Ever wanted to manage a team of professional cyclists? No, me neither though I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why until I played this game. Apparently cycling is all about statistics, imposing menu screens and repetitive races. Did you know that all cyclists look exactly the same? It’s uncanny.
As the title suggests, you assume the role of a manager of a pro cycling team (in the year 2014). You choose from one of three levels of pro cycling – Continental, Pro-Continental and Pro-Tour, ranging in difficulty in that order. Then you can pick a team from the 75 on offer or create a custom team and have complete control over the riders and levels you manage. The game suggests you pick a CYA World Tour outfit on your first season (no, I’m not sure what that is and I don’t care enough to look it up).
Before I go on, I do have a major complaint with Pro Cycling Manager. This is not a noob-friendly game. If you’re not into professional cycling, you’re going to feel lost. A bit of explanation here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss. Cyanide have catered to their very niche market and ignored everyone else. While it’s impossible to please everyone, they really could have made things a bit easier for those who might not follow cycling as a professional sport but enjoy sporting simulation games. The most obvious comparison that springs to mind is Football Manager, a well thought out simulation game that makes you fall into the “just one more turn” trap. Also bear in mind this is coming from a non-football fan so it is possible to make a game fun for people outside your niche.
With that mini rant over, we can move forward into the simulation screens. First impressions are that they are extremely daunting. The yellow and black interface is difficult to look at for any length of time and the weird techno music thumping in the background gradually sent me into a state of confused depression. The devs seem to have forgotten this game has 2014 in the title, not 1995. The tutorial helpfully points you to the tabs and menu options you need to negotiate then leaves you in order to pursue other things, like a tour guide with Alzheimer’s.
You need to set some goals, for the team as a whole in order to meet your sponsor’s demands, as well as for individual racers. This is where the game actually works, in its endless micro management. You can leave things at default settings, recommended for your first time, or you can delve into the depths of pro cycling and fiddle with the seemingly most insignificant of details. Once you get a handle on how things work, it can be a very rewarding experience.
But you may not get that far. With an ugly overwhelming interface, lack of decent tutorial and no sense of easing you into the complexity, you will probably have given up, unless you’re really into cycling, by the time the first race rolls around. This takes a while to happen and I was beginning to wonder if I’d somehow missed it. The yearlong calendar progresses one day at a time though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a week at a time. After the first career game, this will probably be beneficial, giving you the chance to tweak things before you start but at the very beginning when you don’t know what you’re doing, it just drags.
The majority of your time will be spent on the messages screen, where you will receive all your updates from staff, riders, sponsors and the cycling league you race in. So when a race day does appear, you may want to actively take part just to give yourself a change of scenery.
Of course you get the option to just view the pre-determined results but it’s fun to take part. Kind of. The racing is in 3D! And the scenery is pretty, there’s no denying that. However the racing animations are generic and repetitive and the racers themselves don’t seem to have any personality or identity other than what’s on the back of their shirt. What taking part does is give you the chance to sway the outcome by making decisions on how racers behave, like when they attack or who needs to drop back for water bottles.
There is strategy involved here and the level of detail is admirable. Races take around 20 minutes so it’s only advisable to view them if you intend to adjust things otherwise you’ll just be watching a repeat of cyclist animations, marvelling at your teams ability to take the lead so easily and then realising you’re watching the wrong guys and yours are languishing at the back of the pack, probably looking at the scenery.
Back to the horrible menu screens to make a few changes then. The transfer system works well; there’s a real feeling of competing against other teams for star riders (sorry original team guys but I didn’t realise you were so rubbish when I picked you). There’s also an equipment sponsor system which allows you to have a say on R and D for bikes and wheels.
One complaint I have heard (that I’m afraid made no difference to me because of my general cycling noobiness) is the lack of license on names. The result is something rather like Pro Evolution Soccer with people like B Waggons and C Vroome amongst the list of players. It’s easy to figure out who they’re supposed to be (unless you’re clueless about cycling) but does detract from the overall experience, especially for those who really are into cycling in a big way and want a chance to simulate management of their favourite teams and players.
Career mode is obviously the main lure of the game but you can also play quick matches and track races. Quick matches provide an out of context race in which you select a team and strategy and simulate it. Like the campaign, these can be rendered fully in 3D or the results can be viewed on another menu. With the track race, you have to frequently modify an effort gauge to balance your speed and energy consumed. These do provide a welcome respite from the intensity of management and menu gazing but get boring pretty quickly.
There’s also an online multiplayer mode where you compete against other players and works in a similar way to the career mode. Your team is composed of cards that determine your team members and equipment. The aim is to claim victory over other players and collect the dream team. There is also a track race multiplayer as well.
Pro Cycling Manager did suck me in a little but overall it was too overwhelming to enjoy and I didn’t see the end of my year. For a game that relies heavily on a user friendly interface it looks and sounds dated and is very off putting generally in its appearance and approach. Those who love pro cycling will definitely get something out of this, with the level of detail that has been incorporated but for everyone else it’s not recommended. Get your sporting simulation fix elsewhere.
MLG Rating: 3/10 Format: PC Release Date: 19/06/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Pro Cycling Manager 2014 by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.