Going against the grain.
Firstly, I have to apologise with a disclaimer: This review may contain bad puns. When Farming Simulator hit the Playstation Network a couple of weeks back, no one heard it coming. I have to admit at first I thought it would probably be some quick and cheap money making port. Being a gamer who likes the weird and wonderful, the artistic and realistic, there aren’t many game genres that I don’t like. Whenever a title comes along that’s shrouded in mystery (for me at least), I stand up, take notice and start a little research campaign. My findings for Farming Simulator was that it originated as a PC game and was later ported to iOS and Android smartphones. The PC version of Farming Simulator is seen as THE (only??) Farming Simulator to have, and while the concept sounds boring, the true meat and potatoes of the game provides an in depth simulation with micromanagement and a growing empire which could be compared to games such as SimCity (start small, grow big).
So, back to the version in question. Weighing in a mere 65mb in size, my immediate thoughts were that this is going to be bad….graphically at least. It turns out the game is a port of the iOS and Android titles, which provide a similar amount of micromanagement but on a smaller scale, removing some of the intricacies of the PC game. The most notable omission, and one I really would have liked to explore, is livestock. The full version features the chance to have a full farm with lots and lots of fields and animals. Because the Vita version has no livestock at all, it feels like some of what could be an exciting aspect has been taken away. This leaves the main principle of Farming Simulator focused on one thing; making crops. Lots and lots of crops. And selling them. As I said earlier, if you’re looking for something a bit different read on. If you like your games paced quickly and full of action then you really needn’t continue reading.
First impressions aren’t great. The background music you are greeted with is pleasant enough and blends in nicely with the theme, but the issues start to arise when you’re thrown into the game with very little introduction and a “tutorial” that gives you several tips but little else. The manual provided with the game gives you the game control layout but that’s more or less it. Luckily in this day and age google as per usual came up good and pointed me to a very useful guide which breaks down what you have to do. The in game instructions are vague and completely confusing to someone who knows little about farming (most of us, I’d imagine!). There are three main stages of the game. Firstly you have to prepare your plot of land for seeding by getting your tractor and using the cultivating tool. From there you use the seeding tool and then after a couple of in game days (which pass pretty quickly, 3 or 4 in game minutes pass by per second) your seed has grown into the crop you seeded. From here you harvest the wheat, corn or canola and then either store it or sell for profit. This is the framework for the entire game but things are not explained clearly at all. For example, the first time I filled my combine harvester up (a percentage at the top of the screen tells you what amount of harvested grain you are holding) I was told by the game I needed to get my tractor and trailer to transfer the wheat from the combine harvester to storage or to a vendor. Simple, I thought. I drove my truck and trailer to the combine harvester, and nothing happened. It took me nearly ten minutes to work out I had to steer the trailer to the left of the harvester for an arm to come out and spray the seed into the trailer. If you were a farmer I’m sure you’d be laughing at me right now, thinking I’m a simpleton. But I’m not a farmer, and surely the idea is to make the experience accessible to all? I had several other moments like this that I won’t delve into, but suffice to say a decent, good tutorial is all it would have taken to tell me what to do.
It’s a shame but luckily it doesn’t bring the experience down too much. There is actually a surprising amount to do (and buy) in Farming Simulator, and as you start yielding more crops, things start to move forward. It is a long process though, perhaps the slowest pace in a game I’ve ever played. The half hour or so dragged a bit but as I started buying new areas of land (you start with three and can increase to seventeen) things started to gain pace and open up a lot. Once you generate a few hundred thousand you have access to faster and better vehicles, as well as being able to yield previously inaccessible crops. To begin with you only have access to one small tractor, a combine harvester and a couple of tools, and thus the yielding process can take some time, but the better tools and combine harvesters have double the spread and ensure maintaining the farm becomes much faster and more efficient. Once the ball is rolling financially it becomes quicker and easier to gain more and more vehicles and space, with the end goal being total farm domination! There are no other farms or players to compete with here, so it’s just you, focusing your finances, watching the trade markets (sale price sometimes rocket as crops periodically go into high demand) and tending to your fields. Sounds boring? I went in with an open mind, and after around ten hours play over less than three days, I can assure you it’s not….I just don’t know why! Maybe it’s the entrepreneur in me, but there’s something satisfying about slowly taking over the virtual world.
To further the variety (if you can call it that) you can also buy water sprayers and slurry tanks to increase your yield, and as you grow your empire and things sometimes become a bit to hectic to keep up with you can even tap a steering wheel icon on screen to hand over your vehicle to the AI, provided you have the vehicle ready to go at the edge of the field. While this costs money and drains your income slowly it eventually becomes necessity as you switch vehicles on the fly, giving them jobs all over the (spaced out) plots while attending to a plot of your own. There is also a map to aid you, but it’s fairly useless, with tools showing up as yellow dots and vehicles as red dots. Vendors are also shown, but there are four of them, and they all carry the same icon so trial and error is the only way to distinguish which is which. Given that high demand of crops only happens for short periods of time it’s a shame the map isn’t clearer. Every now and then you also get minor fetch quests such as “The shop’s weekly water has gone missing! Can you find it?” in which you have a time limit to reach an item on the map, which you are guided to by an arrow on the map. These tasks don’t happen too often but do break up the gameplay. I have to admit they feel a little pointless but when each task successful pays you 20,000 in game currency it’s worth taking a minute out of the farming to dash across the map. The farming really does get quite satisfying the deeper in you get, and I found hours of my life drain away as I thought of corny (geddit?) puns to add into my review. Going into Farming Simulator I really didn’t know what to expect, and though I found an addictive, slow-paced experience I still feel more variety could have been included. The game handles very well using the d-pad to switch between vehicles, the face or shoulder buttons to control acceleration and either the on screen icons or remaining face buttons to detach and use the tools on offer. Handling is precise and you can shift the camera around but there is no button to center the camera which can be annoying when you are often trying to drive in perfect lines. I’ve also discovered that reversing a tractor with a farming tool attached is literally nigh on impossible, so turning becomes a bit of a pain on roads with cars, or in tight spaces. The trophy selection includes a lot of golds, requiring a lot of time and there’s even a platinum trophy here, which for £6.49 ain’t bad. Graphically the game is functional, but bland and sometimes ugly. The upscaling is good and anti-aliasing is present here with fairly detailed textures but it also looks a little soulless and bland. A field that has been yielded and needs cultivating also looks way too similar to your crops in the first stage of the growing process too which ends up being a pain and costing valuable currency. The framerate however is silky smooth, even if the game isn’t handling anything that could be seen as remotely technical.
So a big of a mixed bag then. It won’t turn heads and I imagine there’s probably less than twenty people in Europe who dreamed of playing a Farming Simulator on their Vita, but despite the flaws Farming Simulator still has that just-one-more-go (or in this case, just-one-more-field) feel to it. The game is just deep enough for me to enjoy the constant grinding of the gameplay and slow enough for me to easily relax, watch TV and play at the same time (which I do most evenings). It won’t set the world alight, but hopefully people will look past the subject matter, look at the price and consider purchasing, especially given the longevity versus price on offer here. Hopefully (though it will depend on sales I imagine) they will create a sequel that includes livestock and more to do. I know I’ve mowed over the livestock issue a few times already (last one I promise) but it really would help with variety.
It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised when initial expectations are fairly low. Now, off to attend to my land!