If your Sunday bike ride doesn't take you 180 kilometres through some of the most scenic areas of Europe, you really need to buck your ideas up. The rest of us – statuesque in our hard-bodied glory – don't really need a video game tie-in for the Tour de France, because we live it every single day. Still, last year's travesty adaptation left even the most god-like of us red faced and gasping for air. It was an experience filled with as much negativity as Lance Armstrong's first dose of the day. Thankfully, Tour de France 2015 is much, much better.
That's not to say that you should rush to the shops to buy it. The entire experience – the races, the celebrities, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals – is an acquired taste. This isn't a speedy jaunt around a track, where every second could see a sprint to the finish line or, we hope, a death or two. It's a long, focused journey, with tall hills and seemingly endless roads. A single section of a race can take you 40 minutes to an hour, and everything could easily go wrong for you in the final seconds.
This is a simulator, where your rider's position and gear really matters. You'll hold down a button to pedal, watching your energy and perfectly timing your occasional attack. Being in first place means nothing if you've still got over 100 miles to go. This automatically makes it a niche title and not one that anybody should buy on an impulse.
How extraordinarily slow can it be? Part of the way through a race, the co-driver jumped on the radio to let us know that absolutely nothing was happening. Those were pretty much the words he used, and he wasn't wrong. When an AI in a game warns you of the utter dullness of the thing that you're doing, you should seriously take notice. This isn't a title for people that want to have endless fun.
It is a game for racing fans who want to appreciate the effort that goes into winning the Tour de France, though. It's not about single riders, but about entire teams, and that's represented quite well in the game. You can swap riders at any time, but you'll probably mostly use it to switch out when your main is too tired to continue. There have definitely been improvements over the last iteration, and it no longer feels like that little cheat is its only purpose. Controlling the team tactically seems far more doable.
The physics engine has been improved as well. While you still can't cause an international tragedy at the starting grid, you can't cycle through your opponents either. Knocking them off isn't an option, but at least you're no longer playing against the undead. This was a major problem in the last title, because it killed any sense of competition, and we're glad to see it fixed.
The graphics are better than last year, too, but most importantly the rendering has been somewhat fixed. You'll still see blocks of colour transform into lush fields before your eyes, but it no longer happens as you're cycling past. On top of that, frame rate issues are kept to a minimum, with most of the problems occurring in the opening seconds of the race. This still isn't really acceptable considering the rather high loading times, but it's better than it was so credit where credit is due.
The crowds have been fixed, which goes a long way towards improving the experience. The same three or four people seemed to sit on every corner last year, but that appears to be less of a problem now. You'll see the same two or three shirts – everybody buys Tour de France merchandise, apparently – but few of the same faces. They still don't exactly focus on you, instead looking at the direction of the race in general, but new animations and the fact that they step into the road to get a look at oncoming racers give the supporters a whole new lease of life.
As well as the Tour de France mode, which puts you into the saddle of top racers, you can play as a pro and try to bring your team to the top over a number of seasons. The multiplayer returns, but is still local only. We'd make a joke about the sort of person who buys these games not having any friends, but actually an online multiplayer mode would probably be beneficial for quite similar a reason. Bribing your loved ones aside, a title like this is unlikely to have people queuing for the controller.
On top of that, there's a set of challenges that task you with completing downhill races as quickly as possible. Trophy hunters take note – this could be the easiest gold since Final Fantasy Type-0, and there's plenty more where that came from.
With thousands of miles of track to ride, it's fair to say that the content on offer is pretty sizeable. You won't be spending hours falling in love with the scenery, but it'll take you a long time to see absolutely everything.
Tour de France 2015 takes a relatively slow viewing experience and replicates it. It's not especially fun, but at least it's not utterly broken like last year's attempt. Those tempted should buy in the knowledge that you'll get exactly what you expect, and no reality-busting glitches or road-praising crowds. There's clearly been a lot of effort made here, and the game has improved massively as a result.