The Tour de France is one of the toughest and -- in my opinion -- most exciting sporting events in the world. Every year, close to 200 riders saddle up and race across a 21-stage course that spans over 2,000 miles. Aside from the occasional rest day, it's a non-stop marathon that pushes competitors and their carbon bicycles to the limit. Lung-busting mountain climbs are punctuated with deadly descents and hard-fought sprints. Riders frequently crash, breaking bones and bending bike frames in the process. Only the fittest, smartest and luckiest athletes stand a chance of winning the tour's ultimate prize: the yellow jersey.
With this year's race in full swing, I recently decided to try the official video game. My hope was that titles based on so-called "niche" sports -- anything that EA or 2K doesn't publish, essentially -- had improved since the original PlayStation era. As an adolescent, I spent many afternoons sinking hours into terrible cricket and rugby games. (I stand by Jonah Lomu Rugby, however.) By now, surely the industry had moved forward and figured out a way, both economically and technically, to do these smaller sports justice? Not in the case of the Tour de France, unfortunately.
The biggest problem is the visuals. The game, quite simply, looks like it could have been built for PS3 hardware. The buildings are boxy and strangely immaculate, with zero signs of aging or that anyone actually lives in them. I noticed six or so designs that are repeated every 30 kilometers with minor alterations (one might have a TV aerial at the back, for instance, or an extra skylight on the roof). The spectators, meanwhile, have a limited number of animations and slide back robotically if your bike gets too close.
The cyclists are as bad as the set dressing. From a distance, they look accurate enough, with colorful jerseys and appropriately lean, muscular physiques. But take a closer look and you'll notice that they're all eerily similar. Every rider has the same face, for instance, with negligible changes in height, body mass or skin tone. That's a problem given the growing diversity of the tour -- Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, for instance, looks nothing like British hopeful Geraint Thomas or Italian star Vincenzo Nibali. During each stage, then, it's impossible to tell which rider is sneaking past you without consulting the game's on-screen name labels.