Tour de France 2020 is a fascinating example of hugely contrasting successes and failures. Cyanide SA is absolutely successful in its recreation of being a competitor in the iconic race, but that is precisely the root of many of the game’s problems. Of course, this is what attracts its core fan base – it is the advertised experience, but simultaneously keeps it from being consistently enjoyable and from appealing to a wider group of players.
A Game of Speed
Tour de France 2020’s presentation strongly relies on speed. The feeling of rushing past walls of onlookers cheering you on is thrilling and flying past competitors is fantastically fun. This is absolutely awesome, but when you slow down, it becomes immediately clear what you are actually seeing. Most spectators are the same person. Every single rider is the exact same same model. Houses, towns and trees are muddily textured. Voice acting is quite cringe-worthy at times, especially when played for the sixtieth time in a race.
It all contributes to a strange atmosphere when you are aware of these issues. While players are [of course] encouraged to maintain the speed to which these problems are non-existent, it is ultimately impossible to avoid these missteps. As a strict simulator in terms of gameplay, it is quite disappointing that the presentation was not given the same treatment.
The new first person mode greatly adds to the sense of speed and competition, especially in tight corners and split-second finishes – but also does a great job of accentuating the issues present with the visuals, giving you an even closer eye to them.
Menus for the most part are easily navigable and visually pleasing. They are also very easy to use, despite some clutter when teams and players are introduced. The sound design of Tour de France 2020 is fantastic. Just listening to the game being played is incredibly relaxing, and the sparsely placed music adds much needed excitement and levity pre- and post-race. The sound greatly punctuates exciting moments of game play and calming rids across long flats.
Gameplay is King
Tour de France 2020 is however irrefutably gameplay first. At its core, it is a resource management racing game, requiring players to effectively manage multiple energy sources in order to outperform the other racers and their own, previous times. It absolutely hits the mark in this plight but stands on the head of more important things doing this.
The titular ‘Tour de France’ race is made up of 21 individual races. These races are LONG. Averaging about half an hour for races on the shorter side, they can often become tedious in terms of excitement and variety.
Safeguards are in place to accommodate for players who are feeling bored. Players have the option to skip playing the game rather than making the game more consistently engaging. However, for those that enjoy these long races, Cyanide SA have expertly created systems that really make the ride feel like a journey. Climbing up each mountain is punctuated with an incredibly cathartic downhill run, and almost always feel earned and for the most part very enjoyable.
There are a number of modes that try to change things up to attract more players, but most do not significantly change the formula. Pro Team allows players to create a team of their own riders to take themselves to the top. There is welcome strategy in the composition of specialities among your team, from uphill riding to attacking. This is where the race-skipping simulation mode shines most, and the optional removal of physically controlling your team turns Tour de France 2020 into a solid management simulation game.
Pro Racer is essentially the same as Pro Team, but instead focuses the player’s attention onto a single rider and growing them individually. It’s disappointing that there is such limited customisation for the riders in these modes, especially when they are the core focus of them. Beyond skin tone and name, each rider is largely indistinguishable from one another. The exception is challenge mode, which is where the greatest source of instant gratification in the entire game.
With modes focusing on sprints and downhill races that only go for minutes at a time, challenges offer a much more easily digestible game play experience than the rest of the game. It was plenty of fun to attempt for the gold time, slowly getting closer and significantly improving my skills at the same time. Sadly, it is not the focus of the game, so it does not hold enough longevity to justify a purchase alone.
Tour de France 2020 is so close to being great in so many ways, but shoots itself in the foot around every corner. For those that enjoy biking or racing, and gradual improvement through simulation in games like Football Manager or Cyanide SA’s own Pro Cycling Manager, Tour de France 2020 will be a mostly enjoyable experience. For the larger group that doesn’t fall into those categories, it is a much harder game to recommend. It is a game on the cusp of something great, but yearly installments clearly isn’t doing Cyanide SA any favors.
To purchase Tour de France 2020, find it on the Xbox Store.