Pro Cycling Manager 2020 (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 13.07.2020

Review for Pro Cycling Manager 2020 on PC

Cycling doesn't often get much love in the gaming scene. This is surprising for a sport that, by its very nature, is filled with exhilarating action, and seems to exude all the qualities which make up an ideal video game. Even more surprising for a sport that dominates some of the most lucrative commercial deals, highest TV ratings, and revenue, and includes some of the biggest and most high-profile sporting stars on the planet. While there have been of course some specific racing titles over the years across a variety of consoles, Pro Cycling Manager 2020 is aiming to be the quintessential representation of the sport as a whole, encompassing the management of an entire team of racers in a formidable management simulation. From developer Cyanide Studios, this latest entry, in what has now become something of a yearly fixture in the mould of Football Manager, features over 230 races, including some of the standouts like the entire Tour De France and La Vuelta. While the race action itself stands at the centre - dealing with cyclist happiness, sponsorships, development and training all come into the mix. Cubed3 took Pro Cycling Manager 2020 for a spin as first-time cyclists to this extensive series.

Sporting simulators by their very nature appeal to a niche, and Pro Cycling Manager 2020 is no exception. From the first second this formidable simulation of life as the manager of a top cycling team is a baptism of fire into the complexities of running a successful venture. Some people have described this genre of game as "spread-sheet simulators," and in some respects that is an unfair categorisation to those who know and love the particular sport or other interest (whether it be football, Formula 1, or in this case cycling). However, what is true indeed about that tag is that Pro Cycling Manager 2020 throws a wealth of information, numbers, and concepts at the player, and it is a job in itself to navigate through. This sounds like an overt criticism, but you are advised to take it one step at a time as experimentation and perseverance is soon rewarded.

On starting there are several options available, including the full-fledged career experience of taking control of an entire team of riders and yearly schedule of events. Interestingly though there is then several other options for play - with 'Pro Cyclist' stripping away the complexities just down to one specific rider in a closer kind of role-playing way. Then on top of that, there is the ability to go through a one-off race which is particularly useful for practicing particular race mechanics and strategies, alongside track events such as time-trials and sprints. These other options are very welcome additions, and go that extra mile in terms of adding a touch of variety and gameplay options.

For someone experiencing a cycling simulation title (or indeed any such simulation title) for the first time, things could seem overwhelming in terms of knowing where to start. With dozens of real-world teams to select, all with their own specific riders and level of resource, it could leave some scratching their head. This is where a very solid tutorial comes in handy, and thankfully Cyanide Studios has provided that here, with a system that walks through each individual menu on the screen, explaining in detail the function and situation it is used in. In fact, in some ways the tutorial toolboxes are slightly too detailed and wordy and the whole process definitely requires a not-insignificant time commitment to really get to grasps with.

Screenshot for Pro Cycling Manager 2020 on PC

They also do appear to skip over some of the more basic elements of simple gameplay, with the tutorials during races for example not doing a brilliant job of covering the more entry level elements of cycling. Again, this is a genre that rewards time commitment and experimentation, and ultimately that is what is required here. One great addition noticed that was not in the previous titles is a new AI assistant that will help to plan racing schedules, and also assign particularly cyclists to particular races. Those who know the cycling world will know the schedule of races is mammoth, and in game the calendar and abundance of team racers to fill it with is equally enormous. Having the assistant to help with this is an excellent piece of good user-interface.

Speaking of the UI… it is often said when reviewing other such simulation titles that this important point of gameplay and design can make the difference between a real premium simulation experience, as opposed to one were some of the less developed games tend to fall down. It has to be said: Pro Cycling Manager 2020 does an excellent job in this regard. Football Manager from Sports Interactive would largely hold the crown for this, but Cyanide Studios has clearly taken a leaf from the latter's book and have shown great care in designing the screen players will spend hours upon hours looking at. The dashboard is split up into easy to access screens with information laid out clearly. There is a fine balance struck successfully between having too much information on the one page, but also avoiding the need for endless flicking between different tabs and screens. With different sections for financial matters, research and development, scheduling and team training and treatment, everything is a breeze to navigate.

So what does gameplay actually look like in Pro Cycling Manager 2020 beyond numbers and charts? Firstly there is a fully realised 3D engine which involves every stage of every one of the more than 230 included races. While graphically these races might fall below a triple-A title, in the simulation genre the representation of races is highly detailed. There are a ton of different locales depending on the race, and the likeness of towns and villages as riders weave through the hills and countryside is excellent. From a physicality point of view, it definitely has that feel of being very much on-rails when watching, but that is to be expected in a genre which uses the 3D engine to interpret numbers rather than the direct control of a player. As any cycling fan will know, the level of strategy among teams during those races is incredible and Pro Cycling Manager 2020 attempts to bear this out.

Screenshot for Pro Cycling Manager 2020 on PC

From forging ahead of the peloton in a sprint for glory, to setting up strategic coordination between teammates to maximise the best result and even having to collect water and use energy gels, the level of detail is extraordinary, and the AI is largely competent (albeit sometimes a tad aggressive from the opposition), although some level of micromanaging is required. It is however also punishing at times, and this is where frustration for newer players could definitely come into sharper focus. Not knowing the best times to do certain things can lead to failure ultimately, and a disaster during one stage of a race can potentially spell the end of the whole tour. It is high stakes and high-reward. In that way, although it does feel exhilarating when it all comes together - and the addition of everything from cyclist heart rate, energy, levels, and injury, all mean there is plenty to keep the player occupied with.

One of the new additions for this year's experience is a new morale system. This adds another layer on the racing performance, as morale now has a direct correlation with performance during races. Therefore, keeping the team happy and content now becomes a much bigger consideration. Each racer will have individual goals and demands of their career they want to achieve. The balancing act of keeping everyone happy whilst maximising the overall team performance is just another little facet to keeping the experience fresh and demanding. That demand is also on top of each cyclist obviously having different bespoke roles within teams. This is where another larger strategic vision comes along and meshes. With roles from sprinter to hill climber and everything in between, developing a team with a mix of different abilities and deploying them during races is a fantastic tactical layer.

One of the considerations is in discovering and developing younger riders and gradually bringing them through the set up. This development is satisfying, and works in a similar way to bringing through football players in Football Manager, with training improving their stats and granting them a specific attribute in relation to their role. There is also a transfer system of sorts in which other cyclists can be poached between teams, and getting some of the best-known real-world riders is always an immensely satisfying experience, and assists greatly in building up a team into becoming a real force… alongside impressing sponsors.

Screenshot for Pro Cycling Manager 2020 on PC

Said players and also research into new bike developments are ultimately paid for through success, and this is the metric that Pro Cycling Manager 2020 judges most harshly on. Sponsorships and negotiating new ones rely on success on the road. Failure at competitions leads to penalties and ultimately a loss of that income. With newer players starting at the best teams, this might not be such a problem thankfully, with a lot of the best riders managing themselves pretty well and the highest resources, allowing the best training and development around. However, move around and try and take control of a team in one of the lower ranked associations, and suddenly it becomes a very big challenge, but at the same time an immensely rewarding one that takes time, patience and energy - the things any good simulation title demands and thrives upon.

It was mentioned in passing above but it is worth coming back to one of the other modes within Pro Cycling Manager 2020. While naturally one assumes anything other than the main career mode is going to simply be a poor addition, 'Pro Cyclist' actually ended up being the mode that occupied the attention the most whilst playing. In fact, it is frankly a fantastic way to play the game generally, rather than any sort of side addition.

For newer players, especially, it successfully strips away the mammoth task of having to manage a whole team. Instead, the mode collapses everything down to just one rider, controlling their individual career. This is done in a really cool role-playing fashion, with the ability to design the appearance of a cyclist, designate their specific role, and then choose a team to be hired by. On top of that, they also have a skill tree, and level up depending on the performance in races. In adding this mode, it was a very astute move by Cyanide Studios, and displays a particular care and affection to its game that is very welcome.

Screenshot for Pro Cycling Manager 2020 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The reality when it comes to games like Pro Cycling Manager 2020 is that any conclusion is ultimately going to be viewed through the eyes of those it is appealing to. For cycling fans, this whole package is probably the ultimate dream of combining everything that is great about the sport into one extensive management sim. The level of detail in rider stats; the amount of control over races; the strategic plays during the heat of action. All of these things mean for fans it is absolutely a must own. That said, niche genres always have to be balanced to also allow for the introduction of complete outsiders to the field. For such people, the experience is still an overwhelming one, even with the addition of a rigorous tutorial. There is still a whole heap of gameplay mechanics that could do with just a bit more explanation. With all that said, the Pro Cyclist mode which streamlines many of the most complicated mechanics into a more traditional role-playing mode, helps in that regard significantly, and therefore pulls the overall experience for newbies up.

Developer

Cyanide

Publisher

Nacon

Genre

Sport

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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