Farming Simulator 15 feels like work – and we intend that as a backhanded compliment, by the way. Giants Software's agricultural adventure has been at the butt of many a joke since its inception in 2007, but despite the finger pointing, there is something curiously compelling about the Swiss studio's soil turning title. That's not to say that it's for everyone, far from it – but if you thought that the recent Tropico 5 was a treat, then you may find something strangely wheat... Ahem, sweet here.
Of course, the incredibly niche gameplay loop means that it's nowhere near as accessible as Kalypso Media's dictate-'em-up. You'll start out working in one of two fictional settlements: the vaguely Scandinavian village of Bjornholm or the idyllic Yankee Doodle hamlet of Westbridge Hills. While these contrasting country estates largely consist of the same general delivery points – windmills, train stations, and the like – the gigantic fields of the American town make it more challenging to get started in.
Whichever you choose, though, you're going to need to invest at least ten hours before you get your production pipeline in place. You'll begin with basic equipment – a couple of tractors, a low capacity trailer, and a harvester that moves at the speed of a snail – and they'll prove a thorn in your side for much of the early game. The basic nature of the gear means that simple jobs – such as cultivating a field ready for seed sowing – will take double the time that they should, and if you haven't got the patience to see them through, then this game probably won't be for you.
Once you start growing some crops and working the market, though, you'll eventually begin making money, allowing you to upgrade your gear and carry out your work quicker. The beauty is that the tedium in the early hours will allow you to appreciate your new-found efficiency once you overcome the hump, and when you start dropping seven-figure sums on cash-printing placeables such as wind turbines, you really will feel like an entrepreneur. You need to be willing to get your hands dirty first, though – literally.
The title's a true sandbox in that it allows you to earn your fortune in whichever way you'd like, but it's only once you've got a steady income that you can truly start to experiment. This is perhaps one of the release's biggest failings; animal rearing and forestry – a brand new addition in this version – are rewarding occupations, but the cost of entering either of these industries means that you'll need to spend several hours working the fields before you can even entertain the idea of a change in career.
It's a bit of a shame because franchise veterans will already be familiar with the grain-based gameplay: clear the ground, plant your desired seeds, fertilise the field, harvest the crops, and take the produce to market. As in the previous games, relying on one type of fruit will see asking fees plunge, but plan intelligently, and you can really maximise your profits from each harvest. The game goes deeper than that, of course: chaff can be fermented at silos to create silage, which makes perfect feed for your greedy farm animals. And you can even make hay bales.
But, outside of the addition of several new licensed manufacturers – including MAN trucks and New Holland tractors – it's more or less the same experience that released on the PlayStation 3 a couple of years ago. The aforementioned forestry brings a fresh dynamic to the experience, then, enabling you to plant and cut down trees, which can then be sold to a nearby lumber mill for cash. Wood chippings can also be created and offloaded at a heating plant. Engage in a bit of everything, and you'll find yourself spinning a lot of plates.
However, that's part of the appeal. Micro-managing employees so that you're tackling several jobs simultaneously is the key to achieving maximum productivity, and while it can be quite a stressful experience, it also makes the game bizarrely moreish. Indeed, if you find yourself something of a work-a-holic in real-life, then it can be hard to switch off, as no sooner than one job is finished will another one pop-up. It's got the 'one more go' dynamic in abundance – but again, only if you're of a certain mentality.
You can team up with others online, and the implementation here is well handled. If you're tired of asking the artificial intelligence to do your bidding, for example, then you can enlist on the help of up to five other people – be they friends or strangers. The multiplayer implementation is actually really well handled: you can take your single player career online at any time, and as the host, you can determine how much control your compatriots have over your business. You can even create sub-financial accounts for your minions, giving them enough cash to purchase seeds and such – but locking them out of your hard-earned kitty.
Whichever way you decide to work, though, the presentation remains lacklustre across the board. Despite the jump to the PlayStation 4, the developer's failed to really improve upon the series' rudimentary visuals. Many of the grains lack tessellation so look like flat cardboard textures, and similarly, the lack of anisotropic filtering can make it difficult to determine whether you've already worked areas of a field before. A lack of budget's probably to blame here, but there simply shouldn't be framerate dips in a title that's so graphically basic.
You'll need to be willing to get your hands dirty to get anything out of Farming Simulator 15, but if you can cope with a slow start, then the game gets pretty compelling once you've got a production pipeline in place. It's never going to be everyone's cup of canola, but the name probably gives that away. With several new tasks and a couple of unique locations to conquer, though, this release is outstanding in its field.