Farming Simulator 2015 Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Given we live in a post-agrarian, highly industrialised society, where if you’re hungry you can just order pizza and the only thing you have to worry about cultivating is your hipster beard, chances are you don’t know a great deal about farming. If that’s not the case, perhaps you’re part of the loyal fanbase this niche title has been gradually building since its initial release in 2007. If you’re an actual farmer, what are you doing reading this? Real farmers don’t have time for games! Gareth reviewed and found favour with the previous entry in the series; so what’s new on the homestead?
After the matter of choosing from a rolling Scandinavian townland or quaint middle America, the sim throws you in at the deep end. Aside from a basic introduction, the game assumes you have at least some prior knowledge of how to farm it up. Although there are basic tutorials, there’s no guidance for best strategy and beginners may struggle handling the more advanced methods like dealing with livestock. You’re granted enough equipment to get started sowing and harvesting three of the forty fields that pepper the landscape, but it’s a long ladder to climb before you’re King of Farmland.
A host of vehicles and implements are available for purchase; your starting gear of three tractors, a small trailer, a combine harvester, a cultivator, a plough and a sower have been acquired via a bank loan, which needs to eventually be paid off. Gauging the best equipment to upgrade to improve your yield will go a long way towards balancing those books. The series has been referred to by some as tractor porn and with good reason; many officially-licensed models easily recognisable to tractor-heads are present, with a clear progression to work up to the heavy duty gear from the budget beginners’ items. Some free mods of classic trailers are already available from the official website and can be quickly and easily installed, with more surely to come once the mod community gets going. After a long day in the fields your vehicles become increasingly filthy, but can be made shiny and new with the purchase of a power washer.
Watching these maestros of machinery go about their work is the main draw; while you’ll want to pilot them all the first few times to understand their workings, they can all be put on automatic and left to till the fields themselves, a feature which you’ll rely on more as your holdings expand. The AI has to be criticised as it is extremely basic; it can’t adapt to obstacles and doesn’t inform you when it’s got into trouble, so it’s entirely possible to leave it to work away, only to come back ten minutes later to find it frozen in place because a header or weight is slightly blocking it. The alternative, if you don’t fancy babysitting a bunch of computational hired hands, is to find some real ones; the game’s multiplayer supports up to sixteen wannabe farmers tending the one piece of land.
Chintzy muzak-style title tune aside, there’s a conspicuous lack of music anywhere else in the game. Engine sounds are satisfyingly growly but the option of some light, pastoral acoustic background would have been appreciated. Its absence is doubly baffling because Giants Software’s promotional videos are full of it!
Forestry is a big new addition to this iteration. Trees can be felled manually with a choice of three chainsaws, or with the terrifyingly efficient Scorpion King auto-logging machine (if you can afford it). Fresh cut logs can either be sold au naturel to the lumber yard, or if you have forked out for the chipper, obliterated into tiny fragments to be sold as raw fuel for the biomass energy plant. Either way it’s a tidy secondary income stream to focus on while your crops are reaching fruition. Other ways to earn a quick buck are delivering pallets of much-needed goods with your trusty front-loader, or breaking out the mower to do some lawn keeping for the locals.
Vehicle appearance is great but handling is a little ropey, especially during collisions, where two cars or tractors gracelessly rebound off one another like balloons with no damage or sound to indicate it ever happened. Not sticking to prescribed paths and roads can also lead to trouble. On more than one occasion the prongs of my front loader got stuck in the side of a building and my tractor was going nowhere fast. Luckily with a few clicks you can magically warp any vehicle or implement back to your farm, just as you yourself can instantly transport yourself to any currently active vehicle. There are a few concessions of this kind, sacrificing realism for playability; time can be sped up to over a hundred times regular speed, but this only affects the game clock governing crop growth and the like and not your vehicles.
It’s strange given how much care has been taken to ensure the vehicles and tools look their best how unpolished and jankey some other areas are. The aforementioned terrible physics causes a tractor with a trailer attached to slide about like it was on ice, and clipping errors mean driving said trailer through a field of corn guarantees a host of stalks poking through the trailer floor. Pedestrians walk around the towns but your vehicles ghost right through them, and quick observation reveals all your hired drivers are just clones of you. Sometimes the harvester won’t start emptying unless you have the trailer in just the right place. The Xbox 360 gamepad is supported, but the on-screen prompts don’t change to match. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent humanising the game and making it look presentable from this angle, because the nitty-gritty of the farm management is actually varied and engrossing, especially once you’ve purchased a few more fields and items.
For all its flaws, Farming Simulator 2015 is the latest, best entry in an exceedingly niche genre, a reasonable improvement on the last entry, and perhaps a change of scenery if you’re sick of the sight of alien spaceships and chest-high walls. Even if the closest you’ve ever come to farming in real life is accidentally picking up an unpackaged vegetable in Tesco, I challenge you to try the demo, watch the first rays of dappled sunlight break through the treeline, glinting off the whirring blades of your harvester, and not be gripped by a sudden urge to bring the barley in.