Pro Cycling Manager 2017
Cycling, as a sport, isn’t a quick event to watch with single day races taking hours to complete. The Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Le Tour de France and the Vuelta a España) are multi-stage races taking place over multiple weeks. For the riders, these races are the pinnacle of the sport. To win a stage or to pull on the leader's jersey even for a moment is, for many cyclists, probably among their greatest ever achievements. If you win one of the Grand Tours you’re exceptional, win one or more, you go down as one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. Fans of cycling can often be seen lining the roads as the peloton whizzes by, some dressing up, some even riding the stage hours before the professionals. Others go so far as to camp out days before to make sure they don’t lose their spot or get caught out by road closures. This passion isn’t so easily translated into digital form however for the last sixteen years Cyanide Studios has attempted to do just that, and here we have its latest incarnation Pro Cycling Manager 2017.
The main meat of Pro Cycling Manager is in single-player. Here you can choose to either create your own rider and rise through the ranks or take control of one of the many teams on offer and guide them to glory. In the latter mode it’s not just the major UCI teams on offer either with a healthy selection of teams just waiting for the next David Brailsford to come along and revolutionise them. However, being a team manager isn’t an easy task. For those who follow cycling, and whom Pro Cycling Manager is clearly aimed at, know that a bicycle race isn’t simply a case of riding as fast as you can from A to B. Even a simple single day race can be filled with attacks and breakaways which require a cool head to know when to join in and when to sit back and let the stage play out. In addition you need to manage the needs of your riders and play to their strengths in order to maximise your chances of walking away victorious.
To get things started we tried a one-off race before we embarked on a career as a team manager. As we started our first race we were greeted with a rather helpful tutorial pointing out all the various aspects of our managerial HUD. Everything here is only a click or two away and we quickly had an idea of exactly what each item did. The left hand shows all your riders and their respective energy levels with one dedicated to their “attack” energy. When or if you decide to try and break from the pack or perhaps lead a sprint you can order your riders to attack. This bar depletes quickly and so it’s important that you time your attacks to perfection much like the real thing. You can also speed the race up too which is rather useful, but even at regular speed stages don’t take too long to complete. Along the bottom you’ll find the stage profile, the size and gap between groups of riders and more in-depth details of your selected rider. For all the information on offer here it’s pretty uncluttered which is rather impressive.
Before our stage got underway a commentator passed on his thoughts over the stage ahead. It was a nice touch but, as we were to find out he would, at irregular intervals during the race, pop up with rather repetitive insights. It’s understandable that not every eventuality can be covered by commentary nor can you really expect FIFA-like commentary, but once we’d branched out from a one-off race to a career hearing the same phrases and insights got rather old. Anyway, the peloton got underway and in no time at all a breakaway took off into the distance. Rather than be sucked in we held station for the next hundred or so kilometres before we eventually started reeling in the leading pack. We passed them with ten kilometres to go and it was now a do-or-die sprint to the finish. The tutorial prompts now politely advised that setting up a sprint train would be useful here, making sure to keep our main rider protected until the key moment. As we fumbled to get one set up we managed to get our lead rider across the line but nowhere near the front.
It was an exciting finish but for the vast majority of the stage we were only ever making slight adjustments to our strategy and hoping that our AI riders did their best. It’s not quite tedious but it’s not exactly thrilling either. Even in the “Be a Pro” style mode where you’re controlling your own rider you don’t really have direct control. You can dictate their effort, what they’re trying to do (e.g. protect your lead rider, relay, sprint or maintain position) and have slight directional control but ultimately you're sending instructions. This would be fine if they were carried out properly but there are some unfortunate bugs. Chief among them saw our pro rider unable to properly relay in the breakaway. When you relay, each rider in the pack is meant to take a turn at the front and the others follow in the draft. Those following use less energy and in theory, if this is done right, a breakaway can lead all the way to the finish. However, every time the leader broke off to go to the back of the queue he would push in front of our rider. Great, you might think, but because we never lead we could never push the group to stay ahead of the chasing pack. In the end we were caught up and lost our chance to win a stage. We also noticed a fair number of random falls and we once had a rider who, after going back for water, kept spending his attack energy trying to get to the front of his group.
When you do take the plunge and start your first season there’s a whole number of things that constantly need your attention. From keeping your stars under contract and happy, to making sure your riders are at their peak fitness ahead of races. We didn’t receive much assistance here beyond tutorial tips. Thankfully the different areas aren’t overly complicated but it would be nice to have the ability to offload things we’re not interested in to an assistant. That way our squad would still be training properly but allow us to concentrate on picking the riders, scouting new talent and getting strategy sorted ahead of the races. This pre-race administration can easily soak up a lot of time so the fastidious managers among you will be very pleased. Once you’re ready and your squad is selected for the race ahead you can choose to either watch the 3D race and call the shots or you can simulate it. Whilst simulating it can be tempting, it kind of defeats the point and can lead to your best laid plans being blown out of the water. By watching the race you can make strategy adjustments on the fly to make sure the rider you’ve chosen to lead your charge for the individual lead gets all the help they need.
If you’re not wanting to do any road races you can also take on any of the myriad of track events. From the individual sprint to keirin it’s all here and rendered using the same, impressive, 3D race engine. On the track, however, you do have some direct control so it’s much harder to get a good result here. In many of our attempts we found ourselves being muscled out by AI riders and barely got close to winning a race. They are fun though once you get the hang of things and you could almost describe them as mini-games. Pro Cycling Manager also comes with multiplayer and clan support, the latter allowing you to join online clubs and compete in interclub competitions. However, try as we might, we could never find any online games to join in. Even when, according to the lobby system, there were well over two hundred fellow cyclists online, matchmaking couldn’t find us a game. Hopefully, as the clan system fills up and more players pick up the game, things will improve here but only time will tell.
Pro Cycling Manager does a pretty good job of simulating race day and the different facets of the wider cycling world. The 3D engine used looks pretty decent and even on low spec machines runs pretty smoothly. If you do have a slightly underpowered machine you will encounter frequent asset pop-in and a heavily reduced draw distance. Despite this we found it wasn’t overly distracting especially since your main concern is on the riders right in front of you rather than those in the distance. All-in-all if you're a huge cycling fan who wants to conquer the world with their own UCI professional team then Pro Cycling Manager is absolutely perfect. However, it really is a niche game and those who play other, more widely known, sports simulations may find this offering a little weak in terms of depth and engagement.