I remember when I was a kid, one time my dad took me with him to Homebase to buy a new lawnmower. Naturally, little me wanted him to buy one of those beefy-looking ride-on lawnmowers – which would have been entirely unpractical for our garden – so we ended up with an electric one instead. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to drive one. Luckily, Lawn Mowing Simulator gave me a (virtual) opportunity.
It’s a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin sort of game, in that it gives you the opportunity to experience the life of a ‘mower’, set in the picturesque British countryside. The game is based on completing mowing contracts to earn money and building your business from scratch. As with most simulators, there’s a variety of vehicles faithfully recreated at your disposal, 12 to be exact, and from brands such as Toro, SCAG and STIGA. I never appreciated that there are different types of mowers: Collectors gather your grass cuttings as you go, Mulchers leave the finely-chopped cuttings behind, while Dischargers dispense the cuttings either to the side or the rear.
Certain jobs will require certain types, while some mowers can also be upgraded with attachments to either convert them or add extra functionality, such as a roller to create ‘Tiger stripes’. Each mower has its pros and cons too, such as cutting width, speed, and maneuverability. Luckily you can test-drive each mower before your purchase it, so you get a feel for how it handles.
Before you start each job, you’ll have a few minutes where you need to run around the garden and pick up any objects such as gnomes or rubbish that has been left behind. Then, you’ll need to turn on your mower, adjust the height of the blades, and off you go. How you undertake each job is up to you, but working systematically obviously has its advantages.
As you’re mowing, you’ll need to keep a careful eye on engine power – going too fast over taller patches of grass will overload the motor, and you’ll need to be more careful if it’s raining too. Aside from keeping an eye on your fuel, you may need to dump grass cuttings when your collector is full by unloading it into the gardening waste bags.
The only goal is to drive around and mow all of the grass – well, 99.5% of it is enough to complete the mission. If you’ve left a few scrappy bits, you can activate a ‘Pro View’ which highlights the blades of grass you’ve missed. It can be rather tedious trying to find the last few patches, and it’s annoying that Pro View can only be used when stationary and looking forward, but you’ll quickly perfect your mowing technique after a few jobs so hopefully won’t need it too much.
The visuals are lovely, with contracts having you mowing a variety of lawns and fields, from the gardens of quaint thatch-roofed cottages to modern houses that look like they’ve come from an episode of Grand Designs. There’s also larger levels, such as mowing an equestrian paddock or the grounds of a castle to add a bit of variety. The gardens themselves have clearly had a lot of work put into them; with flower beds, pavilions, and sculptures not only adding to the environment, but also acting as obstacles to avoid. Should you accidentally destroy a few flowers or crash into a structure or two, you’ll be fined a small amount at the end of each job. You can also rack up fines by damaging the ground, for example by turning too sharply and the blades scratching the soil.
In career mode, after creating your character and company, you slowly build up your business by undertaking jobs, expanding your headquarters, buying mowers, and hiring employees. Better headquarters have more vehicle bays, so you can have more mowers and build up a fleet so you can take on more jobs simultaneously. To help buy more vehicles, expand your HQ and so on, there is a bank with a loan facility. Be warned though – I borrowed the smallest amount of £2,500, but quickly regretted it when I realised I had to repay £4,375 after 10 days!
Payday loan interest rates aside, the management aspect side to the game does feel like quite a grind. As your business grows, you’ll need to hire more workers – apprentices will be cheaper but often incur more penalities, while experienced mowers will do a better job but obviously demand higher wages. You can train your employees too, so that they mow quicker and better, and also reduce damage to your mowers.
Speaking of maintenance, it’s important to keep an eye on the condition of your mowers. You can repair them at your HQ, and I’d definitely recommend doing it as your mower can degrade quicker than you might expect during a level. One particularly annoying experience I had is that the blade suddenly broke as I was about 85% of the way through the contract. As a result, my grass cutting efficiency was drastically reduced, which meant I had to repeatedly mow the same patch over and over to cut the grass. The mission, which should have taken approx 20 minutes, took nearly an hour. In hindsight, I should have just restarted the mission, but I’m stubborn and kept thinking that ‘one more pass will do it’. I’ve learnt my lesson now, but it was incredibly frustrating at the time.
In terms of controls, I used a controller to play on PC as it has full controller support, and was far more comfortable than keyboard and mouse. The game requires a surprising amount of concentration and focus in order to mow properly. Steering wheel support for some Logitech wheels will be available on release day for PC, with Xbox wheel support coming at a later date.
Alongside the career mode, the game offers a Challenge mode. Here, you have to undertake missions based around specific requirements, such as being up against the clock, or complete the job with a limited amount of fuel, forcing you to be as efficient as possible. Another odd design choice is that the challenges are locked until you rank up enough in Career mode – while you progress relatively quickly, it still seems like an odd decision to lock this mode away.
If you’re here for a more relaxing time, however, then the Free Mow mode might be more to your liking, as you can pick a mower and level without having to worry about time or efficiency. But again, there’s a downside, and it’s that you’re limited to levels you’ve already completed, and mowers you own in your career mode. It would have been nice to have been able to select any level or mower, so at least you get to try some of the ‘end game’ mowers that wouldn’t be available until many hours in, and so I struggle to understand the design choices here.