One of the more curious developments in video games over the last few years has been the ever-growing number of of games that simulate the more mundane tasks in life. Games like Euro Truck Simulator and Train Simulator have developed something of a cult following and even have fans within the Midlife Gamer community. Farming Simulator marks the first time that this particular franchise has made the jump across to the home consoles and it’d been left to me, the site’s resident reviewer from Cumbria, to see if he’d be cut out for a career down the farm.
The game starts with 11 tutorials to give you the general gist of what occurs during the game. These can take a little bit of time to get through but are pretty necessary to get a grip of a slightly complex control scheme. It’s also your first introduction to the handling of the vehicles, which we’ll come back on to later.
After the tutorials it’s straight into the game and you’re given a choice of two maps; Hagenstedt and Westbridge, which is an included extra on the console versions and will be DLC for the PC. There’s also a choice of easy, normal and hard difficulties, with the low end given you a sum of money to start with and a lower cost of hiring help and the higher end leaving you saddled with a sizable debt and much more expensive staff.
I chose Hagenstedt for my game and was presented with a fairly sizable map. There’s 42 individual fields dotted about, three of which are mine, my own HQ farm, and various other structures such as campsites, bio-gas plants, dairies and the such.
Once you’ve started you realise you’ve been somewhat thrown in at the deep end. While the tutorial explains several crucial aspects of the game, there’s plenty not touched upon at all. Your initial playthrough is more of a case of trial and error as you get to grips with the various intricacies of farming. There are various help points dotted throughout the map but unless you find them there’s no explanation given to many of the systems throughout the game, for example, after several hours I’ve yet to find a decent explanation of the hired help system and have no idea why, apparently apropos of nothing, my employed staff regularly stop working.
I began my farming career by moving my vehicles to the field I owned that was closest to my main farm (the other two are quite a distance from the farm, showing a dreadful lacking of planning from whichever farmer I must have bought this land off), choosing my harvester, and getting started on getting the crop from my conveniently already grown field. After driving up and down this field in straight lines for the best part of 10 minutes, occasionally emptying the wheat into a trailer nearby, I then bought a bailer and drove that up and down the field in very straight lines to collect the hay and bail it. I then bought a bale collector and drove that up and down the field, you guessed it, in very straight lines.
Did you feel the repetition at the end of that paragraph? Well, that’s the fundamental aspect of Farming Simulator; You drive up and down a field in straight lines. Yes, you do sell your crops. Yes, there are around 100 vehicles for your farming needs, Yes, there are small mini missions such as mowing a golf course and chasing an elephant off some land and you can also reach a point where you’re dealing with cows and chickens and the such as opposed to grains. The majority of the time though you’re going to be meandering around in a field. Or travelling.
And, my word, the travelling is a drag. First and foremost, it doesn’t help that hitting 20mph is a rare treat, as anyone who’s been stuck behind a tractor on a drive home can testify. Secondly, it’s actually incredibly difficult to navigate around Hagenstedt. It’s a pretty huge place and there’s sizable mountain ridges that dissect the map, making directly driving to your destination impossible. Instead you’ll need to follow the roads, but unfortunately the PDA mini-map displayed in the bottom corner is next to useless. It’s so completely unclear where the roads actually are and, to add insult to injury, it’s impossible to actually plot a route to where you want to go. You’ll undoubtedly waste a phenomenal amount of time driving around aimlessly, trying to find how on earth you need to get to a specific field.
No review of Farming Simulator would be complete without discussion of the game engine, which I’ve concluded has been made intentionally bad in some sort of prank. I can only assume that the game has been set on a second earth that we discover and colonise at some point in the not too distant future because physics does not apply in the same way that you and I know it. Colliding with an object can have several outcomes from just stopping dead in your tracks, and one would argue that this is the correct thing to happen, but can also result in you flying several feet in the air, performing a spin in mid-air, before bouncing on the roof, landing on your wheels and then driving away as if nothing happened.
Now, you may read that last paragraph and think “Well, Matt. Simple solution to that; Don’t drive into things.” You raise a very valid point, and one that’s as applicable to real life as it is to Farming Simulator, but there’s an issue with doing that; Some of the most bizarre vehicle handling I’ve come across. It’s difficult to explain but the best way I can put it is that the tractors feel like they’re on ice, with incredibly tight turning circles, but the second you attach any equipment to the back you’re suddenly driving through treacle. The handling can cause other issues such as getting completely stuck on the corner of a wall or against some scenery. Only thing you can do in this situation is to get another of your tractors and drive full speed into the stricken one in the hope it’ll knock you free.
There’s other frustrations too such as a complete lack of collision detection on pedestrians. Now I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t GTA and no, I’m not wanting to mow people down in some crazed bloodlust, but wouldn’t it have been more realistic if they jumped out of the way, rather than just passing through them as if they were ghostly apparitions? It also should be noted that it looks pretty poor, with dull textures and lots of pop in, and there’s quite noticeable frame rate drops which you don’t expect really in a game where there’s rarely much on screen and absolutely nothing moving at any sort of speed.
Farming Simulator is such a niche product, it’s almost difficult to quantify it as a game. If there’s any value here it’s as an educational tool of some form, or maybe for those of us with an interest in large, agricultural machinery. Playing through is a long, drawn out process and the meagre amounts of money you turn over at the start can make it feel like you’re getting nowhere and that, coupled with the monotonous farming processes, makes the game feel tedious to the extreme.
If you’re a huge fan of simulators and a particular fan of the farming world then this may be right up your street. For anyone else though, Farming Simulator is impossible to recommend.
MLG Rating: 3/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC Release Date: 04/09/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Farming Simulator 2013 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.