Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014: Le Tour de France Review (PC)
An uphill struggle in the wrong gear
Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014 is a really niche and weird title, pitting the player in the role of a manager for a team of professional cyclists. Players may take charge of any team in three tiers, and tell them what to do until, hopefully, they win trophies. While there exists much larger, more mainstream manager games, cycling is not exactly the first subject that comes to mind. Surprisingly, what Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014 provides is a really intricate, complicated simulation experience that I certainly didn’t expect. While this might be any aspiring cycle team manager’s dream, for anybody else it’s just overwhelming.
Players are able to participate in a number of modes, but the main focus is on the Career mode. In this mode players will manage their team and try to secure victory in a number of competitions. Firstly, they must progress through an awful UI in which they schedule participation in races. Then there is the training schedule and objectives for each racer in their twenty-eight man team, read messages, and research new wheels for extra cyclist comfort. All the details are there, but it’s unnecessarily convoluted and not very pleasing for the eye. Details that would be assumed to be significant are obscured by terrible menus and the relentless puke of an entirely black and yellow display. There are few graphical elements, and very little indication as to the impact many values and decisions would have. This is where the majority of the gameplay takes place: within menus that I (affectionately) refer to as a Misguided User Interface.
I may be quick to criticise the game before describing what’s done right, but this racing management simulator is also too slow. After progressing through twenty days of planning training with fatigue in consideration, training abroad, R&D, racer objectives, and scheduling races, I finally witnessed my first race. These elements are expected in a management game, but the general unfriendliness of the interface makes for a tedious experience that makes it drag on more than this titles competition. It’s also upon reaching these races that you begin to wonder as to what impact some of the time that’s been spent on the menu gameplay has had on the race itself.
When confronted with a race, players may select between automatically simulating the race, or rendering it in 3D and taking more control. Anyone who selects the former option is probably nuts, because the 3D race offers at least some respite from the tedium of the wasp-inspired menus -did you know that the colour scheme of a wasp is used as a warning?
During a 3D race, players may issue orders to the team in an effort to come out ahead. Generally speaking, there isn’t much to do here, but there is enough of a selection of commands that the player can have some impact on the result. Cyclists can “attack”, sprint for a short duration, but they can also alternate leaders as a pack to conserve energy. Players can also determine the effort their individual team members may exert, and order the members that are most likely to fall behind a chance at being useful by being the one relegated to the water boy role. Cyclists can be organised to protect their faster peers from wind resistance as they conserve their energy. A tactical use of an energy gel could be the difference between being ahead and hanging out with the rest of the cyclists. Poor decisions can result in your best falling behind, but good decisions can bring out the best in your worst team member. It’s reasonably well executed, but for the most of the twenty-minute races, players will simply bare witness to the fruits of their labours. The environment is a bit lacking, and the cyclist models a bit repetitive, but it looks like the Mona Lisa compared to the preceding menus.
In a whole, career isn’t awful by any stretch. There’s plenty of control, even if the impact of decisions may be small. Players can oversee everything I would expect a manager would, and more. Each cyclist’s stats are available, providing the player with a clear view of their capabilities. Unfortunately, it becomes unnecessarily complicated through poor presentation and organisation, and a general lack of information about the interface itself. The stats–both their impact and sometimes even their name–are unexplained, instead depicted by their three-character acronym. Researching upgrades to bikes and tires is confusing and unclear, and the player’s budget isn’t clear either. The title does supply a tutorial, but it simply gives up half way and leaves you to figure out the rest by yourself.
Outside of career mode, players may participate in quick matches or a track race. With the exception of the track race, these additional races simply provide an out-of-context race in which players select a team, select a strategy, and then simulate it. Similarly to campaign, these can be rendered fully in 3D or results can be provided on another menu. The track race is easily the most interesting additional package here, rendering in 3D and requiring more active management from the player. Players must frequently modify an effort gauge in an effort to balance speed and energy consumed.
Players may also compete their teams against other players in the online multiplayer mode. This plays similarly to the career, but with multiplayer elements. The team is composed of cards that determine the team’s members and equipment. The aim is to claim victory over other players and collect the dream team. There’s also track multiplayer, as well.
Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014 is a very detailed and overwhelming managing game that only the most dedicated fans of professional cycling might enjoy, and I suppose that’s fine, given the niche. However, even they may have a hard time cycling through the interface and dealing with their resistance to the terrible display, which they’ll be subjected to for almost the entirety of their time. And my bad puns.
2 punctured tyres out of 5