Pro Cycling Manager 2011: Tour de France Review

By John Wippersteg on July 29, 2011

Cyanide Studios is in the incredibly unenviable position of providing a sports game in which they do not hold the licenses to all of the professional cyclists involved, they do, however, modify the names slightly. This scenario means they have decided to enable users with the ability to download, or create databases, with which you can plug into to use real names, modify stats and update team rosters every season as things progress. Unlike Madden or Fifa, they can't hold you hostage to buy the next game for incremental upgrades and roster updates. Fortunately Cyanide is well aware of this situation and works extremely hard to provide continual improvements to their game. Last year's iteration had a massive graphic overhaul which significantly improved all of the visuals for each race or world stage.

Unlike most "Management" games, Pro Cycling Manager gives players some of the more complex mechanics of a game like Football Manager, with the ability to actually control the riders, like you would with while playing FIFA. This year Cyanide Studios decided to focus on the menu system and management depth, while also making sweeping improvements to the race system.

The biggest change by far is making the riders occupy physical space while riding, which means that riders no longer pass through each other as if they were all on different planes of existence. This greatly improves the in-race strategy by making positioning at all points of the race far more important than it ever was before. This makes flat stages especially fun as the old strategy was to follow behind the fastest sprinter and hop out from behind his wheel in the last 500 meters.

Now that you can't pass straight through other riders, finding the correct position in the sprint line is far more important than just getting behind the fastest rider, as it can be very easy to get caught behind a few other guys as they fall off the pace as the sprinters close on the line. The other major problem that this solves is that during approaches to the mountains, it's a lot more important to be near the front, which is the case in real cycling, as now it can be very hard to get back up there and a lot of time can be lost with your main riders if you get caught behind a flagging bunch.

Despite the massive improvements created by this system, the AI is still not quite up to par with the changes. Riders can spend a lot of time trying to fight their way up the inside of the peloton instead of cutting outside into the wind and getting to the front a lot faster, which can be critical and frustrating especially at the start of the race. This situation can be improved by the system allowing you to choose one rider to place near the front, as it can be easy to miss the early break, or early mountain points because your rider for that category gets stuck near the back. Having the riders be a little more road aware would solve the rest of the problems with riders getting caught in the middle of the peloton.

The overall layout of the menus has been streamlined while providing the same amount of depth, making it easier to manage some of the key elements to ensure your riders are at their peak fitness at the correct time. However, a lot of the functionality in the menu system is still very unwieldy, such as searching for and signing free agents, which can be incredibly time consuming even when you know which riders you are looking for. Another feature that can get rather annoying is the inability to look at an overarching results list with every rider's results on the same page, and a bunch of sorting options. The only way is to look at each rider individually, making coming back to a season or career difficult as it can be time consuming to figure out what your original plan for a lot of the lesser riders on your team was.

Unfortunately, for a management game, there is a surprisingly lack of detail in reports, an aspect you'd think would be crucial to a game like this. While you do get generic details on how much you've earned or how well your riders have performed, there is no detail on where the finances and earnings are coming from, be it earnings in sprints, the overall performance of the event, individual rider positions or team position as a whole. Despite the changes to the system aesthetics, there is still a definitive lack of fat as most of it is generally similar to previous iterations of the game.

Despite massive improvements to the graphics engine last year, Cyanide has put in a serious effort towards diversifying the various stages so that the lesser races don't all look exactly the same, which in the past was disappointing, especially during slow points of the season. Combining this with different rider models who corresponding to their actual proportions in real life makes racing feel much more realistic even when compared to last year's greatly improved graphics.

Final Thoughts

Pro Cycling Manager 2011 is a massive improvement over the previous iterations of the game and is recommended to any fan of the sport or sports fan in general just looking to try something new. Integrated internet functionality streamlines the process for people not used to some of the more complex elements and the bevy of high quality modes will keep you interested and entertained for hours even after you've run out of things to do with your career.

Improved animation and spacial awareness between riders.
Streamlined menu system makes navigation somewhat simpler.
Diverse world stages and events.
AI still feels clunky.
Searching and signing agents lacks user-friendliness.
Lack of any substantial fat to the management meat.
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