Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review - Pro Cycling Manager 2013

I have spent five days with a video game called Pro Cycling Manager 2013 -- a title I found on Steam. I enjoyed this game. As King of the Nerds, this game scratches several nerdy itches that creep up from time to time. I find it fun and unexpectedly addicting.

But is it right for you? Well let's find out.

What is it?

To begin, Pro Cycling Manager 2013 is a combination of two different games. The first is a database management game where you take the roll of general manager of a professional cycling team. The second is a 3D cycling simulator where you take your riders into an actual race and fiddle with their racing style to earn points or win the race.

Cycling is a big thing in Europe and so it should come as no surprise that this game was published by Cyanide Studios -- a developer from France. What might surprise you is that Cyanide Studios is the same house that brought you Blood Bowl.

But if you think about it, while stylistically completely different, these two games are very similar in the way they combine database management with a sport simulator.

So, already we're talking about a game that's well suited for people who love cycling or love databases. At first, I was only the latter, but I've since then learned to appreciate the nuance and the strategy behind competitive cycling.

I will tell you that if you don't know how cycling works, it could be quite jarring when you first start the game. But you'll pick it up quite easily because it's not that complicated.

What's even better is that you'll begin to get to know your fake riders as you race with them. You'll know which guys can last till the end of the race and which ones are better suited to burn all their energy early to pick up mountain and speed points instead.

As team manager, you can then choose which guys you want to invest money in for training, which guys you want to sign for next season, and which guys you wouldn't mind parting ways with.

Pros

  • The camera is always pointed at the ground -- which is a good thing because the game doesn't have to render the graphics in the background, which would cause most PCs to grind to a halt. It's a good way to solve the technical limitations of a game this complex.
  • The game allows you to micromanage riders as they are racing. You can have them maintain their position in the pack, lead the pack, ride in a cycle, sacrifice themselves by using up their energy to save the other riders, etc.
  • You have an e-mail box that will be your source of information for 90% of the game. This box is well built and always reminds you of when you have a scheduling conflict or if you forgot to do something important.
  • When it rains -- which, as you might expect, is rare -- it really makes this game pop. The sheen on the blacktop and the way it changes the race and the world is awesome.
  • The background music is ambient Ibiza music; something you would listen to in a high-end hotel lobby or a spa in Paris. I personally love it and it never distracts you while you're trying to race.
  • No framerate drops -- even when recording.
  • You could theoretically play this game forever, especially with the fantasy draft turned on at the start of the game because each time you would have a unique roster of people. And as the seasons pass, you're going to find new riders to join your crew. In addition, each season lasts for a long time if you do all the races yourself. Even if you use the simulation feature for all the races, it would still take you about a week to make it through an entire season.
  • If you're good enough, you get to chose which national team you coach and that's like a bonus team you get to play with.
  • The race tracks appear to be identical in elevation to their real-world counterparts. Now, are the cracks in the asphalt and building locations identical? No. Nor should they be. The focus is on the strategy of the race, not replicating the city of Amman, Jordan.
  • After the race, if your guy wins you can watch him get kissed by two hot chicks on the podium. That's fun.
  • You have to manage your water as well as your pacing in this game, which is very realistic and a challenge. If you get too close to the finish line and you don't have water, you won't be able to make the final sprint and it could cost you the game.
  • While racing, you'll find the names of you riders on the road from time-to-time.
  • There's a clear indication of where you are in relation to all the other riders. You know exactly how many seconds ahead you are and can plan accordingly.
  • You can hold down the "control" key to select multiple riders and then command them as a separate group from the rest of your squad.

Cons

  • The riders often ride through one another or even worse -- because of their colliders -- interfere with one another even though you can visually see that the riders have plenty of room to maneuver.
  • In terms of the databasing, there are some connections you wish were there that aren't, so there are times where -- as an example -- you'll have to press the back key to examine the map of the upcoming race or to see which of your guys is suited for hills and then press the forward key again to get back to the screen where you assign your guys bikes. The best workaround for that is to write a list on a piece of paper who is mountain and who is flat to make the game less annoying.
  • The story is the weakest part of the game. You can create a storyline in your head about who your riders are and about their lives, but really there's not much about you as the manager. You basically are a faceless god to these people and you dictate where they go and if they eat this week or not.
  • The game has several times where it renders the field improperly. I'm sure this will be fixed with a patch someday. I've often ridden through crowds of spectators that were accidentally drawn on the road and buildings that were misplaced. It happens, but it's only for a second so I can forgive them this one.
  • The announcer is jilted, speaks like he's reading a book, and is annoyingly loud. Everything he says is "so exciting" and there's no color commentating. I turned that dude off halfway through Day 3.
  • At the end of a race, the whole field slows down as the final rider crosses the line. I'm not entirely sure if that's a creative choice or if that's because my CPU has to crunch all the numbers of 100 riders all sprinting to the finish line at once. Either way, it's annoying.
  • If you're not into racing, the races themselves could be considered a little formulaic. Also, you're going to be sitting there for a while as the riders peddle on. Some of these races take 20-30 minutes in real time to finish. Some people may find this repetitive, but that's simply the nature of the game.
  • The AI in this game is very obedient. You can control the peloton quite easily using four guys while you rush the other four ahead to steal the points.
  • There are times where it would be awesome just to instruct your one dude to follow the five non-teammates that are in front of him. However, that mechanic doesn't exist so you have to constantly monitor guys in the lead.
  • I did some experiments and the power gel doesn't seem to do anything.
  • When in relay mode, the game automatically puts you at the front of the peloton no matter what speed you're going. In my opinion, this is unrealistic.

Final Thoughts

Simulation games often hide the databases they mask because that's considered by many to be a nerdy way to play games. This game is unabashedly open about working with numbers to determine who among your available races is best suited for a race.

For me, this was a game that I could easily play for a long time. The variety of riders you can pick up, the infinite number of possible future riders that come from scouting, and the dozens of unique races you can experience combine to create a very challenging and exciting game.

Is it a perfect game? No. The graphics are a little glitchy and there's some other annoyances, but nothing they can't fix in a patch. The game itself is solid and worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review :) As a fan of the game myself (being active in communities of the game and all), it was interesting to see a review from a more 'neutral' point of view (rather than the people who already play the game and are cycling fans for years). A few comments on some of the pros and cons:
    - about the camera, it is pointed at the ground by default indeed; but you can surely move it and zoom with the mouse scroll/left click + Alt. And you certainly should do that, it's a very beautiful game imo (it seems Cyanide tries to put a lot of effort into the graphical part)
    - about the slow down at the end of the game, the explanation is simply to make the sprint last longer and allow you to watch it at a "followable" speed; if it goes in normal speed, it is too fast and you can barely see or control anything. So it's very useful when you have a rider sprinting up there, but can be a bit annoying if you're just fast forwarding to the finish (and btw, nothing changes if you're in x8 or x1 ;)
    - concerning relaying in breakaways, normally your rider will relay with the others during the whole breakaway. But the thing that has to be got right is the effort of the relay. If your rider is relaying too hard, the others won't join him. If he's on a too low effort, he won't join the relay. Generally, 50% effort is the default for relaying/most of the race, then 65~70% for the last third or so of the race and about 80~85% in the last 30~20 kms (about when the advantage to the peloton is less than 2 minutes).
    Relaying in the peloton works about the same way. If you put your rider to relay on 40% and he goes to the front of the peloton, then the peloton was going on, at max, an equal effort. If you try to relay with 40% in the last 30 kms, the rider won't really join the relay. But for the first half of the race or so, with 35% you should already be able to join the peloton relay.
    - power gel slows down the red bar consumption, so it's useful before attacks/sprints ;)

    I agree with most of the other points. The collision systems is really annoying sometimes, the riders are not much more than stats and a picture (there's little to none manager interaction with them), the AI is a bit previsible sometimes and there are a few gameplay bugs. But all in all I find it a fun and addicting game, specially for a cycling fan :)

    Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete