“Farming is a romantic way of life”, began my review of Farming Simulator 2009 – a review that seemed to give people the impression that I was actually a farmer. Hell, I even got a query on the forums about how I choose the best livestock. Now whilst my avatar is accurately beautiful, and despite the fact that if I stood staring out my living room window for an entire day I’d see more tractors than cars, I am not actually a farmer but I do still agree with my opening statement from six years ago.
I would, however, very much like to be a farmer (albeit one who spends all day playing PC games). So it was with a skip in my step that I approached Farming Simulator 2015 – having not played any of the biennial updates since 2009, I was particularly looking forward to seeing what advances the series had made. Would there be fences and hedges? Yes! Sort of! There are fences, but sadly no hedges. Never mind, there’s more than enough arable goodness to make up for this disturbing oversight.
Farming Simulator 2015 offers you two different maps to sow your seeds on; one Scandinavian (Bjornholm) and one American (Westbridge Hills), and then just drops you into your farm and asks you to get on with it. Aside from a brief tutorial that teaches you how to plough fields, sow crops, etc., but doesn’t explain how things actually work or how it all fits together, there are only a few tooltips dotted around the place in Bjornholm. This means the start of the game is slightly bewildering, if not actually intimidating, and I resorted to quickly scanning a few quick start guides on the Net.
I’m glad I did though, as there is a hell of lot going on this game. One of my main gripes with the last version I played was that it was dull – there wasn’t much to do and what there was happened at a broken tractor’s pace. It is still slow (although you can speed up time so your crops grow quicker, which is welcome, or hire workers to automate the more mundane tasks), but you’re never at a loss for something to be doing. Most of your time will still be spent working your fields – cultivating/ploughing, sowing, fertilising, and harvesting various varieties of crop (including potatoes!) – in order to turn a profit to expand your farm.
However, you can now busy yourself with other activities. Logging is particularly satisfying as it involves wielding a chainsaw to hack down the trees (the pedestrians are disappointingly unhackable), before using some seriously impressive machinery to chop it up and transport it off. You could also choose not to flog your crops for cash but instead use them for silage or feed for your cattle. I’m so pleased to see livestock – not because I know how to choose the best in Real Life, but because it was sorely lacking from my last review. You can also buy beehives, chickens, and various vegetables to help boost your profits.
There are even side missions you use your farm machinery to complete – such as mowing lawns, filling up grain stations with a certain type of grain, or collecting bales of hay for townsfolk. All these give your income a healthy boost whilst you wait for your crops to grow.
And that’s what it’s all about. For all the romance of working fields glistening with morning dew as your faithful Collie sits in your tractor's cabin next to you, farming really just boils down to making a stack of cold, hard cash. You’ll be using your earnings to pay off your loans but also to build your farming empire – buying new vehicles for your fleet or expanding your network of fields. Eventually you’ll be known as the Lord High Farm King of Bjornholm (or Westbridge Hills if you choose the far duller American map). Well, in your head at least.
It’s great - I really get into managing my fields so that I finish harvesting certain types of crops just as others spring to life. I’ll pootle off to mow the South Lawn for some extra bucks as my combine sits next to the wheat that is nearly ready, then pop back via the chickens to collect the eggs to sell. As your farm grows, the game really begins to get its hooks into you.
It’s helped by the fact that the farm machinery looks and sounds fantastic. There is a vast array of it on offer (and more available through mods) and it’s all beautifully realised – realistic looking and stunningly modelled. You can watch each individual bit of a combine harvester spring into life as you start it up. It’s erotic, verging on pornographic.
It’s a shame the rest of the graphics still look like they’re stuck in 2009 – bland landscapes with noticeable pop-up and poorly done non-farm vehicles and pedestrians. Still, it does manage to conjure up a very good, peaceful atmosphere.
I really like Farming Simulator 2015. It’s not without fault and there are clearly areas for improvement, but it is great, involved fun and you will absolutely get your money’s worth. And at the rate they’re improving this series, Farming Simulator 2021 will be finest game known to farmkind.