Today I bring you no deep thoughts, no major revelations that, by the end of the review, will attempt to teach some moral lesson or give you food for thought. Today the issue is serious, so let’s just get straight to it and talk about what feels like the longest con in gaming history!
If you’ve been playing yearly release games for a few years now, you know how this goes. Fresh coat of paint, add a couple of cheesy new features to try and appease the player base, brand it according to whatever year it is being released in…and call it a brand-new game! Most game series take this approach more times than they actually should, but Cyanide (recently partnered with Nacon) always takes this approach to ridiculous and extreme levels. In fact, with the exception of a few good titles that actually introduced changes, this is pretty much the history of the Pro Cycling Manager (PCM) series. It has felt like a long (but poorly executed) con for years now, but Cyanide keeps getting away with it because there isn’t any actual competition to make them change.
Which means that if people want an actual cycling game, they will have to get PCM at the end of the day.
If you are not familiar with Pro Cycling Manager, the series pretty much puts you in the seat as the directeur sportif of a professional cycling team. Sure, let’s call it a manager, as that is pretty much what it is at the end of the day and let’s agree it makes for one heck of a better title. So far so good. You have to take on a full cycling season (or seasons) of managing your team, riders and races, trying to find the best results, trying to please (and keep) your sponsors, dwelling into the natural problems that hinder real life cycling. Well, except for the biggest of them all, but that really isn’t a theme for today. The great thing about the PCM series, and the same happens in its latest iteration, PCM 2020, is that you get the best of both worlds – you actually have to take on the managing aspect of the game, while also being able to control your cyclists in the actual races.
This makes for a very, very fun premise. One in which you have to manage cycling to the depths of actually instructing what your cyclists will do on road, as a team manager has to do, which in this game means pretty much racing as them and controlling their every moves. Trust me, it’s fun. It’s a great premise, it seems like the foundation for a superb game, a superb review and happy customers. Right? What could possibly go wrong? How about nearly everything?
The thing about PCM 2020 is that its capital sins are immediately announced as soon as you start the game and click on the “what’s new” section. What actually is new in this game? Not much… Long requested things like a race planning assistant and rider moral are announced as if they were the groundbreaking features of a generation instead of things that should have been introduced ages ago, and even then, they fall flat.
The long-awaited race planning assistant is useless, as it pretty much sets your riders training to cause them exhaustion for pretty much every single rider you have, basically every single time, so you always have to go and set the training of your riders one by one if you plan to actually have them in peak shape for the big races of the year. Yes, you can set the helpers to the same training as their leaders, but if you want distinctive race plans for everyone…yes, you got it, set them one by one. Because the assistant planner will not give you much assistance at all. Not a good one, at least. Right, no one expects an AI assistant to make you the best training plans in history, but it should at least do a basic job that would prevent us from having to set our riders manually if we actually want a decently planned season. And that becomes a massive chore.
As for the new dashboard design and also new pages in career mode… Well, in true cyanide fashion is just brings problems that did not even exist, as reduced accessibility to your own freaking calendar. What gives? The other new announced features are the already mentioned new pages in career mode, updated routes for 2020, (so, pretty much what is expected in a new licensed release, a “mandatory” update on riders and routes) the always requested more offensive AI, (which never seems to reach a decent status no matter how many times they announce improvements to it, pretty much because people want it as closer as possible to a real cycling race and Cyanide always seems to fail on that part in some way or another) less predictable race day conditions, (it’s still easy to predict that there will likely be more negative race days, so there goes the less predictable part) and the most ridiculous thing Cyanide could have announced as a new feature:
NEW TIME GAPS!!! I repeat, new time gaps! Please don’t take my word for it, look at the screenshot.
Now, if you were familiar with how time gaps worked last year, they were simply not working well. Period. Gaining almost a minute on your opponents on flat stage, for example, would still place you as finishing within the same time as them. Initially we were led to believe it was simply the fault of those making custom stages for not setting them correctly. Then Cyanide finally steps in, realizes an actual problem existed (and it did!) and actually sort of improved it for the 2020 release. Then they call it a new feature and try to look good while at it.
So, you see…this is the story of so many of the PCM titles. Most of them are simply the same game with a few cosmetic (and usually terribly applied) changes, changes that could have been patched, while we get charged full price of admission for these. And contrary to so many other game series where we complain about this happening, Cyanide (AND NACON) have took this to heart and literally threw at us THE EXACT SAME GAME from last year, with a few cosmetic and/or simply patchable changes, while milking us for our hard-earned money!
That is a master class of disrespect to the actual customers, like yours truly, especially given that they manage to make every single new version look more unstable and/or bugged than the last one. Yes…consider this…they packed PCM 2019 with a not so fresh new look, that in many cases looks the exact same, renamed it to 2020, added a few bug fixes that could have and should have easily been patched in previous versions, a much requested auto-planner for career mode AND still managed to find a way to make sure the game gets its usual yearly game breaking bugs that sometimes reach what by now just seems like epic and idiotic proportions. How bad can a company be at what they do when they try and sell us the same game as the previous year, while managing to make it worse??? They didn’t even do one single change to the pro cyclist mode, the mode where you become a rider yourself and play solely as that rider, while developing him over the years. It’s a popular mode…but ZERO updates. Not even cosmetic Nacon/Cyanide BS. Cheers!
The Actual Game
Imagine being in 2020, 21st century, months away from a new decade, (Yes, my friends, the new decade starts in 2021, not 2020. Just like the new millennium actually started in 2001) booting up your fresh new copy of PCM 2020 and somewhere along the way, occasionally getting a bug that tells you that you’ve been banned until 2004. Yes, 2004. Let that sink in for a few seconds… Ready? Let’s continue.
This shows that even the errors in the game prove how old it truly is. It is coded in foundations that date almost to the 20th century…oh so close, and probably has been reworked in the same foundations used since day 1. The first iteration was from 2001 and, back then, it was called Cycling Manager, better known as CYM. Any arcaic/almost-as-old-as-father-time-itself third party editor (slightly updated to accommodate the new pro cyclist mode, introduced around 2015) will show you useless columns of stats and data that have likely been there since the beginning of times. Some of them no longer even work. But they’re still around. And when Cyanide AND NACON (yes, Nacon, I can’t stress your name enough, after so many promises of change when you joined this game series) actually try to change or remove some of those columns, we end up with weeks long game breaking bugs. Usually around release time, so you pretty much buy a game, start to get invested in it, until the bugs come and you can’t continue a save for ages. Either because the developers are in some game convention, or simply because it takes them ages to actually fix things!
This shows how old the engine is and the gameplay feels as outdated as the engine itself. Occasionally yet another fresh coat of paint is thrown into the menus and dashboards, but nothing that ever makes it feel like something that didn’t come out of Windows 98, and that is a “being nice” analogy. The bugs that come along with it are common, with the game sometimes freezing in a specific career (or pro cyclist) menu, or the menus sometimes not working as intended. The user interface is not really what you would call intuitive, but it does its job for most of the time, especially for veteran players, as most of the time nothing important changes from year to year.
The graphics and 3D rendering of the game have their bugs and issues, you will occasionally see your riders go through water, or going through spectators, or walls…or…well, you get the picture, right?
Rendering the actual race environment is good enough with a decent computer, when it comes to single player modes, but in online modes it is simply awful and turning your settings to minimum to play multiplayer modes is always advisable unless you have high end machines. And even then, it is always advisable in an attempt to reduce lag, loading times for the lobby and other types of issues that might happen. At its minimum specs the game works rather well for low end machines. Well, it runs in 10-year-old computers or older. You can even get away with running it in something with a 512MB GPU. I kid you not.
But as any person that appreciates a specific type of game, the graphics end up being the least annoying thing at the end of the day. As long as the game has substance, playability and all of that jazz, I would wish to see Nacon spending more budget on actually giving the game more substance instead of allegedly neat graphics that would serve no purpose by themselves.
In single player the game has its moments of beauty. Riding the Tour de France for example, winning Paris Roubaix, making your own custom team or taking over a world tour team…there is so much fun and potential in there. And although the game lacks in actual difficulty (even on the max difficulty – extreme – you will eventually beat the AI easily) and AI intelligence and realism, it will still get you immersed and engaged at times. Especially if you’re in to cycling. The experience of both managing and racing all at the same time is an excellent concept and it works wonders. It’s a shame that everything else around the game fails so many times, though.
But even if you can still get some fun out of this game, it will easily take you to a point of so much frustration that it hurts! Cyanide’s idea of a more aggressive AI for this edition means for example that in mountain stages, the AI will simply attack and pace like crazy, spend their entire energy and as long as we keep a normal rhythm, we will easily drop them at 5 KM to go and get the easy win. But wait…surely if we report this to Cyanide and Nacon, something will be done, right? Right? Right? Wrong!
Nacon’s promise for more communication and transparency was likely not a lie. They communicate more and they are very transparent. 10 people, out of a 250 person discord they have, will complain about this bug, (more would do it, but they always remember us not to dwell or repeat posting of already reported bugs) which for them, despite being a game breaking bug that shatters realism and any challenge of playing those stages, is only being reported by 10 people and does not seem to justify an actual patch to resolve the issue. Meanwhile every actual player complains about it everywhere else. But, as Nacon themselves admit, the casuals are fine with it, it’s just a problem for veteran players, so no need to fix it. The thing is, it’s a problem for everyone with a brain, casual or not, but we can see that the company’s main goal seems to be grabbing as much money as possible from the casual and not yet jaded fans. Apparently at all costs…
PCM has a (VERY) dedicated community that creates so much custom content to improve your game. The game literally only survives with its faulty, flawed, bugged and terrible online modes due a community that does literally everything they can to keep it going. Databases, custom jerseys for your team (and/or rider), new races and routes, and so many things that will help the immersion, especially in the non-licensed teams. Including adding lesser known teams that aren’t even in the game, for example. Sadly, some things are hard to customize and some can’t really be changed, as we are still waiting for the ability to ride European Championships and Olympic Games. We are still waiting on rankings that actually change how many riders a team will take to a World Championship instead of being something merely cosmetic for the most part. We are still waiting on a World Tour system that is actually more truthful of real life. But not every game is perfect and some of these flaws will hopefully be addressed in the future.
Again, I must reiterate that the game thrives in online modes simply and EXCLUSIVELY because of its devoted fanbase. Because as game in itself, the horror show is much bigger when it comes to actually playing multiplayer games. It is disgusting, some of the bugs and issues have lasted for years now and they seem to constantly be ignored. Despite having a multiplayer mode in PCM for 15 years now, it never really seems to evolve, improve or even catch up with times. The game has tracks modes that are pretty much unplayable online unless you constantly do a new lobby for every single race, even in track disciplines that should at the very least have multi-races per lobby. The game crashes and freezes so many times in so many situations; The game takes forever to load in some cases, even if you have a great computer, and the bigger the lobbies are, the harder it is to go by. Pings become unnecessarily and ridiculously high, even in situations they shouldn’t, road racing will become so laggy, so many times, that you will have to press the buttons for decisions way before the actual time you need them, to try and make them work. For example, if you want to sprint at 1,2 KMs to go, might as well press the sprint button at least 1,5 or 1,6 to try and time it well. Maybe you will get lucky!
It is a terrible experience to play PCM online. Terrible. With a max of 16 players per lobby it becomes hard to do some fantasy leagues and such, and those full lobbies will become hell so many times, with the lag and the bugs, and so on. In fact, multiplayer reveals yet another capital sin of this game. At the end of the day, we all know that video games are a bunch of mechanics and that the more you master them, the better you will become. This is true for every game, but PCM reminds us of this nearly all the time, breaking the immersion and experience, making it hard to get you in the spirit of actually being in a Grand Tour or a Monument.
It’s stupid and so outdated that scouring the internet for some years old video tutorials will still work for many aspects of racing the game today. But the community persists and the online playing as well, much like the tournaments, the fantasy leagues, the drafts, and so on. This is despite of all the crap that hinders the game, not in spite of it.
And yet, somehow, in some way, Pro Cycling Manager can become time consuming, especially for cycling fans. Those will be the bigger percentage of the players losing countless and countless hours with the game, playing their favorite races, rewriting history with custom historical databases, or simply riding some single races for fun. The replay fun factor is there, even with all the issues the game has. But it could be so much bigger, it could reach so many more players and this game could actually please a much bigger audience. I’m not saying it would be a AAA hit, but it could be so much better.
The Heart of The Matter
Pro Cycling Manager 2020 is a very surprising game. Because it’s fun and hell. Sadly, it’s both and the worst part will come to light more and more the longer you play it. But it still manages to provide fun and entertaining moments, especially when you get used to all the bugs and flaws. At its core it is a fantastic idea, at its best it is an excellent premise, at its daily usage it will become painful and frustrating due to the myriad of bugs and errors. But there is beauty to be found when riding the Champs-Elysées, for your Tour de France coronation, or when riding some of the amazingly fun cobble classics and even some of the engaging track races for which a surprisingly large amount of players (if we consider the niche status) is still waiting for substantial improvements to what could be a fantastic secondary mode, if it got more love from Nacon.
And I hope they spend their time building more playability and substance for the game in the coming years, instead of just trying to improve some neat clouds or rider 3D models, or other irrelevant stuff like that. Forgive me the blunt analogy, but PCM has been the longest con in gaming history. And it continues to feel like one. Almost every year we see the game getting some new paint added, but very little (or sometimes zero) substantial improvements to the game itself. This year was a perfect example of this. It’s exactly the same game as last year’s, with a couple of things added for which the most is simply bug fixes branded as features, and the rest could have been added with a patch.
Last year there was a game breaking bug for weeks where one couldn’t continue after season 3 in pro cyclist mode, for example. This year we had some interesting things to happen, like custom databases that were added not working on multiplayer, among other things. And yet, shamefully, we are charged full price for this crap. My advice is for you to not buy this game if you’ve bought PCM 2019, or 18…or 17, or 16…heck even 15. It’s not worth it, in my opinion. But some of us (me included) will keep buying it because we want and like a cycling game…
Meanwhile, Nacon and Cyanide will continue what feels like a robbery, presenting a never finished product, a forever beta test that never ends, while focusing on “Tour de France” (TDF), a more arcade type of spin-off that focus solely on the racing part instead of management. Even the calendar and stats management that we have to do in Pro Cyclist mode, even all those bits of management are mostly gone in this spin-off. But it’s meant to be casual friendly, it’s meant to boost sales. It’s meant to make money! And so Nacon spends their time focusing on content creators, advertising the game, giving them a bunch of free keys, (which I will advise – even to myself – to always try and see if you can get in any giveaway, as paying for this might leave you disappointed) exposure and stuff like that so that they can promote the game and maybe make it look decent. Too bad that TDF is as bugged (if not more) as the main flagship of the series.
And no matter how many neat videos Nacon does, how many content creators they get streaming it, or how many actual professional cyclists they get playing the game live, both PCM and TDF will still feel like the biggest con of gaming industry continuing for yet another year.
Somewhere, somehow, there will be fun and magic moments, granted, but most of the time you will be raging and feeling victim of what simply looks like a poorly made scam. So Nacon and Cyanide…here’s a tip – listen to your actual customers and think about entertaining them and giving them what they want. Because the fun part is quickly fading away, while the hell continues to grow. And if it keeps growing at this pace, the small fun part of this game that still survives will rapidly become a fading memory of distant days. And when that comes to be, when the day comes where you want to ask what exactly did you do wrong, what can you have possibly done to see things falling apart…
The answer will be EVERYTHING. Cyanide and Nacon, you did everything wrong!
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