Farming Simulator 2017 Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Developed by Giants Software, the premise behind Farming Simulator may, at first glance, seem like a simple one. You take on the role of a farmer who must expand their agricultural empire using the limited resources at their disposal. Harvested crops can be sold to the highest bidder, while profits can then be exchanged for upgraded equipment and new plots of land - a necessity if you’re to fulfil the ever increasing demands of the general population.
However, beneath the topsoil, the roots of this sim sprawl further than most. Catering to the wants and needs of the dedicated fanbase that has kept the series alive over the past few years, this is not only an incredibly detailed farming experience but also one of the most intricate simulators on the market to date. Save for maybe Football Manager. And while that works as a big plus to those of you who know their John Deeres from their JCBs, for the rest of us, it’s an ultimately dull affair that not even our designer tweed jackets and flat caps can save us from.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Farming Simulator is such a slog is that it makes little in the way of concessions for those coming to the series with fresh eyes. After selecting one of two sandbox towns you wish to call your horticultural home, you’ll be invited to participate in a handful of tutorials that will at least give you a run at the basics. However, cultivating crops, selling to local businesses, hiring workers and planting the seeds for future harvests is only just one small area that this game has to offer and if you’re easily distracted, the whole affair can feel like a hard day’s work before the game has really had a chance to get going.
No matter how simple it may sound, every aspect of farm life becomes a complex one. It’s one thing to clamber aboard a tractor and drive up and down your plots in a perfectly straight line but getting to grips with the various tools and attachments on the market is a different beast entirely. Something has been lost in translation between the PC and console versions, and the controller mappings on PlayStation 4 consist of menus within submenus that will have you constantly looking towards the on screen legend in bewilderment. Each attachment will make use of every controller combination you can think of, something you’ll learn pretty quickly when you’re honking your horn or turning on the emergency beacons of your tractor instead of starting up your plough ahead of giving your field a good seeing to.
Thankfully, unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty, you at least don’t have to worry about crops wilting away or the funds in your kitty quickly depleting. There’s a gentle ambiance to life on the farm, giving you plenty of time to get to grips with your arsenal of tractors, fertilizers and combine harvesters. Ploughing fields or collecting your harvest may take upwards of fifteen minutes, but the whole ordeal is rather leisurely and a welcome change of pace from the ramped up antics featured in the majority of games on the market. If you do feel like a break from humdrum ways of country life, you can also shoot some hoops in a nearby basketball court (because why not) or alternatively just explore some of the few alternatives this limited sandbox world has to offer.
Keeping your attention span focused in a sandbox environment is tricky at best and distractions that resemble any sort of mission objective are few and far between. That being said, this edition of the series does bring side missions into the mix. Dotted around the map are neighbouring farmers who for one reason or another need your assistance, whether that be fertilising a field full of fresh flowers or digging your way through a potato plot, in return for large sums of cash. These missions add a sense of purpose to a game that otherwise doesn’t rely on targets or objectives, and even the most confounded player will eventually take up the challenge after they’ve grown bored of trying to turn this quaint simulator into Grand Theft Auto.
For game with relatively mediocre graphics, the townships of Farming Simulator at least serve their purpose. By design they are efficient playgrounds that give you everything you need to making it in the farming business. Fields are perfectly square, while roads are laid out in an economical fashion. A new lighting system gives the blissful rural backdrops the occasional flutter of beauty while the vehicles are designed in a manner that flawlessly replicates their real life counterparts as best they can. If the prospect of driving your very own virtual Massey Ferguson to and from the same ring of warehouses and shopkeepers excites you then you’ll find heaven in this homestead. For the rest of us however, there’s very little else to excite the senses.
Once you’re done arsing about and taking in the sights, it’s time to get back to your own farm and for those who stick with it, you’ll eventually be able to bring on board some of the game’s more advanced features. Livestock such as cows, chickens, and pigs, which are new to the 2017 edition, will bring it larger profits but require a heck of a lot more attention than their flora counterparts. There’s also a new train system that can be utilized to transport large amount of crops to your customers scattered around the map. But getting to a point where you’re worrying about such things takes patience and dedication, and if take pride in reaping what you sow then eventually you’ll find there’s plenty of reward waiting for your in the latter stages of the game.
Essentially, Farming Simulator is about as Marmite as they come in the world of simulator games. For many of us, Farming Simulator seems like a bit of a long-running joke without a punchline. Just another cash-in sim franchise that lacks the grandeur of Civilisation, the vibrancy of Rollercoaster Tycoon or the humour of The Sims. But while the rest of us are shooting each other to death online or embarking on nonsensical globe-trotting single-player adventures, there’s a small community of gamers who have quietly tended to their crops, herded their cattle and kept this series going year in year out. Perhaps, the joke is in fact on us.