The Tour de France winds up today and I’ve had a great time watching some of the highlights over the past few weeks. While I’d love to watch the whole thing “live” I don’t quite have that kind of time. Even so, while I’m not a cyclist myself, the Tour has once again piqued my interest in the sport. Recently, I was given the chance to take a look at a cycling simulation, Pro Cycling Manager – Season 2012. The program’s strength lies in its depth of play. Playing not as an individual cyclist, but as the manager of an entire team, one can simulate single races all the way up to multiple seasons including recruiting and trading around various cyclists. This depth of play is also the game’s downfall as the game caters primarily to the die-hard cyclist crowd with very few “easy” modes available.
The heart of the single player mode is managing a sponsored cycling team through several seasons. Winning races, of course, but also trying to keep the team healthy, recruit new racers, and keep the sponsors happy all at the same time. To ease into the game, individual races, stages, and entire stage races can be practiced outside of the management mode in order to get the feel of how the game is played. And Pro Cycling Manager does have quite a bit of a learning curve. While the manual and in-game hints go a long way towards easing in a neophyte into the world of cycling, the game is best appreciated if you already have some idea of how team cycling works.
In a standard event, one is given the choice to pick out various bits of gear (chassis, tires, etc…), set up team strategies (who is going for a break, who is the leader, and who will be assisting the others), and other details. Once all that is decided the race can be completely simulated, partially simulated, or even micromanaged on a sort of real-time mode where each rider’s effort meters can be adjusted along with queues as to when to load up on food and water and when to push for a breakaway. All in all, it is nearly overwhelming but can eventually be learned. This is not a game for the faint of heart.
Gamers who want to go even deeper can edit or change around the provided rider database, creating their own or altering rider stats to their heart’s content. There’s even a stage editor if you want to create your own race on your own terms. For more of a challenge, there are ways to play online vs other humans, such as Armada mode where you create a team and then challenge other gamers in a sort of ongoing online racing league.
When all is said and done, the game does a great job of bringing the world of professional cycling into a reachable pastime for those of us not about to train for hours a day on a bike. However, it isn’t for the faint of heart. While some modes, such as time trials, can be played in real time with moderate success, to truly succeed at the game, a player needs to put in quite a bit of detail-oriented effort. This makes the game a recommended buy only for fans of the sport who really want to put some time and thought into the details needed to run a team of cyclists in a race or (even better) a series or season of races.
Kid Factor: Not a lot of worries here for inappropriate content, however I would venture it isn’t quite a suitable game for any kid other than a very biking-crazy teenager. There is plenty of text to be read, but the main issue would revolve around the depth and complexity of the simulation. A younger kid might be able to muddle through some of the more higher-level simulation aspects without worrying about the details but would probably become frustrated at the lack of success that would provide.