We plow the fields and scatter…
Giants Software’s Farming Simulator games on the PC have a pretty huge following across Europe. The latest entry in the series, Farming Simulator 2013, may not have been received so well by the critics, but the fans seemed more than happy. It was undoubtedly this community support for the game that prompted Giants Software, along with publisher Focus Home Interactive, to bring the joys of farming to the big screens with its very own home console version.
Now, let’s get something straight right from the start. If you are looking for a real-world Harvest Moon experience, this will not be for you. This is real farming with heavy machinery, relative solitude and cows that don’t look particularly cute. I grew up on a farm and have put in the years of being woken at the crack of dawn by tractors and rogue cockerels, so I was not especially looking forward to returning to a farmyard life, even in a virtual sense. But I was interested to find out just how entertaining and realistic the game could be.
The first thing that hit me was the visuals – they are not pretty. The engine used feels aged, with a relatively low draw distance and plenty of pop in as the player moves steadily along their fields. Once the player invests in the game, these lackluster visuals don’t matter quite so much. But the first impressions were not good.
Before jumping into the game, there is a handy selection of tutorials to work through. It is worth doing the tutorials, which will take a while, just to get a head start on the main game, although the European farm also comes with basic explanations of what is going on. It should be noted that the new American farm experience, which has been added for this console version, throws the player in the deep end with next to no explanation and should only be attempted by players who already know the game or after playing the European farm.
The tutorials will take the player through the use of a variety of farm machinery, such as seeders and combines. There is a lot of different equipment in the game and playing through the tutorials will give the player a broad knowledge on how to use it all. Each tutorial will have an objective and will finish once that objective is met. It has to be said that playing through the tutorials was really good fun and made these aspects of the game feel natural and fluid. There is, however, quite a lot missing from the tutorials, such as the raising of livestock and dealing with workers. All of these aspects and more are briefly hinted at during the main European farm campaign, but not in enough detail. Players will be finding most of this stuff out for themselves, which will lead to many mistakes in the early game.
Once the tutorials are finished, gamers can jump into running their own farm. There are two options, the European or the new American farm, but the European farm should be attempted first as the map is littered with question marks that lead the player in the right direction and explain things in a limited manner.
The size of the farms are pretty huge, and the player will find themselves wandering in an first-person view as they try to work out which field is which, where the store is and where to deliver corn to. On-screen maps are available, but don’t always explain what is where. Still, the playing area is filled with different sized fields, some of which belong to the player and others that will be available to purchase later on. There is also farm equipment parked in convenient places around the map. The player can switch between the different equipment they own by using the d-pad, which makes life a lot easier if you can’t remember where you left your tractor.
Throughout the game, the player will be offered missions at different intervals, as chosen in the pre-game options. These missions may require purchasing new equipment to complete, but pay cash and as the player is in the business of making money, cash is always handy. The missions can be as basic as mowing someones lawn, and do get repeated a fair bit through the course of a game.
There is an absolute ton of different equipment to buy in the game, from different types of tractors and attachable tools, to livestock to put in your fields. A simple press of a button will bring up the catalogue, and then the player can pick up their shiny new combine harvester from the local store. Livestock are automatically placed in the right place and then it just comes down to the player to collect their milk/wool/eggs and sell them.
When it comes to running the fields, it is quite time intensive. The player will find themselves plowing, sewing, harvesting and selling in quick succession, and as they get more fields, things become even more difficult. Thankfully, the player can hire farmhands when they have enough income, to help with the farm work. These helpers can be assigned to different jobs, freeing up the player’s time for more important tasks like driving their new tractor.
Running a successful farm is incredibly rewarding in Farming Simulator. However, the road to having your farm running well is both long and rather tedious. The gameplay is very repetitive, with the player going over and over the same actions to make some money, and it takes such a long time to get going, especially if this is the first time playing as nothing seems as straight forward as it should and the player has to struggle for every bit of information. That being said, it is a relaxing experience.
Farming Simulator is exactly what it says – a farming simulator. There are no bells and whistles here, and the game could almost be seen as a learning aid for future farmers. This is all well and good, but doesn’t make for a game that will appeal to many players. Being on the consoles, Farming Simulator also misses out on the community created mods of the PC version that bring so much more to the game. If farming is your passion, then this is the game for you. Otherwise, take a trip to the country, look at some cows in a field to get your farming fix and then head home and try a different game.