- Replay Value
Pro Cycling Manager 2013 (by French developer Cyanide Studio) is a game that flaunts its deviation from the norm. In a gaming world dominated by shooter after shooter, it rejects what has become the standard template in favor something different. To be fair, the Pro Cycling Manager series has been around in some incarnation since 2001. Even if it is not exactly new, the game is something of a breath of fresh air.
The game is very up front about what it is and what it offers. This is neither an arcade racer or a pure spreadsheet filled simulator. It falls somewhere in the middle and the end result is that you feel like some sort of international cycling deity. In a race, every aspect of your team of riders is available to you, down to their basic life functions such as heart rate and thirst. The riders feel like ants that you can command with impunity. You can push your riders to pedal as hard as possible for the entirety of a race or hang back in hopes of a late-game push. The only limitation is that you cannot directly control any of your racers. You can issue them commands, but you can never take the wheel.
Of course, every time you exercise your god-like powers there is a consequence. During the first race my team participated in, I pushed them to their limits from the beginning. I turned their sliders up to maximum and had them attacking the front at every opportunity. The result was that for 90 percent of the race, my team held an easy lead over the scores of racers behind them. But, alas, I pushed them too hard and my team ended up in dead last by a good forty five seconds. My half dead racers pedaled half dead across the finish line, their fatigue bars near zero, some with flat tires, others with next to no water.
There’s a sense of strategy that permeates the racing segments of Pro Cycling Manager 2013 that I imagine would be incredibly appealing to cycling fans and meticulous micro-managers. You’ve got to know exactly when to attack, when to fetch water and when to eat that precious energy bar. I learned over time that it is far better to hang back and make big push than it is to expend your riders’ energy all at once.
The other half of Pro Cycling Manager 2013 is the game’s incredibly deep team management mode. Whereas the racing segments are very micromanagement oriented, the career mode is more macro based. That’s not to say that you can’t micromanage your team from career mode. On the contrary you can heavily customize your individual racers. You can even set certain objectives for individual racers to complete that will change how fresh or fatigued they over the course of the season. As the team manager, you also deal with things like signing up for races, handling retirements and new hires, injuries, training, sponsorships and signing up for races. That last part is rather crucial. The first time I entered career mode, I neglected to sign any of my cyclists up for races. The game’s interface didn’t help with this. Early in career mode, I received messages from the game telling me to sign up for races along with a button labeled “Accept.” In my naivety, I thought that clicking the button would automatically sign me up for all races. This was not the case. By the time I realized what had happened, the in-game deadline had already passed. I restarted career mode in order to rectify my mistake.
Part of the problem is that portions of the interface are buried deep within menus that are often poorly explained. Several parts of the UI lack pop-up tool tips that would be incredibly helpful in a game of this nature. For example, during races part of the interface is hidden under the right side of the screen (available on mouse-over) and none of these options have an explanation of their function, requiring the player to experiment. Nor is the conventional options menu accessible from within a race. Pressing ESC only brings up a pop-up asking if it is okay to exit the game. Interface and learning curve are the game’s greatest weaknesses. To be fair, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 has so much depth and strategy that a comprehensive tutorial is not quite feasible.
The game also offers track mode, which allows player to participate in a number of challenges like sprints, elimination races and scratch races. Multiplayer allows you to pit your team against the teams of other humans around the world. Of note is that the game requires you to create an account specific to Pro Cycling Manager 2013 when you first start the game. This account and a special activation key are required to play online. If you are adverse to additional DRM requirements, you may want to look elsewhere. In testing multiplayer, I didn’t experience much in the way of lag or long matchmaking times. It’s not all that different from normal gameplay. Instead of AI, you face off against real opponents who are well versed in how to excel at the game.
Speaking of the AI, it’s quite good. At no point could I detect the sort of rubber-banding present in so many racing games. The AI seems to be subject to the same rules that the player is. The teams that attempted to break away earlier faced fatigue problems later in the race. Graphically, the game is mediocre. While certainly no Battlefield 3, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 holds up decently. With dozens and dozens of racers on screen at once, the game doesn’t chug. However, the character models on the racers are not particularly detailed or unique. Many are indistinguishable apart from hair or skin color. I did experience pop-in from time to time. One odd glitch that I encountered only once involved involved the audio mixing during races. The game’s music, which can be described as oscillating between elevator music and Chariots of Fire, overpowered the commentary and I could barely hear the in-game commentator. This seemed to have rectified itself by the end of the race.
The game is rather scalable and runs on a variety of hardware configurations. I tested it machines ranging from low to high-mid range and the game ran well at native resolutions. Obviously, graphical fidelity was sacrificed on weaker devices, but gamers with older computers can give a sigh of relief. Watch out for load times, though. They seemed incredibly dependent on hard drive speed. A race that took fifteen seconds to load on one computer took five minutes to load on another.
I cannot stress this enough, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 is not a bad game. It is, however, an extremely niche game. For what it is, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 is actually a rather solid game. However, it is not a game that I would recommend to everyone. If you are a cycling fan or a hardcore simulation enthusiast, I’d say go for it. The game offers tremendous replay value with dozens of different teams to choose from. Fans could easily play this game for months straight and never get bored. It is available from Steam for $39.99. The game is also available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, though this review only covers the PC version.
Pro Cycling Manager 2013 lacks a broad appeal and never transcends its niche. What it is is a solid managerial simulator with a steep learning curve, a sometimes confusing interface, extensive options for micro and macro managers and an unbridled embrace of every aspect of the cycling world. It’s also a reminder that not every new game has to revolutionize the industry in order to be good. In cycling terms, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 doesn’t quite break away from the peloton.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Minimum Requirements for Pro Cycling Manager 2013 as listed on Steam:
OS: Windows XP SP3/Windows VISTA SP2/Windows 7/Windows 8
Processor: AMD/Intel dual-core 2.2 GHZ
Memory: 2048 MB
Graphics: 256 MB 100% DirectX 9 and Shaders 3.0 compatible NVidia GEFORCE 7900/ATI RADEON X1600/Intel HD 2000
Hard Drive: 11 GB
Sound: DirectX 9.0 compatible