It’s easy to lose a bike race. A rider can drop speed in the final meters, giving someone a way to move past him. A climber can run out of energy on a big mountain. A sprinter can lose a piece of his train of teammates. A puncher can misjudge the moment for an attack. A time-trial specialist can fail to listen to his power readings and trust his instinct. Anyone can get tangled in a big crash.
Each rider can fail to adequately keep himself fueled up. All these real-world problems are present and can cause the same amount of trouble in Pro Cycling Manager 2021. And, just like in real life, when the player overcomes them and gets to the line first there’s a tremendous joy.
The title is created by Cyanide, which has long worked on the franchise and published by Nacon, on the PC. In the small world of sports sims, the two companies tackle cycling, delivering a game that mixes management and actual racing.
Gamers can pick a team and then decide how and where its riders will race. The player has full control over objectives, selection, tactics, contracts, scouting for future talents, eventually, even sponsor and equipment choice. Anyone can set their objective and build a narrative around it, which means that knowledge of real-world cycling, its stars, and its stories, is a requirement.
The management element is important for success but the important action takes place in the 3D races. The game mostly does a good job of simulating competitions and rider attributes are pretty well chosen (the fan community will deliver more detail and granularity relatively quickly).
The gameplay is mostly the same as in previous years but cycling fans do have one thing to look forward to hot crosswind action.
Certain stages feature sections with lots of wind and that allows echelons to form and teams to try and split the peloton. It’s a cool addition, especially in Grand Tours, but the implementation is a little weird and a good player can exploit it with the right riders.
Pro Cycling Manager 2021 does feature a big improvement for simulated races. If the player chooses not to control his riders directly he can get a result in a few seconds. In previous years these were bad and often gave unfair advantages to breakaways or solo attacks. This year’s game brings a major improvement in realism, meaning that it is often safe to simulate stages knowing that your riders will perform close to how they would in the real world.
I spent almost a full year with Trek Segafredo and I already managed to improve their performance in the Classics and the Giro, although I still failed to make an impact in Le Tour. With transfers and a new sponsor I know I can make them a powerhouse in 2022. And Pro Cycling Manager 2021 is great for allowing fans to live out this kind of fantasy.
For someone who has never played a PCM game before the 2021 edition offers a solid simulation and management experience. It is thrilling to take a favorite team and make it win everything or just the things that its real-world counterpart has failed to.
The problem is that the game barely evolves from year to year. The changes from 2021 to 2020 are mostly good but they are minor. It will again fall to the fan communities to create mods that improve the overall experience and to organize to keep the multiplayer interesting. The game needs to innovate more and improve the engine from year to year to remain relevant.
Pro Cycling Manager 2021 does not sport any graphical improvement over previous versions of the title. With the right angle, every option maxed out, and with a race paused you can get screenshots that look very close to the actual sport. But the engine is showing its age, especially when staying close to the action at maximum speed.
The interface has been improved over last year’s game, especially when it comes to team and rider information. The sound design remains lackluster and, after a few hours, I reach for the incredible Tour de France from Kraftwerk to keep me company in my cycling adventures.
- Crosswinds and echelons
- Better simulated races
- Cleaned up interface
- No gameplay innovations
- AI problems
- Less control over training
The game does not have any clear competition, which means there’s little pressure on the developer. As it stands fans of the franchise should continue to play the most recent title they have purchased, which by now has solid community-created mods and offers a better overall experience.
Cycling, as a sport and as an activity, is growing. And there’s no reason a video game built on its core concepts should not be incredibly popular. Both developer Cyanide and publisher Nacon need to evaluate their recent release and the history of the series to find a way to push it forward. If Pro Cycling Manager 2021 thrives it will be because of the fans and the community and not because of the two companies, which is a shame.