A farmers life for me.
I grew up on a farm. However, my youth was spent getting into mischief rather than paying any attention to what was going on out in the fields, so my farm upbringing did absolutely nothing to help me with the complexities of running a profitable farm, as is required in the latest Farming Simulator game from Giants Software, the imaginatively titled Farming Simulator 14 on the PlayStation Vita.
The player is given a farm, which includes three fields and a selection of farming equipment. From here, the player is pretty much left to their own devices. To start with, it all seems pretty simple. One of the fields is ready for harvest, this much I could tell, so jumping into the Combine Harvester seems like the thing to do. Buttons will cycle through the available machinery that the player owns, so selecting the Combine and then driving onto the field was easy. Activating the choppy thing at the front was another simple button press, and then driving the Combine up and down the field made sense. Even when the Combine was filled and I had to unload into a trailer, which was handily parked next to the field, I was still busy feeling that I was some kind of farming god.
Once the field is finished, jump in a tractor and pull the trailer to a sale point for some quick money. Players can bring up a map showing the various different places around town where they can sell their crops, and different areas at different times will offer better prices for the crops, so shopping around is necessary to get the most money. Cruising through town in a tractor is a sedate experience, especially given how quiet the town is. Ghostly driven cars will move along the roads, reminding the player to drive responsibly (although how much chaos could they cause at 10 mph?), but beyond this, the town is devoid of life. Still, we are not here to socialize, we are here to make money.
Woohoo, first cash made. But now is when I wish I had paid more attention in my youth. The field will now need to be dug up, seeded and then fertilized. The machinery is on the farm, ready to be used, but I have no idea which is used for what. There is a certain amount of common sense involved, and players will get a tip the first time they use some equipment, explaining what it is in the most minimal way. But working out which to use next is a struggle, especially when the player has to reverse their tractor onto the machinery to connect it before use. I spent a full ten minutes, cursing at one piece of machinery, declaring the game to be bugged as I could not get it to connect to my tractor. I did feel a bit foolish when I managed to hitch it up from the other side. But it was not obvious, and the small screen on the Vita made it impossible to see which way around the machinery should be.
Y’see, the main problem with Farming Simulator 14 is the complete lack of any tutorial, throwing the new player into the game assuming that they already have some form of farming knowledge, let alone knowledge of how to play the game. Getting through the first hour or so is a real struggle, with much experimenting and random button pressing. However, throughout the game the player will be met with the challenges of lacking knowledge.
As the player raises money from working their farm, they will be able to access different crops and even livestock. They will also be able to go shopping for exciting new equipment. The problem is that this equipment, which may be required for a new crop, is still not really explained. So research may be required to work out exactly what you are buying, or what you need.
It’s a fairly steep learning curve for a game which is so laid back. The main objective, of course, is to sow your seeds, wait for them to grow and then harvest and get the money before starting again. The player will have the chance to expand their farm by purchasing further fields to make yet more money and become the richest farmer is the area. Occasional missions will come up for the player to attempt, should they wish to. But these break the routine of farming more than they are worth doing, so many players will likely pass on the opportunities.
Visually, the game is nice looking, but nothing special. As already mentioned, there are times when a small screen is not ideal. But over all, the game’s visuals are functional and suit the mobile friendly nature of the game.
The Farming Simulator games have a surprisingly huge following and being able to play such a time involving game as this on the go is a good move from the developers. While I am not entirely sold on the idea of running a farm (unless it is super cute), there is something slightly hypnotic about the process of watching the crops grow and waiting for the next pay day. Getting over the fumbling early game may well be an uphill battle, but once everything is running smoothly, Farming Simulator 14 is a solid farming sim.