I have a confession to make: I didn’t used to live in a small city and be obsessed with technology and games. Okay, I have always been obsessed with technology and games and science-fiction, but I also used to love tractors and farms as I grew up on one, had my own toy tractor I drove around, had a collection of the scale tractors and all the fun stuff. Like most small farms in the early 80s though, my family struggled to keep up with the multi-million dollar farms around us, and it folded, the land getting sold off. I eventually ended up living in bigger areas where I could get better access to my techy toys, and I kind of lived the farm thing vicariously through friends and family. My dad is still into the whole farming gig, even if it is a hobby for him now. So I admit, I’ve been eying this on Steam and have almost bit the bullet a few times, but when we got a review copy in for the PS3 and I actually had some time to review it during one of my busy times of the year, I made with the grabby hands. I’ve always liked the big tractors and growing things on a big scale, but was never much for gardening.
Farming Simulator basically has two modes available for you, the tutorial section and the campaign mode where you actually run your farm. You can have more than one save going here, and there are a few options as to where you want your farm to be located, in this case Europe or the United States, but other than a difference in the locale’s look and maybe layout, you might not notice much else is different. Your tractor selection is pretty much identical either way, but the country-side you’ll have to look at while you’re doing your thing will be different. Your actual farming equipment that you get to start with between the two will be basically identical. You get three smaller tractors, one bigger tractor, a combine with a harvester, a tipping wagon to haul crops, a cultivator and a sowing machine. You can buy more equipment as you go, and you will have to if you plan on growing different crops. Especially if you want to do all of this at a faster clip, you’ll want bigger tractors and wagons to haul with.
Now, my problem with the game is that it’s a little too open at this point. Yeah, I know, I just got through saying you’re free to do what you want, but when you first load into the campaign you literally have no direction as to what to do. If you’ve played the tutorials you know how to do things and have experience doing them so you’re not completely blind there, but when I first popped into the campaign I was at my farm house, had no idea where my equipment was, if I had equipment, that I already had a field ready to harvest, where my combine was to harvest, that I could hire someone to run the combine while I drove the wagon back and forth to dump crops, and so on. If you’re going in blind, you’re going to spend your first hour trying to figure all this out. It was my second hour that I realized I could slow time down to real time so I wasn’t wasting days or precious hours on a harvest and wasting a ton of money. Time will flow faster, but you still crawl at the same speed. I like an open ended game as much as the next person, but a little hand-holding at the start would have been nice for those of us jumping into this relatively blind. After doing the tutorials, I recommend going online and finding a tutorial or guide for the game so you have some sense of where to start first. It’ll help a lot.
The game has some weather effects to it as well as a time of day counter, so you may end up driving around at night. You can hire people to help drive your equipment and harvest, but don’t expect much out of them beyond harvesting. They’re not going to deliver your goods for you, for example. They are pretty decent at harvesting though, and will drive along at the right speed and won’t miss too much as it’s all straight line farming for them. When you’re driving around with anything, you do have to be careful, as too much speed will make you lose your attached tractor accessories if you’re hauling anything. There is a cruise setting so you don’t have to keep messing with the throttle as well. The game keeps track of how much gas you have in your vehicle, how full your wagon or combine is, how fast you’re going and how much money you have available in a handy HUD on the bottom right of your screen. All good information to have. The rest of your information can be accessed through a PDA that has the map of available fields, what’s growing and what needs to be harvested, the weather, and how much things are selling for as well as a report on how your farm is doing money-wise.
The basic thrust is focused on growing crops and harvesting, and then, of course, selling them and doing it all over again. There are missions that pop up from your PDA and are mildly farm-related, but at the start it often involves equipment you don’t have or can’t afford to purchase, so more often than not you’ll end up having to ignore them when you first start out. One nice bonus game-wise that hurts the game’s realism is that you don’t have to rotate your crops so you can keep planting whatever you want, which is actually a problem in the real world. You can, of course, do this on your own if you want to keep it more realistic, but it would have been far more interesting to see this included. Because of this, and because you don’t have to deal with seasons, you can literally be harvesting a field, cultivating what you’ve harvested and sowing what’s been cultivated right behind that, all in the same field if you’ve got your timing right and enough money for hired hands to drive the other equipment.
For those people who associate farms with animals you do have that option as well. Chickens are probably the easiest to keep as you buy them and don’t have to think about them other than collecting and selling their eggs every day, which can get you some nice cash at the start, but if you’re trying to actually farm isn’t all the helpful as there’s travel and actually gathering the eggs involved. Sheep are another investment you can make; they auto-generate pallets of wool and all you have to do is feed them cut grass. The Sheep are more of an investment than the chickens, as you’ll need a mower and something to dump the cut grass with, and then a power loader with the right attachment to get the wool where you can sell it. You can also breed them. If you’re going to have sheep though, it’s worth going big and making it a big operation. The hobby sheep are terrible for a return on investment and you need quite a bit up front for it.
Cows are the more complicated investment and are more time-consuming than sheep and chickens by a lot, but they also produce three products for you to use and sell: milk, manure and slurry. Milk gets sold every day automatically, so yay for that. The manure and slurry you use to fertilize with and are stored near your cows for use in the fields when needed. You’ll have to make your own food for the cows to get the most out of them, as well as store the ingredients, breeding and so on. Cows are complicated. Just like real cow farming however, the more cows you have, the more profitable it gets, but the more you have to put in. Any of the animals are a big time and money sink, but the return on investment is good if you go big.
Visually, the game does look decent, but having actually lived on a farm I can honestly say that this will be the most antiseptically clean farming experience of your life with this game. Farming involves dirt and animal poo and all sorts of nastiness that the game doesn’t really convey. Yes, it’s a pretty good representation of farming visually, and the equipment looks great as well as the crops and harvesting and all that, but a little bit of dirt would be nice. There are some neat touches, like being able to see the wheel turning on your tractor matching the direction you’re turning and the actual farmer avatar in the seat of the tractor as well. It’s a little clean, but it does the job pretty well and works for what it is. The UI, which is a little clunky to use, at least looks decent, and the inclusion of a PDA to get the weather and other assorted information is a godsend.
Audibly you’ve got farm and tractor sounds that do the job. Yes they’re realistic, but I don’t know of many, even tractor enthusiasts, that are going to sit there and be wowed by tractor or animal sounds. They do their job mainly, which is all they need to do. The same can be said for the other ambient noises. The music there isn’t awful but is fairly generic. Honestly, this is one of those games where you should just put on some music and go and you’ll have just as good a time.
They did a decent enough job bringing this over to the console and the controls respond well when you plug them in. Pretty much each button is pulling double duty in some way. The left analog stick handles moving and steering, but also handles your cruise control setting when you’re in vehicles and your PDA access, as well as browsing through the PDA with the help of L1. The right analog stick is your camera view, your look, and with the L1 and R1 buttons, which of the frontloader options you want. Select lets you choose options between your tractor attachments. Start just brings up the menu. The D-Pad handles camera zoom and switching between vehicles on the PDA map. Square is your entrance and exit to vehicles as well as tool options with L1 and R1. X handles jumping, attaching and detaching farm implements and the tool options with L1 and honking with R1. Circle hires and fires workers while you’re on a tractor and doing something, with L1 it’s part of the tool functions and with R1 it turns on your lights so you can farm at night. Triangle pulls up the shop screen and, you guessed it, with L1 is a tool function and with R1 it turns on your warning flashers. R1 on its own is the refuel or refill button, but also, as I’ve mentioned, accesses some advanced functions along with other buttons. R2 is for accelerating and L2 if braking and reverse. L1 handles a lot of other function access, but when you’re on foot it lets you run. There is a grey box on your screen by default that tells you what L1 and R1 extra functions are available so you don’t have to remember them all the time, which is a godsend, but can also be distracting. You can hide this when you don’t need it so you can get unfettered farming visual access should you want it. Changing the farming speed and a few other options are controlled in the menu and not off the controller.
Depending on which map you start on, Westbridge which is the US, or Hagenstadt which is in Europe, you do get a different farm, but the Hagenstadt has some different equipment that can’t be used for farming, so right there it’ll be a little different depending on your farm. For those hunting trophies, there is no platinum to farm out here. Feel free to groan on that one. There are several silver and copper trophies that involve actually playing the game and even one for completely failing, so there is that. With a good selection of tractors to choose from and lots of different ways to play around with your farm, you’ll be able to come back to this every time with a completely different experience. You can also collect horseshoes on the Hagenstadt map that will garner you some hefty gold if you’re lucky and follow the rainbow after you collect them all. I only saw mention of them on the Hagenstadt map and I personally haven’t seen any in Westbridge, so there’s something to think about when you’re choosing farms.
You’re given three difficulty options to start with, Easy, Normal and Hard. Normal is probably the best blend of progression and difficulty, Hard being much higher on the farming intensity scale as there’s very little margin for error, and Easy is for people who just want to breeze in and buy their favorite equipment and get things done quickly. You start with less debt, have less expenses, have more crops ready and have more starting cash the easier the difficulty. There’s no real end game to this, so it’s a game you can keep coming back to, and for the price it’s a nice, well-contained simulator that you won’t feel like you have to shell out a ton of extra money in DLC to play how you want. While you only have two different farms to choose from at the start, the wide variety of fields and what you can do with them and have available really make the farm choices more of a visual thing than anything else, as you can plant what you want and need as you go.
They’ve been putting out this version of Farming Simulator every two years since 2009 on PC with slight improvements to each, but to say we’re getting something new, other than this type of farming simulator on a console would be, well, wrong. It is well done and gets a lot of what it does right, but originality is a bit lacking when you’re on your third release, even if this is the first for console. We’re just now getting what PC players have had for five plus years on the console. It’s a good rendition of what the PC had to offer, minus mods and any DLC at the moment, but there it is. I will say, despite the mundanity of running a farm, this is surprisingly a lot of fun and really kept my interest in trying to make my farm succeed. Even my wife wanted a shot at the controls and will more than likely be playing it when I’m not looking. She’s also a recovering Farmville addict. Will this appeal to Farmville, Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing players? Probably more Farmville, but this is more about running an actual farm rather than begging your friends to send you ingredients for something or looking cute. If you’re looking for actual farming from your farm experience then this would be for you.
Now there are a few things I don’t like and could have been tweaked a little. The complete lack of any kind of direction when you first load up a new game is kind of daunting, even if you’ve done the tutorials. A little more handholding, at least on the Easy and Normal settings, would have been welcome. I’m not talking all the way through the game, but a little at the start. There are some glitches visually when you’re running around in first person mode but not when you’re in a vehicle. There’s a definite frame drop when you’re on foot, and I don’t know why, as it’s just a field of view change and little more. Another complaint on this version would be the draw distance for crops. You have some big fields, and when you’re harvesting especially, the lowered res crops that have been harvested, at least the trails anyway, don’t match up with what’s up close at all. None of this is game-breaking in any way, and is more me wanting some tweaks that would have improved the experience a bit.
My only other issue would be the workers you hire. If it’s a big open field they do okay as long as you don’t need to empty the equipment, because they’ll stop and won’t just move to the waiting wagon to unload. On smaller fields, if there’s an obstruction, say a tree off the field, they’ll stop there in front of the tree because they don’t know how to reverse. Don’t get me wrong, the helpers are great so you can keep working and keep the flow going, but they can be incredibly stupid and require quite a bit of supervision for some activities. I do still love playing this game even if it’s a bit more of a sterile and clean bit of farming that the reality it’s simulating. Maybe next time we can get a little bit dirtier.
Short Attention Span Summary
Farming Simulator, while not exactly like the real deal, is a far closer match to the real deal than games like Farmville. There’s a nice variety of equipment, you can scale the game to move at your pace, and you have free reign in choosing what and where you plant. The driving and farming controls are pretty good, and while the user interface feels a little clunky at times, it all works. The only gripe I have with it is that, out of the box, you’ve got no direction in where to go, what they’ve got planted for you or where things are, and the missions you get don’t match your money level or what equipment you have at all. So when you first start out, even having done the tutorials, it can be a bit daunting, just like the real deal. There are some nice options to start with, several difficulty settings and while it’s not perfect, I did have a blast driving tractors around again just like I did when I was much younger. If you were looking for a more authentic farming experience on the console, this is it.