Also On: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Rating: 3 (PEGI) / E (ESRB)
Sports Management games are a strange sort. By simply being what they are, a lot of time is spent looking at things as riveting as an Excel spreadsheet. This will either draw you in or push you away, depends if you’re a fastidious nutter or not. I am, so the king of this family, Football Manager, gets a lot of my attention. However I’ve recently been playing with the Prince, Pro Cycling Manager 2013. Is he pure and strong or just another stunted dwarf? Read on to find out.
When anybody thinks about sports management they inevitably think of Football Manager, while that link isn’t completely fair, it’s also not unfair. If you’re aiming to make a management game, both hugely detailed with a lot of data relevant to that sport, while also keeping it accessible to everybody, that is the way to go. Pro Cycling Manager is the second longest running sports management game to date, having run consecutively since 2006, giving us eight iterations. You would think that having run so long, it is successful at opening itself to outsiders. Well, you would have thought wrong.
The closest I’ve ever come to cycling in the past number of years are cursory glances at the TV when a relative has been watching the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia or one of the many other events. Riding a bike? I haven’t done that properly in about fifteen years, a rather painful fall being the cause of me stopping. So why, knowing my aversion to all man-powered two-wheeled modes of transport, did I want to review this? Well, I love management games and I wanted to see how accessible it was.
What could be a bit of an issue is that it’s not accessible in the slightest. There’s no tutorial to ease you into to the game which I admit Football Manager gets away with so I can’t decry the omission too much here. However, where it does falter is the near complete lack of hints, tips or a simple help section in the game to give you information on the variety of different aspects. The only help offered is on the website. You’re linked to a twelve not-even-full page mini-guide that’s only slightly more useful than an angry man shouting random cyclist names in your ears. The only way you will figure anything out is through trial and error, losing countless races and buggering up relationships with sponsors.
What makes this lack of assistance even more difficult is the sheer mind-boggling number of options available. You have your basic things, from purchasing different sets of equipment to arranging training camps. Of course even the simple has depth, only being simple because it’s self explanatory. Certain bikes and wheels are better for certain types of races, either road, mountain or time trial. Somehow helmets improve your ability on the mountains over roads, don’t ask me how. At the same time the training, scouting and general financial management like dealing with sponsors is all simple, easy to do but not without complexities.
The difficulty comes with the more complicated aspects, most of it related to getting into the races and actually riding them. As each race starts you’re given a profile of the route, showing in a simple graph the climbs, flats and such as that. Nothing is to scale and there are also random icons that I later figured out, and by figured out I mean I was told, were icons for sprints. In the tours each stage has sprint sections that lead towards more points for different multicolored jerseys. It’s a grandmothers knitting fantasy.
Of course not much is gained unless you actually pick a team for the two wheeled death-machines, and by god did I not know what I was doing. I figured out what the stats shown represented but for the life of me I still don’t know how knowing stats like cobble will benefit me. I haven’t seen a stage that specifically told me beforehand “This road is cobbled, bring a rider good on cobbles or you’re going to see a lot of piles”. Sometimes it feels like things are thrown in just to confuse me. Thankfully around eight hours in I managed to get to a point I was slightly confident picking a team that wouldn’t embarrass itself and I even finished in the top ten in one race. Against the worst of the worst of course.
Racing is just as difficult to manager, if not more so. It depends more on the type of race as each of them have different means of controlling your rider or riders. The general race takes place on various types of roads on flat or steep land and places you in control of the full team, directing them to group up, ride a certain style and exert themselves at different times. Next is time trial, a short time spent with each rider, keeping energy and pace up to get the best time you can. Finally there’s track mode that gives you direct control of just one rider in the velodrome, managing pace and also position on the track.
Where both Time Trial and Track are easy to get through, just needing you to manage pace and to make sure you don’t get knackered before crossing the line, the general races are considerably more challenging. Taking place over much longer distances, your control over stamina is pushed to the limit. Do you try to make an early break or do you hold off until later? What is good is that the AI is subject to the same rules you are, often finding the early breakers drop to the back by the end unless they’re some of the top riders with impressive levels of stamina and endurance.
The key issue again simply boils down to a lack of communication. I fully understand the concept of slipstreaming and how staying in a group and rotating the head of the line between your team will help. The problem seems to be that each race has many different sections, each requiring different tactics for success and not a clue is given as to what. I fully understand that games like this aren’t conducive to detailed tutorials, there’s simply too much detail. The best method would be more than just a brief outline, possibly a separate short video or interactive tutorial for racing and management that explains the different aspects.
Like the gameplay, the aesthetics are a distinctly mixed bag. The visuals are pleasing for the most part with the scenery in particular looking good. On the flip sides a lot of the scenery is reused or at least it seemed like that. Iconic locations like big cities are included with certain areas recreated in good detail. The aspect that can take away is that, like the scenery, the cyclists all seem to share a limited range of facial textures. It’s somewhat disturbing to select one of the closer camera settings to see your rider, leading a peloton with maybe another thirty clones of him, only wearing different shirts.
One thing that is consistent is the music. It moves between a handful of tracks ranging from tedious to excitable, none of them exactly great to listen to but none downright terrible. The best way to describe them is that they’re all forgettable. The commentary in the races is decent, doesn’t make silly mistakes and doesn’t seem to repeat itself too much like can be found in such as FIFA and the races can last a while.
I get the feeling that even amongst the niche audiences of cyclist fans and sports management fans it aims for, it’s going to put people off. People who aren’t already comfortable from previous iterations are going to find it a long trip to get to a stage that it finally becomes fun. No, I wouldn’t like to clarify what fun actually is. A fan of cycling or a fan of sports management games may find it worthwhile sticking around. At the same time, I wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to print off the manual and set fire to it, tears streaming down their face while singing bicycle race.