There’s something oddly compelling about Farming Simulator. It’s certainly not the lure of cattle, as this handheld edition of Giants Software’s agricultural opus focuses its attention firmly on crops. It’s not the lush outdoor visuals either, as the title looks like it’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. And as for the gameplay, well, that’s unlikely to get your internal engine revving like a combine harvester. But for all of its immediate shortcomings, it can be difficult to turnip off.
You play as a budding farmhand in control of a few measly fields. As an up-and-coming cultivator, you must use your green fingers to transform the limited tools at your disposal into a small fortune. Working through the night, it’s your job to harvest crops, sow seeds, and turn the soil, with the fruits of your labour represented in numerical form via your bulging bank balance. As you accrue more cash, you’ll be able to invest in better machinery, allowing your rural efforts to become increasingly efficient over time.
At first, working the land can be a downright miserable experience. You’ll start your al fresco endeavour with substandard mechanical workhorses, apparatus so small that it would make any man blush, and a financial reserve barely above water. It’s tiresome labour, too: you’ll mow the same streaks of land over and over before you build up a respectable silo of stock, working through the monotony in order to earn enough cash to invest in a few new fields and a barn full of fresh power tools. But despite the tedium, it’s tough to put down.
Savvy businessmen will certainly get a kick out of the underlying financial features. Any crops that you harvest can be sold at four nearby locations: the plant, inn, station, and mill. Each will be prepared to pay different sums for your produce, so you’ll need to make considered decisions in order to maximise your profits. Storing your grain in silos until a particular item comes into demand is often the best strategy, and it augments some basic business management to the farming simulation.
While you’ll spend most of your time cultivating, harvesting, and sowing fields, there are some additional mechanics that you’ll discover over time. Delivering your wares to the plant will allow you to collect fertiliser in a slurry tank, which can then be applied to your freshly sown seedlings in order to increase their yield. Alternatively, you can adopt a more natural approach and water your crops. Finally, any refuse from your wheat harvests can be collected and collated into hay bales, adding yet another revenue stream to your balance sheet.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to navigate a fairly steep incline in order to unlock these activities. Investing in new tools and equipment costs a lot of money, and it will take you several hours of hard graft before you’re able to afford many of the more advanced tools. As such, you’ll be pretty much stuck ploughing the same fields over and over until you’ve built up enough cash to really extend your farming options. What’s worse is that you’ll spend a lot of your time merely waiting for crops to grow, which while an accurate portrayal of life on the land, isn’t particularly entertaining.
And yet there is something moreish about expanding your farm. While the game does a particularly poor job of communicating its mechanics, once you’ve got a feel for how its various systems work, it does offer a nice slice of escapism. Transporting your crops to the highest bidder and watching your bank balance grow is strangely satisfying – and there’s a compulsion to the reward loop that will keep you coming back for more.
However, as you can probably imagine, it’s an acquired taste. Tractors move at the speed of snails, and you’ll need to have plenty of patience in order to progress. The title does attempt to infuse some enthusiasm in the form of random side-missions which task you with recovering lost items, but these feel so out of place that the developer saw fit to include an option to turn them off in the settings menu. Elsewhere, you can employ farmhands to handle specific tasks in order to improve your efficiency but, again, the pace of the game is extremely slow irrespective of the manner in which you play it.
Visually, it’s an eyesore, too. Based upon the smartphone iteration of the series, the game does little to push the PlayStation Vita’s horsepower. The experience is marred by muddy textures and jagged edges, while the incongruous guitar-driven audio is best muted if you plan on playing for a prolonged session. The apparatus and vehicles are fully licensed if that’s something that you deem important, but the models lack the fidelity required to make this a noteworthy asset.
The slow pace, steep learning curve, and rotten visuals will turn most players off Farming Simulator, but those that persevere will harvest some enjoyment out of the agricultural adventure. If you’re looking for something a little slower that you can wind down with in the evening, then this is not a bad option. Everyone else, though, should be encouraged to point their tractor elsewhere.