Ever dreamed of whispering in the ear of Bradley Wiggins, wanted to talk tactics with Alberto Contador, or tell Lance Armstrong that his courier is here? Pro Cycling Manager 2014 offers the chance to do none of these things. What PCM14 does offer is an exhaustive simulation experience that makes Football Manager seem like NintendoLand by comparison.
Make no mistake about this; PCM14 is one for the purists. It is hard-headed, difficult, tough to master and grindingly soul-destroying – much like real professional cycling. PCM14 is more about statistics and figures than actual cycling. There is certainly much to find in the game, if you wish to seek it. However, most of your time is spent sifting through endless menus of disconnected numbers which seem entirely disjointed from any semblance of reality.
This is really the game's fault. Game modes are thrown at the player matter-of-factly, cycling theory motioned and mentioned like a driving instructor explaining you need to use wipers in rain. It's your fault this makes no sense. For an enthusiast this may be confusing, but for a novice the learning curve is infuriating and utterly disheartening.
An avalanche of statistics is not a problem in itself, but it requires context and understanding; PCM14 hardly bothers to explain any of what is happening. Instead, it leaves the player to his or her own devices, refusing to show how one statistic effects another. In Football Manager, it makes perfect sense as to why a tall player is a good header of the ball, but it is anyone's guess according to PCM14 what makes a good sprinter different to a great one.
Why, then, should you give PCM14 a chance? Why should you endeavour to improve C. Vroome's (lack of licenses makes names hilariously Pro Evolution Soccer-esque) speed on cobbles by 0.4 seconds?
If you've not given up within the first hour, there is still very little to appeal to the player; PCM14 is, most of the time, deeply unsatisfying. Menus are downright ugly, like 60s sci-fi and Chinese takeaway signs flung in a blender and spewed onto the screen. Races are horrific, dull affairs. The camera tails identikit riders across depressing expanses of pixels as you try and wrestle race tactics from an unwieldy menu. You can try to attack, relay, organise sprints, but you'd be better off going to the pub for 20 minutes for all the good it will do; races have been pre-decided by the endless hours of menu-fiddling. Add some out-of-place jaunty techno and you wonder why there isn't an option to send your cyclist careering off a cliff, for their own sake as much as your own. Thankfully, this entire process can be removed by the merciful click of Quick Simulation, which number crunches before deciding who has finished 24th.
Perhaps the most damning thing about PCM14 is how mind-numbingly dull the whole game is. Very rarely is it possible to find a game without a shred of satisfaction; even most awful games have a sadomasochistic enjoyment to them. PCM14 is the answer to the question often posed by simulation developers – how do we make the most boring game of all time? I placed PCM14 in-front of a mad-keen cyclist friend of mine, the type of man who records his favourite stage of the Tour d'Italia to watch again and again. His response? 'Why would you bother mate? It's just one menu after another.'
It's not just one menu after another; it's an entirely disjointed experience with many different facets that make no sense individually or as a whole. It is number-crunching to the point you want to revive Alan Turing just to kill him again. For all I know there may have been an option to turn your cyclist into pin-cushion drug fiends, but you've no chance of finding it within the mess. Got a new born baby? Show them PCM14. They'll be comatose in seconds.
This review is based on a digital copy of Pro Cycling Manager 2014 for the PC, provided by the publisher.