little bit too much to be going on with and again, like we say, there's no option to just be a rider and work your way up to being a Tour winner. Your teammates do start off every stage in "Carte Blanche" mode, meaning that you don't strictly have to manage them at all, but they very, very rarely meet any of their objectives or place particularly well in a race if you leave all of the decisions up to them.
There's room for improvement in certain areas of Le Tour De France 2015 for sure but as it turns out, fans of the sport will love it.
Le Tour De France 2015 has a relatively steep learning curve that those who aren't cycling aficionados may find to be just a little bit too steep to be going on with. Those who are bitten by the game will find that there's a good deal of enjoyment to be had and we have to take our hats off to the developers for making the long, drawn-out races as exciting as they've managed to do. Cycling perfection is quite a way in front of this particular peloton, but the game is certainly on track to bank a few points.