We are all waiting for the 19th of June, the day of release for Pro Cycling Manager 2008 in most countries. Interviews and official press release have given us plenty of information about the game, and for every bit we’ve been eagerly awaiting more information. Yesterday, I was finally given the opportunity to play the full, finished game – the one which will hit the stores in 20 days – and I decided to spend the waiting time for today’s Giro stage on writing this very first review of Pro Cycling Manager Season 2008.
Interface – Game Presentation
When clicking the PCM 08 logo for the first time you will see the usual features, “Play the game”, “Website”, etc. However, as it was said in a press announcement a few months ago, a Database Editor will be shipped with the game, and you will find this in the autorun menu. It’s a rather simple editor, but that’s also the point of it: to make it possible for everyone to make changes. It works really well, and you can change the basic stuff, such as rider names, stats, birthday, team, age decline, potential. You can also change the teams’ names, budgets, managers, countries along with the basic stage datas. You can’t change the budgets, but there’s a natural explanation to this which I will get back to later in this review.
When the game has loaded up, you will be met by a stylish Tour de Frace-yellow like menu. Unfortunately, the rest of the design isn’t kept this way, it’s only the main menu. However, this brings me straight to one of the new “features”. Cyanide has been kind enough to make a small tool in the Options menu, making it possible to design your own interface in a very easy way. It basically makes it possible to change the menu colours to whatever you like. These are also exportable, so you can share your good-looking interface. It’s a small feature, but it’s actually quite useful.
Speaking of options, Cyanide has also implanted a few new option selections. You can now choose to limit the amount of animations displayed, and you can choose not to have replays. Both things limit the use of RAM, making the game run smoother if you decide to disable these features. Another interesting options is that you can now choose to have random fitness in Single Race-modes (= when not playing career mode).
Other than this, there are not really any changes to the interface worth of mentioning. The menus are equal to the ones from PCM07, although Cyanide did add a kind of “History” button to the Career Mode, making it easy to get back to what you were looking at previously. But interface wise, that’s it.
Teams and riders
I’m not going to go into too much detail with this, but in short, there’s licenses to all teams and riders of the Pro Tour excluding Thomas Dekker. Several of the large Continental Teams also have a license (Barloworld, CSF Group Navigare, Tinkoff, Serramenti, etc.). Also, Team Ergomo is still present. Keep in mind that a Database Editor is shipped with the game, so it’s very easy to edit the names yourself. Also, someone will surely make a Real Name DB even before the game is released.
I also promised to mention something about the budgets: Each team is now given a budget when starting a career which is decided upon some factors, including rider wages, etc. Therefore, this is not directly editable with the DB editor.
And now that I’m already in Career Mode, let’s stay here for a while. I’m not going to say that Cyanide has revolutionized Career Mode from PCM07 to PCM08 – not at all, actually. The main things are the same, but behind the beautiful outside there’s definitely some features worth of mentioning. One of the first things you notice is the “National Team” bar. As in all the previous PCM games you control a national team, but for the first time ever you now get to choose which riders who go to the World Championships. The riders you pick out can choose to say no, but except for that you now feel like you’re officially the national coach. The team you get to manage can also vary now. You can choose to either manage the national team of the country you’re from or the team of the country the team is from, so in my case where I’m the manager of Lampre, I could choose between Denmark and Italy. An interesting feature which have been requested by the community for years.
The scouting / youth system has also been changed quite a lot. This was also mentioned as one of the key changes in PCM Assistance’s interview with Eyolfur, a Cyanide employee. The scouts now have skills, showing what they are good at finding. For example, a scout can have 8 in Time Trial, meaning that he’s quite good at finding time trial talents. These stats are, of course, lower the worse reputation the scout has. Also, you no longer send scouts out for periods. You still send them to destinations, but they will stay there and gain more knowledge of the area ‘til you recall them. While they are there, they will send back reports with riders who could be interesting. While their knowledge is low, the reports won’t be too trustable, but when they know the area well you can trust them fully.
To gain more information about the riders you will have to scout them for a period of time. This is also the scout’s job. As he gets to know the rider better you will be able to see the rider’s stats. You will also have to keep an eye on the simulated U23 races and the World U23 Rankings, as they can tell you who to look out for in the future.
In general, this new scouting system is a really great addition to the game, and it certainly makes it worthwhile and more interesting to scout your own riders instead of just stealing the other teams’ talents. Also, there’s now more incitement to hire mythical scouts than in the previous versions which then again complicates the budgets ;)
Another one of the major changes is the fitness system. In some way, it has been changed back to the old fitness peak-system, although it’s more advanced now. Each rider can be given an individual training schedule, and with the training schedule you can plan which races the rider should be in top form for. There are lots of premade schedules, but you can also make your very own training schedule where you month for month specify what the riders’ training should be focused on. This also makes it way easier to have the riders prepared for more than just 1-2 months per year. For example, I had Cunego in okay form for the Giro, in perfect form for the Tour and in perfect form for the World Championship. In between, he has some rest periods where he’s utter useless.
In my opinion, a perfect compromise for those who love to plan everything down to the slightest details and those who just like to play without taking too much care of the training.
Other than that, it’s the good old same PCM. The transfers have been “fixed”, which means that teams and riders now are more orientated towards nationality. French teams will hire French riders. However, the teams will also try to hire riders who are from the same country as the team leader of the team For example, Rabobank is more likely to hire Russian riders because of Denis Menchov. It’s interesting, and it’s a lot better than in the previous versions where it seemed completely random.
As seen on the screenshots, the graphics have been improved. This has also resulted in higher minimum requirements, and I can just as well admit that I have never played PCM07 or PCM08 on highest detail – my laptop is simply not good enough for that. I’ve also had to lower the graphics compared to PCM07, but it’s also important to say that I’m – even with the lowered settings – enjoying better graphics in PCM08. It looks great, and it looks better than PCM07, so I’m actually very satisfied.
Add to this that Cyanide really has upped themselves when it comes to rider animations. Some of the screenshots have showed it, and I can only confirm it: Lots of new animations have been added, and they all look really good. At the beginning of the stage, you see riders stretching out, preparing for the race. The crashes look a lot more realistic since the riders aren’t just glued to their race bikes, and the celebrations have also been changed.
And like that wasn’t enough, the background has changed, making it look better than ever before. Cyanide has, all added together, managed to give the game a lift. I’m just sorry that I can’t play in full detail.
In fact, the first change of the “gameplay” is presented while loading the stages. For most of the larger races, there’s none or almost no loading time for the stages. This is because Cyanide has decided to make some sort of “pre-loaded” stage file (I don’t know the technical explanation behind this) which they have put on the DVD. The files are very large, and they certainly have a great impact on the overall size of the game. But it also decreases the stage loading time a lot. As said, the pre-loaded stage files aren’t made for all races. However, the game generates one itself after the first loading if there isn’t one already. So when you play the stage the 2nd time, it will load a lot faster. If you have lots of space on your hard drive, this is a really great feature.
The main changes of the game are in the gameplay. The three “bars” have been changed, and that has a great effect on the gameplay. For example, attacks now happen a lot more often and at unpredictable times. One of the main problems in the previous games has been that it has been way too easy to predict how a stage would evolve. But with this new energy and attack system, this is not the case. When being in a breakaway, you can’t just sit back and relax. Some riders may try to split the break, meaning that you have to watch it all the time, so you can counter-attack.
Another new feature is a bottle collection system. You start off with two bottles, but on the route you can ask a helper to drop back to the back of the peloton and get drinks for the rest of the team. He will then ride up to each of the riders of your team and hand out drinks. This gives the game another tactical aspect since you may lose a rider if you send him back while the pace is high, there’s a downhill coming, etc. Also, you can’t collect anymore drinks after the 20 km. mark, so if you forget this you’re screwed, and you will probably not win ;) Also, if you don’t want too ‘dead’ riders on the following stages you will also have to take care of the riders of yours who have been dropped. This gives you a more “manager-like” feel since you can’t just focus on your leader, but also have to take care of the rest of the team.
Along with the bottle system, there’s also some sort of “energy bar / gel”. It doesn’t have any huge effect, I think, but as far as I know, it’s supposed to be able to give longer attacks and are therefore perfect when you want to attack from the other favourites on a climb, for example.
Speaking of climbs, I really enjoyed playing the Tour de France. The mountain stages were great. A lot of attacks, and I also saw these “attacks from the distance” work. I saw the leader of the race, A. Contador, crash which Caisse d’Epargne immediately answered to by putting all their men in front and set the pace, crushing Contador’s hopes of winning the race. I saw the riders coming in in small groups, etc. It was a great feeling playing that race (in particular), and the new energy bars do really change the gameplay to the better.
The main features from the previous game have been kept. The protection system has been changed, though. Now, only one rider can protect the captain. In fact, this was pretty much the same in PCM07 since having more than two riders protecting the captain didn’t have any effect. However, it also has the side-effect that you can control all riders at once. In PCM07, you could assign all riders to protect the captain, and they would then follow every move he did. That’s impossible in this game which again makes it more difficult to keep the overview, thus making the game harder. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.
The daily form and observation system is the same. I’ve always been a fan of these while others don’t like the daily form feature, because it’s completely random. In PCM08, it’s still random, but Cyanide has changed the frequency of +5’s. Therefore, the daily form will in most cases not have any huge impact on the results.
It’s not very often that Cyanide decides to make a completely new game mode, but obviously, we have been lucky this year. Even before the first official information, it was rumoured that Cyanide was making a track mode, and in an interview with Clément Pinget, published at PCM.daily, it was once and for all confirmed that we’d see this completely new way of playing. And let me put it this way: It’s a whole lot of fun, especially online. I’m not track expert, so I’m not going to judge whether or not the riders’ behaviour is realistic – there are three different race modes: Sprint, Keirin and Elimination Race. Sprint is between two riders over 3 laps. You can decide to play several rounds of this (1-5), and the one who wins he most rounds, wins the race, Keirin is sort of like sprint, but with 6 riders. Elimination Race is “a battle” between 16 riders. Every 2nd round, the rider who passes the line last is eliminated. This is very well-suited for multiplayer racing, although it’s not a lot of fun if you’re eliminated as one of the first ;)
You can choose between 16 of the most well-known track riders who have each been given three skills: Sprint, Acceleration and Resistance. The only thing worth criticizing is that “sprint riders“ such as Theo Bos also participates in the elimination race. Also, the names of the track riders are wrong (e.g. Theo Bis).
Although it doesn’t look revolutionizing, Pro Cycling Manager 2008 is “a giant leap for mankind” ;) It has taken me hours and hours to write this review due to the many features I wanted to mention. With PCM08, the game is now a lot more polished than it used to be, and a lot of the features we have been asking for forever are finally in the game. It looks great, and it is great. It’s definitely the best PCM game I have played (and I have played them all).
+ Great graphics
+ Track mode
+ The new scouting system
+ The new fitness system
+ Animations in-race
- Very high minimum requirements
- Not licenses for all teams and riders
- Still some not-worked-through features here and there (the magazine, for example)
As mentioned in the review, my computer can’t play the game at highest settings, but from the screenshots the game looks absolutely stunning. The animations are great, and even with lower settings than in PCM07, the game looks great on my computer.
The new energy bars add some great changes to the gameplay. Many attacks and some unpredictability – it’s great! Add to that the new track mode, and it’s nearly perfect.
With the new scouting system and the fitness system, I’m more than impressed. These are both great add-ons to the career mode. However, it’s still not Football Manager ;)
The changes to the gameplay have definitely improved the durability a lot. With the track mode, there’s hours and hours of fun online, and with the unpredictable ganeplay in the traditional races it’s worth playing for a long period of time.
It’s one of the best CyM/PCM releases – if not the best. The overall feel of the game is just better than in the previous games. And with PCM08, I definitely know what to do when my exams are done on Monday ;)