Tour de France 2023
It’s been a couple years since I last reviewed a Tour de France game. My main criticisms back then mostly revolved around making the game fun to play and making some of the tactical parts of cycling more accessible to people who don’t know their baroudeurs from their domestiques. Whilst cycling, at its core, is simply going from A to B as quickly as you can, there’s a depth and strategy to the riding that impacts you or your team’s ability to win the stage or overall race victories. Understanding this, then, is key to being successful, so has the intervening two years allowed Cyanide Studios time to make things a little more welcoming for cycling novices?
The short answer is, no, they haven’t. What is provided is the same basic tutorial and whilst this helps you understand how to control your rider and your team, it does little to really help you fit this all together in a race scenario. I feel as though Cyanide could really lift the effectiveness of these tutorials by way of a full race scenario with prompts on what to do when and why. Something to help those who may have picked this up after watching the real life race and wanting to try for themselves to ride down the Champs-Elysées wearing the maillot jaune (yellow jersey).
Beyond the tutorial, it’s up to you to learn by doing. This isn’t too bad if you’ve played any of the previous year’s instalments, but if you’re new it’s a hors catégorie learning curve. Even if you pick one of the stronger teams and riders, you’re not guaranteed a win. A lot of it is down to stage management and learning when to respond to breakaways. Sometimes you have to respond to make sure you’re not cut off, on other occasions you can let them be, knowing that the peloton will catch them up in time for a bunch finish. However, there’s nothing here to assist and it’s something you just have to learn but I feel that’s a big turn off for casual fans who want to pick up and play and enjoy themselves.
That being said, even if there was something to help you learn the ropes in more depth, the stages themselves still feel decidedly boring. Cyanide has tried to make them lively with fans, cars and so on dotting the periphery as they do in real life, however, there’s only so many times I can hear the same quips from the crowd every other second. Visually the stages are rather nice, character models are showing their age but overall the presentation is pretty good. It’s just a shame that there’s little to really grab you unless you decide to play aggressively and attack often.
Equally, great care has been taken when you decide to take on Le Tour itself with pre-stage graphics being direct lifts from the actual race itself. If nothing else, Tour de France 2023 aims to faithfully recreate things as best it can, and with all 21 official stages of this year’s tour in there you can’t argue that it doesn’t try. This year there have been efforts to improve rider AI and the races themselves. Whilst I still find following riders to be awkward, the auto mode if you let go of all controls is handy for when you just want to let your rider cruise with the pack.
Despite Cyanide’s efforts, though, the pack still feels too congested, with holes hard to punch making it more difficult than I feel it should be to push through; it’s tough to decide whether to attack early on or to breakaway towards the end of the stage. If you decide to use the follow mode for your rider, they still tend to get separated from the rider you want to follow whereas you’d expect your rider to stay right on their wheel. Equally, trying to ride manually feels stilted with your brakes seemingly too powerful, making the twisty sections of races and descents areas where you feel overly slow, losing chunks of time to your rivals.
Ultimately, Tour de France 2023 remains a game for die-hard cycling fans and those who have gone in-depth with previous versions. For those who know what they’re doing and know how to utilise team radio to control other riders on your team, slotting into this year’s version will be like, well, riding a bicycle. It remains a competent and very complete recreation of the greatest cycling race on the planet and for those fans, having the latest teams and rosters is a must.
However, my criticisms remain that little is done to make this a title welcoming those who haven’t really played before and who wish to enjoy a cycling game without having to plan a stage or how to deploy their team mates at the opportune moments. Equally, the lack of anything of note in terms of progression from previous titles and visuals looking almost exactly the same may sting for some fans who may feel like this is nothing more than a roster update that could well have been done as a DLC rather than another full-priced game.
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