With games like Euro Truck Simulator and Goat Simulator out there, it’s easy to be dismissive of the growing simulation space. Simulator games are making quite the comeback but, as with anything else, you have great content and then there’s the stuff that’s… Questionable. Farming Simulator 15, I would say, is of the foremost camp. The game may not be on most gamers' radars but, if you give it a real shot, you may very well fall in love. So let's get into the nitty-gritty of this wonderful country romp!
This gem by Giants Software comes from a long line of blue collar simulation games, particularly Demolition Company and Ski Region Simulator. Farming Simulator is their flagship property and it shows. If I’m not mistaken, this is only their third or fourth installment in the increasingly popular franchise. The depth and attention to detail is significant and you can tell this is a game developed with love.
Farming Simulator is significant to me because it is representative of a paradigm shift in video games. We’re going back to games that are not shooters or visceral, visually-pleasing experiences with no substance. Simulations were huge in the 80s and 90s (arguably during the 70s too.. like that space simulator on the Atari 2600 with the really nifty peripherals), particularly with flight and war simulators, but then they disappeared, alongside point-and-click adventures and FMV games. This excites me and the fact that gamers are voting with their wallets is even more encouraging. We need more innovation, risk-taking, and variety in the video game industry because, let's face it, all the big studios are regurgitating the same old thing. To that end, Farming Simulator certainly delivers a unique, memorable experience.
Today, simulator games seem to be on the rise, much like we have seen with MMOs, MOBAs, and TCG/CCGs. While the space is rather saturated, it seems like the demand is there and Farming Simulator does a great job of carving out it’s own little niche. Can you name another game that lets you operate over 140 different vehicles and brings the farm of your dreams to life (virtually)? I can’t.
Farming Simulator 15 First Impressions
Going into Farming Simulator 15, I was worried the skill cap would be too high yet I was more eager than anything else. While I will always be a New Yorker at heart, making me a city slicker for life I suppose, I spent a lot of time on farms and the countryside as a kid. Some of my fondest memories include watching chicks conga line with their mother hen, waking up to the coos of a very eager rooster (at aroun 4am every day), and having an angry chicken poop on my shoulder. Oh, we can’t forget the time that a goat tried to eat my little brother... Sadly, he did not succeed. All jokes aside, I truly appreciated the opportunity to review this game and revisit simpler times.
In any case, jumping into the game was easy. In Career mode, you have two regions: Bjornholm or Westbridge Hills. The former is best if you want to go through the tutorial and get a full tour. The tutorial did a good job walking you through the basics without becoming a total drag. Westbridge Hills is better if you want freedom - ‘MERICA!!! Bjornholm offers a persistent tour with tool tips and in-world prompts to walk you through the various features, locations, and core mechanics. If you want more challenge or immersion, Westbridge Hills is the way to go. You don't have to be American to appreciate this region - look how purdy it is!
After choosing your region, you can choose a difficulty. I recommend Easy if you want more creative freedom and opportunities to explore. Normal and Hard increase the amount of debt and, by extension, operational overhead you have to offset with revenues. If you ask me, I don’t want to simulate my own life so starting off in debt doesn’t sound like fun. For the masochists out there, sure, go with Hard mode. Oh, and easy means you can hire illegal immigrants or outsource jobs overseas to save a buck. That's the American way, amirite?
I spent my first hour or two cultivating land, sowing seeds, harvesting, and then going across town to sell my crops. Along the way, I noticed different icons on the minimap and HUD. There are places where you can drop off surplus items for quick cash (more on that later). Everything else you either store or sell right away in the appropriate buildings. The strategy here is to sell when the rates are good but not wait so long that your storage maintenance and crop freshness get ruined.
From what I could gather, the initial run in any career will revolve heavily around sowing and harvesting corn and wheat. Radishes and other crops require more specialized equipment and investment thereof. You also have livestock/cattle in the form of sheep, chicken, and cows. Chickens are your best bet due to their low upkeep and the steady supply of eggs that you can resell.
After going through a few cycles of the basic cultivate-sow-harvest, I did more exploration. My suspicions seemed confirmed. The game only opens up fully once you repeat the core farm operations and expand into other livestock and crop options. Buying new plots of lands and woodcutting is also an option, though I am not sure how the latter works... It’s also quite awkward when you try to work a field that doesn’t belong to you.
My close to four-hour first romp came to a screeching hault quite literally when my tractor got stuck in traffic. Darn jerkface drivers. *muttering to myself* Wow, this really is a simulator. Bad drivers with no consideration for those around them - so realistic! I mean, let’s be honest: most people with licenses don’t really know how to drive properly.. Those gumball machines must be chock-full of driver’s licenses!
Kids, this is why it's important to obey the rules of the road! Stick to your side of the road and always observing incoming traffic... Especially in the countryside (trust me, I'm in Georgia and the drivers out here are SAVAGES)!
*** Regresamos A La Finca! ***
After some focused E3 2015 viewing (how about that Bethesda presser, folks?) and getting over the initial butthurt (of the traffic jam situation, not E3), I was able to salvage the session after reloading and cleverly getting off the road before the cars came in to pile up again. I almost opted to start a career on Westbridge Hills. Fortunately, I used better judgement there because this mode does not hold your hand at all.. Instead, after dabbling with Career a bit more I decided to dive into multiplayer a bit and have someone carry me instead.
...Well, maybe not.
All the good servers required DLC. BOOOOO! I finally found some vanilla FS15 servers but then it took forever for the hosts to realize someone was joining their servers. Ultimately, impatience took over and I went back to Career (this time on Easy because Normal made me feel like a scrub). BTW, DLC for the game currently runs between .99 to 9.99 USD. Not a bad deal if you can spare the scrip.
I would say the game does a fantastic job at balancing depth and accessibility. That’s no small feat, either. There’s enough opportunity for mastery and perfection without making the game hard to learn or play casually. As such, Farming Simulator is equally good as a palette cleanser or simple escapism; you can play a quick 20-30 minute session or get lost in it for hours on end. The graphics are not mind-blowing but the locations are quite picturesque. The little touches like watering troughs, phone booths, and houses really helped me escape and get lost in the world, even if only for a little while.
It’s worth noting that the game is called Farming Simulator, not Farm Simulator, and that branding makes sense. The focus here is more on the operational side of a farm, rather than the farm itself. You are tasked with cultivating, sowing, and harvesting. The more minute details seem to take care of themselves so it doesn’t seem like your animals will die nor do you have to clean up after them. This frees you up more to be creative and play the resource management meta game. That means you don't have to worry about building sheds, barns, silos, or any of that more granular stuff.
The game’s web site boasts over 40 licensed vehicle brands and 3 livestock options so the variety is there. I barely made a dent in the game in terms of unlocking new equipment but I was able to get more cattle in the mix; after all, 7K only goes so far! Anywho, this game has some serious brand power and it's a brilliant way to gain sponsorships and subsidize development. The Giants Software team knows what they're doing!
Now to be a typical gamer and complain for the sake of complaining... I was disappointed that I was not able to run a baler in my runs with the game. There are over 100 tools and vehicles in the game, which seems about right from my extensive window shopping. They start you off with the basics and, from there, it’s whatever you want it to be. I must say, though, machinery is super expensive… Did I mention I’m a cheap bastard? Well, I am.
One of my favorite things about the game is that you don’t feel rushed. You can pace yourself however you see fit. The game takes place in a pseudo real time but the clock stops when you quit. This gives you time to explore and take in the scenery. This also averts the pesky aspects of, well, just about every mobile game these days. For me, any video game that respects your time is automatically a cut above the rest.
The controls are responsive and intuitive. There are lots of controls to learn but it’s about as simple as it gets for a simulator. Control schemes pretty much carry over across vehicle types, too. My only gripe is that I have become so accustomed to pushing the left analog stick in to run so, whenever I go into first-person view, I keep bringing up the stats screen. This is handy and, well, I’m just bitching because I can... That’s what we geeks do!
So, back to the plethora of licensed brands in the game, I actually recognized a few of these names, mainly because I live in Georgia and can actually drive up to some of these companies. New Holland comes to mind and Husqvarna you’ll see everywhere these days, possibly more than John Deere. Is it me or are all these agricultural manufacturers in Europe?
All these nifty items can be purchased using virtual currency and there are no microtransactions - YAY! The in-game store can be accessed by going to the physical location or pressing Y anywhere. Overall, the HUD and global functionality is super intuitive and informative. You have all the information you need, including a mini Farmer's Almanac type screen.
On top of the vehicles you can get, there are a lot of attachments and tools too.. Like these strange contraptions. I don’t know about you but these things are scary - and I’m not just talking about the price tags!
Fantastic multiplayer is something I look for in any game I play these days since I have limited gaming hours; alas, I was not able to dig into the multiplayer here. From what I understand, the host can control how income is distributed but, essentially, all players in a session help the farm owner out on his property. Servers seem to support up to 6 players, which means you can get a lot more done in the course of an hour or two.
So, who is Farming Simulator for? I think this game will resonate with anyone with fond memories on a farm, love for agriculture, an affinity to any sort of simulator experience, or mobile gaming addictions. The latter I say lovingly because most mobile games are about completing mundane tasks and keeping an eye on a your recharge bar/clocks. Farming Simulator has that level of repetition and minutia but not to the obscene degree where it stops being fun and becomes a job or obsession.
Overall, this is a game I can very much see myself getting lost in since it has a good balance of resource management and creativity. There’s more structure and guidance than in, say, Minecraft… Huge plus for me. I love games that are flexible and dynamic, but it’s also nice to have some default activities you can do almost completely on autopilot or at least in the midst of heavy multitasking (like watching E3).
Second Look & Tips From An Avid Farmer
Well, technically, this is a fourth or fifth look but I decided to approach the game from another angle thanks to my pal, podcast co-host, and simulator enthusiast, ObioneX2. He was a little jelly that I got a review copy of the game. Full disclosure: Obi has a good relationship with Giants Software and they have hooked him up in the past but his love for the game is authentic, believe me!
One thing Obi recommends is focusing on woodcutting if you want to raise money fast or at least have a nice head start. I revisited my first save game and started off with a $1000 Husqvarna chainsaw. You can use your starting vehicle to collect logs so the initial investment is easily recuped. Obi cautions against focusing on livestock/cattle initially as it is the slowest way to earn money. That aligned with my relatively limited experience. I noticed early on that livestock has high upkeep too, but not nearly as much as storing surplus. Chickens cost around $1 a day, whereas cows are the most expensive at around $40-100 a day. Chickens are a good place to start since they produce eggs.. And they're delicious.
Tree stump cutters will be a good investment if you get into woodcutting. After a while, tree stumps will make pathing hard but be careful: the tree stump cutter is treachorous (just watch my video clip on XBox LIVE, my gamertag is Yogizilla). Each tree will average you between $3000-5000 a pop. Drop them in the pond by the lumber mill and you get instant cash. Some trees can get you over 20K in munnies!
Woodcutting is a super efficient way to generate revenue because you can take the wood chips left over from chopping down trees and store them. After you get a nice stash, you can sell them. The same thing goes for all surplus (like hay bales) in the game. Obi adds that you have to wait until the Bio Mass factory wants to buy wood chips. One shed full of wood chips can net you around 100K - WOW!
One of the really nice things about Farming Simulator is that crops grow quickly so you don’t have to wait several days or weeks. In Farming Simulator, seasons don’t really matter as much as they do IRL. You do get bonuses for growing during good weather and using fertilizers when cultivating land. This helps with the sense of progression and rewards, which feeds into the overall immersion of the experience. If you think that you might lost track of your crop yield, don't worry: the heat map makes it quite easy to know what is ready to be harvested.
Out of the box, a lot of core features seem to be missing. For example, unless you have the Bank Transfer mod, you can’t transfer funds across save games or game modes. This seems like a missed opportunity to me but it’s not a deal breaker. Of course, it’d be unfair to compare any console game to it’s PC counterpart but it’s worth noting. The benefit of not having the extra mod availability is that the game is more challenging and less overwhelming at the same time.
If the controls escape you even after the brief walk-through/tour, press Start and RB one time, you’ll see the basic controls.. One more time and you can get into the Settings. The amount of customization throughout these screens is nice. The most notable options are Timescale (defaults at 5x), Mission Frequency (default: every 5 minutes), Plant Growth (default: Normal), and Plant Withering (default: On). Obi recommends turning plant withering off if you want the freedom to explore and switch jobs often.
For a more automated experience, perhaps to accommodate multitasking, you can hire help. Whenever you hire help, they seem to take over the last activity you were doing. So, if you are sowing, the help will sow until there’s nothing left to do. If you’re cultivating, they’ll cultivate the land until it's ready for sowing. I didn’t play with this option much because, like I said, I’m cheap.
The last featured I only discovered towards the end of my last gameplay session is the job board (there’s one by Field 1, BTW). This is the game’s way of including challenges and missions without breaking you out of the simulation or overall immersion. The jobs I first came across included clean-up and transportation gigs. It’s pretty much what you would expect a farmer would do to supplement income. If you need more structure or objective-driven gameplay, the job board has you covered.
Farming Simulator 15 Final Review & Scores
When judging simulation games, I think it’s important to temper expectations and realize that these are very specialized games for specialized tastes. Judging within the proper context and with the right expectations is key, especially when it comes to graphics and overall technology. As such, I wouldn’t compare Farm Simulator 15 to a sandbox experience like GTA V or the coming Fallout 4, but I can see the appeal to fans of the franchises. This is not a big studio release so the amount of polish we may be accustomed to is not there but that is not to say the game is not amazing in it’s own way. With that in mind, my scores and assessments will take these special considerations into account, as well as the standards set within this very special genre.
FINAL VERDICT: Farming Simulator 15 is a solid simulation experience that has a promising future if they build upon the strong core and foundation. If you want to work a farm without actually breaking a sweat, there’s no better solution. This game would be a fun thing to stream or do videos on while you share commentary or engage with a live audience. 8.7