I have lived on a farm for almost my entire life. Although fairly modest and inhabited mainly by chickens, ponies, and the occasional exotic animal, it is flanked by acres of land used by neighbouring farmers. Living in such proximity, I often bear witness to many key points in the yearly farm cycle – from lambs grazing to the late summer harvest. It’s a privilege not many get to enjoy and something I’ve often taken for granted.
A hundred or so miles away, with nothing but the occasional patch of grass to remind me of home, I find myself daydreaming of farm life. Sometimes this longing for green paddocks and rooster calls is satiated (in part) when playing video games. More now than ever, they are capable of rendering luscious landscapes overrun with wildlife. Few, however, have built themselves around the pursuit of farming, at least not in a realistic sense.
That’s where Swiss developer Giants Software and its latest game, Farming Simulator 15, come in. Preceded by two existing instalments, this third game in the popular franchise originally launched on PC and Mac before making the bold transition to consoles, including PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. On these new systems, Farming Simulator 15 offers an enhanced experience thanks to improved visuals and the inclusion of online multiplayer amongst other bells and whistles.
As you may have already guessed, it’s a game in which players develop and expand their own farm in a way that attempts to simulate reality. When playing Farming Simulator 15, the bulk of your time will likely be taken up by the game’s career mode. Here, players are given a handful of essential tools and vehicles as well as three plots of land to cultivate. Even if you completely bypass the laborious tutorials, there are enough tips and hints to get your farm started.
Within the first couple of hours, the game will introduce basics such as preparing a field before plowing, sowing, fertilizing, and eventually harvesting. It’s a four-step cycle that soon engrains itself into your brain as your mindlessly roam from field to field carrying out the exact same process. The only thing that keeps the game plodding along the prospect of earning money which, in turn, unlocks new tools and vehicles as well as other add-ons like livestock and forestry supplies.
At first, there’s a decent amount of fun to be had. Although cumbersome, the handling of vehicles feels deliberate as you strafe up and down fields with your tool of choice in tow. However, once familiar, the joy of spending ten minutes manually driving a tractor round and round rapidly loses its appeal. Luckily, automated workers can do much of the grunt work for a small fee, their convenience outweighing their occasional bizarre AI patterns.
Once the wheels begin to turn and that first lump of money comes your way, the level of commitment needed to get anywhere becomes all too apparent. Even with three or four fields being worked at maximum efficiency, it will take several hours of real time to scrape together enough cash to buy the smallest of upgrades. Although there are other ways of making money – such as woodcutting – in order to expand into these ventures requires the purchasing of more tools and vehicles.
To help speed up the process Giants has thrown in a useful multiplayer option, allowing friends and strangers to work on your farm. It’s fun, especially with friends, though incredibly buggy and nowhere near as effective as it needs to be.
Farming Simulator’s biggest problem is that it was built from the ground up for a PC-playing audience. There, you can minimise the window to watch videos, stream music, and chat with mates. Although some of these options are available on consoles, the player’s attention is always directed at the farm and its sluggish (sometimes motionless) move towards profitability.
Needless to say, those with a short attention span best stay clear, unless they have another monitor or tablet handy. That said, there is likely to be a pocket of (perhaps younger) gamers who will extract genuine pleasure from the game’s dreary pacing and lack of pizazz.
Version tested: PlayStation 4