Over the years, sports games have grown increasingly more popular, allowing players to participate in their favorite sport from the comfort of their home. Whether their focus is realism or simple entertainment, the appeal tends to be participating without any of the real-life complexities or obligations. This is not the case for Tour de France 2019, which is as much a simulator/management hybrid as it is a cycling game.
My first impression of Tour de France 2019 was its very slick, accessible presentation. The menus and user interfaces look lovely and tell you everything you need to know – and, believe me, there’s a lot – without becoming cluttered or overbearing. Similarly helpful are the tutorial lessons, which explain the game’s many mechanics. Completing them took no more than half an hour, and I soon learned that I had been wise to ignore my usual reckless disdain of tutorials.
Cycling is a very competitive sport, of course, but you’ll be in for a shock if you pick up Tour de France 2019 expecting to simply put your virtual feet to the pedals and out-ride your opponents. This is an experience that demands you manage the many factors of your riders’ performance, from their energy levels to how they can use terrain and geography to their advantage. A simple A-to-B racer, this is not.
Despite the helpful introduction to the gameplay, the overall experience is one of many inconsistencies. While I can see the appeal of the energy-management functions, it never really clicked for me. You’ll spend most of your time with a single button held down, your eyes glued to the numerous gauges on your screen. When your energy level dips too low, you can use a “feed” to replenish it. The same goes for your attack bar, which drains rapidly when you really start to accelerate.
There is something compelling about it all, I’ll admit. When everything comes together and you secure a win after several kilometers of cycling, Tour de France is at its best. The many factors that come into each race are very accurately balanced, and learning the ins and outs of racing technique can result in some impressively rewarding finishes.
That said, there’s rarely enough engagement for the player to feel properly invested in what’s going on. Potential hazards and roadblocks are very easy to see coming, and circumventing them rarely takes more than a button press or two. That isn’t to say the game is easy, because it isn’t. But there’s a tendency for it to fall into a routine that offers players little more than actually watching the actual Tour de France would.
The in-game presentation, too, leaves quite a bit to be desired. I was a little surprised by just how inconsistent the visuals are. At the outset of a race, a series of lingering, panning shots of French locales and countryside, bathed in generous sunlight, set the mood beautifully. Immediately after, it all falls apart and never really improves.
The actual environments around your racetrack are glaringly lacking in detail, from monotone buildings to flat, lifeless foliage. The worst offenders are the racers themselves: every single one of them has exactly the same face, despite each of them having their own unique portrait. These are actual, real-life cyclists, mind you, so seeing dozens of people with the same featureless face is very jarring.
The game boasts an impressive amount of licensed content – hundreds of riders and nearly two dozen tracks from the real Tour de France – but these are little more than numbers when the package isn’t particularly easy on the eyes. It’s easy to ignore the visual shortcomings when a race is underway, but you shouldn’t have to. One of the major attractions of a title like this is being able to see faithful, detailed recreations of actual tracks and people.
One area that doesn’t disappoint is the wealth of content available. Aside from the expected Tour de France mode, which tasks you with completing races based on this year’s race, there’s also World Championship mode. This focuses more on the management of a team rather than individual cycling, and it can often be more gripping than the main scenarios. My main issue with the game would certainly be how inconsistently it expects the player to engage with it, and the World Championship goes a long way towards alleviating that problem.
If the single-player modes aren’t enough for you, you can also head online to face off against other players. Like World Championships, there’s a lot more potential here for players to actually get stuck in and experience truly competitive cycling. Although the gameplay of the single-player races can be challenging, it’s often let down by very inflexible AI. Competing against other players is precisely what’s needed to keep the core gameplay interesting.
Tour de France 2019 isn’t a bad game, but it feels like it fell into the same habits that so many annual licensed games do: it’s clearly rushed, lacking in polish and visibly missing out on much of its potential. That said, there is a lot to enjoy here for cycling enthusiasts or even those who love a good simulator/management experience. Outside of those categories, though, this probably won’t do all that much for you.