The Tour de France is without doubt one of the premier events in the sporting calendar – it has the largest annual pro sport viewing audience worldwide – and its appeal has mushroomed beyond France and its immediate satellite countries thanks to the early stages now starting in London, and American Lance Armstrong’s record-breaking seven consecutive wins.
It’s therefore surprising that the games industry has been slow to include the Tour and other pro cycling races in its canon of sports sims. The one exception is Cyanide, which took advantage of this gap in the market and has now released its seventh edition of Pro Cycling Manager, which includes the 2007 Tour de France.
You can now take charge of any one of 61 official teams (20 in the Cya Top Tour and 41 in the Continental Tour) which will involve scouting for new riders, negotiating contracts, buying new equipment, handling the finances, hiring staff, arranging transfers, wooing sponsors and, of course, looking after the day-to-day training, tactics and strategies for your team.
There are over 180 races available to choose from, ranging from tours and stages to classics and individual or team time-trials, which can either be manipulated in real-time 3D or ‘fast-tracked’ in simulation mode. During any race you can micro-manage individual riders to influence their work rate, attacks, relays and sprints, etc., or get the pack to act in unison.
There are several new elements in this year’s edition, including a complete overhaul of the game interface. The management pages are accessed through drop-down menus, the navigation controls are more user-friendly and lots of information is quicker to access. The race calendar is now displayed at all times and several management tasks can be sped up without the need to select riders for races or view the results.
Simultaneous training camps can be set up, equipment configurations (i.e. frames plus wheel and helmet) can be allocated to individual riders or to the whole team and young riders or pros can be monitored for a month before any decision is taken on their potential. The new transfer system operates between seasons in order to avoid downtime and you can now ‘observe’ an opponent during a race to assess their performance and energy levels.
Fans of pro cycling will enjoy all the minutiae of the management but there are still several areas begging for improvement. The graphics are still very rudimentary, facial features are almost entirely uniform, load times are long, the race editor is insubstantial and the soundtrack will drive you insane in a very short while.