Much like life on the land, Farming Simulator will not be for everyone. The agricultural adventure’s plodding, methodical pace is a far cry from the high-octane antics that the majority of developers tend to plant on the PlayStation 3, and as such it will demand a very determined personality to reap anything from the experience at all. That said, those with a dogged mindset will find the kernels of a bizarrely compelling outdoor excursion here – even if the entire affair is soiled by some pretty prominent flaws.
An annualised breadwinner for Giants Software – alongside Ski Region Simulator, of course – this console port of the Swiss developer’s husbandry hit is based upon the most recent instalment in the bafflingly popular PC brand. However, in addition to boasting all of the licensed machinery, crops, and Massey Ferguson frolics of its computer-based counterpart, the re-release also includes a brand new rootin’ tootin’ American backdrop – complete with customary diner and windmill – as well as the promise of a dipping of DLC later in the year. It’s not exactly farm shop fresh, then, but it’s certainly not past its sell-by date either.
When not constructing daft dubstep videos, you’ll find yourself carrying out simple agricultural activities. You’ll start out with a couple of fields, a silo of wheat, and a bank loan larger than a prize-winning potato – and it’s down to you to use your meagre resources to make ends meet. To do this, you’ll need to cultivate the soil, sow seeds, fertilise your fledgling crops, and harvest your produce. Any product can be sold to competing businesses around the open world map in order to increase your income, and allow you to splash out on efficiency enhancing gear.
It’s slow, tedious work – but monotonous in a moreish kind of way. This is the type of game where the lure of a new tractor, tipper, or hay bale transporter acts as an inexplicable carrot dangling on the end of a stick, and if you catch the bug, you’ll somehow find yourself investing tens of hours into simply driving up and down the same stretches of land in order to earn a quick buck. You can hire farmhands once you’ve secured a financial buffer, allowing you to micromanage makeshift systems that increase your productivity; simultaneously sowing, cultivating, and harvesting a single field is the agronomy equivalent to a no-scope killstreak in Call of Duty.
The problem is that the game is riddled with enough issues to wither an entire field. Part of the reason that Farming Simulator has garnered so much attention is because it’s partially broken, and that very much remains the case here. Vehicles handle with all of the elegance of a circus elephant, opting to perform impromptu acrobatics when you so much as reverse with a trailer attached to the back. Don’t worry if you’ve got a tipper topped to the lip with canola, though, as the grainy, er, grain will never spill from your cart – it’s just a blurry texture, after all.
The map is similarly hazy, failing to outline any of the game’s landmarks. You’re able to keep tabs on which local business is willing to pay a premium for your goods, but it’s a pointless exercise if there’s no easy way to decipher which blocky building is the blasted inn. Monotonous side-quests do include mission markers, encouraging you to mow the grass at the local golf course or transport the odd object on a forklift truck. However, despite offering some respite from the title’s repetitive core, it’s hard not to feel a little conflicted by the fact that recovering a mislaid box of balloons rewards you more handsomely than harvesting an entire field.
There are other inconsistencies like this that make a mockery out of the simulation name: seeds are purchased in unspecified bulks and cycled using a push of the triangle button, there’s no real requirement for crop rotation, and the productivity of your livestock increases as you add more animals to your fields – even if they cease being rendered into the game world. Worse still, there are no seasons, meaning that you never really need to adapt your approach to compensate for changing conditions. Granted, it rains occassionally, forcing you to abandon your machinery while the black clouds blow over, but that’s hardly indicative of the challenges that real farmers face on a daily basis.
In addition, the title has all of the aesthetic appeal of a cucumber dressed in a corset, with blurry textures, lifeless animations, and atrocious pop-in sucking the soul out of the experience. There are some decent dust effects that envelop the air when you’re offloading cargo, but these are tragically undone by some unforgiveable framerate dips. You’ll regularly find yourself victim to ghoulish pedestrians who’ll simply strut straight through your machinery like the phantoms from a Japanese horror movie, while other road users will ruthlessly smash into your vehicles – even if you’re driving a colossal combine harvester with the rotating blades switched on.
Despite all of this, though, there’s an appetising morsel at the heart of the experience that appeals like the innards of an artichoke. It’s an acquired taste, there’s no doubt about that, but once you adjust your palette to accept the title’s shortcomings, it’s hard to resist another spoonful of outdoor action. Much like its comparatively simplistic PlayStation Vita counterpart, there’s an odd allure to the release’s gameplay loop that will help you to ignore many of its biggest flaws.
Farming Simulator is nowhere near ripe enough for an unwavering recommendation, but budding agronomists will unearth the seeds of a compelling experience germinating beneath its grubby exterior. The title’s got more warts than an infected potato, but if you’re itching for something a little out of the ordinary, there’s the husk of an enjoyable husbandry excursion here.