Farming is a romantic way of life – peacefully working with nature as you till the land and reap the rewards of your hard work; supplying local communities with the produce they need; seeing dawn’s first light as you trundle through idyllic country lanes in your trusty tractor. It’s an incredibly hard way of life too, and all farmers should be hailed for the work they put in to feed us greedy, ungrateful swines. Does it make a good subject matter for a game though? Yes, it should do – the World is crying out for more farming games (don’t laugh, it really is).
Farming Simulator 2009’s career mode opens with you as the proud new owner of an unnamed farm on an unnamed island. You’ve inherited the land, along with some decrepit old machinery, and it’s up to you to make it into a profitable business. Naturally you do this by ploughing the fields and scattering the good seeds on the land. Then you hack it down with brutal machines and cart it off to flog it at the port, mill, or brewery.
Money made from selling your yield can be spent on new farm machinery from the local trader, all of which make your life on the farm that much easier: faster tractors, more capacious combine harvesters, and bigger mowers, cultivators, and ploughs. And you’ll want to upgrade as soon as you possibly can, as the starting machinery is agonisingly crap. As well as cultivating your fortune, you can do side jobs such as work for the garden centre, or, thrillingly, collect and recycle the empty plastic bottles you find laying around the map. Doing this increases your reputation and this allows you to get better prices when flogging your old machinery.
And so the game plods pleasantly on. You cultivate and plough your fields, you plant your chosen seed, and you harvest the bounty. You bale up the hay and lug it back to your farm. Tabs can be kept on the weather and crop prices via your PDA while you bimble about your farming business. You can even hire helpers to complete a particularly mundane job whilst you do something else. Or you could just go on a sightseeing tour of the island. It’s all very pleasant and in some ways relaxing...
...but in other ways it’s just dull. That really is all there is to it. Running a farm is a hugely complex business yet there’s no real management involved in Farming Simulator at all, other than deciding what crops to grow (a single button press once a seeder is attached to the tractor), when to harvest them (is it going to rain?), and where to sell them (one of three choices). I’d love to have seen some farm management such hiring and firing workers and assigning your workforce daily chores. How about setting schedules about what to plant, and where and when to plant it? What about expanding your farm – adding and upgrading outhouses, barns, and other farm buildings? Maybe even some rival action (you’re the only farm on the island) – why not have other farmers going about their daily business, undercutting you to try and win back business from the brewery? There isn’t even any livestock and only 4 types of crop. All of these are basic things; they could’ve done so much more to make the game both more interesting and more authentic. Even the side missions and non-career modes don’t add anything other than a very flimsy film.
Couple the lack of involvement with the game’s sloth-like pace and Farming Simulator quickly begins to drag like a broken plough. As mentioned, the starting machinery is painfully slow and getting anywhere on the fully featured island takes donkey’s years. Sure, things improve once you buy better tractors, but it can still take ages to haul a large trailer from one side of the map to the other. Yes, farming is a slow way of life, but how about putting in fast travel? Or taking out the need to drive to sell your crops altogether and replace it with some stock management screens (for example)?
And it’s ugly. I know it’s not from a large studio, and the subject matter doesn’t demand stunning graphics, but this looks like a game from 6-7 years ago. Strangely, the sky is great – atmospheric and pretty – but the buildings, landscape and vehicles are blocky, bland and in need of some decent textures.
It’s a shame. I desperately wanted to like this as it’s a subject that’s close to my heart, and in some ways I did – it can be pleasant toiling away in the fields and as an FPF (First Person Farmer), it certainly has some merits - but there’s just not enough to it. Perhaps this should’ve been called ‘Farm Machinery Simulator’ – it’s far too fallow to be considered a fully fledged farm sim.