Farming Simulator 2015 from Giants Software is an especially bizarre gaming experience, but then again, a videogame based around agribusiness is a bit of a strange concept to begin with. However, the series clearly has its fans, but with this latest iteration launching within the same release window as The Witcher 3, why would anyone want to pick this up? Who exactly is Farming Simulator for? Personally, I love all manner of simulators from trains to planes, and prisons to malls, so why not a tractor? This I thought would be the best frame of mind to go in with, so let’s not waste any more time, with my flask, note pad and frog boots in tow, I now head for the Farm!
This game is an uncompromising simulation down to the core, and it will require a good hundred hours or so to simply derive those first traces of enjoyment out of it. I suppose like in real life it is all about the business and the feeling of achievement that comes from starting on a modest income, before developing that small venture - in this instance, a farm - into a multi-million pound business. At the start of the game, it gives you access to some equipment including basic tractors, tools and one field all ready to harvest. There are two environments to choose from, these being a Northern European and an American farm. Each of these has its own little communities and businesses included. So there you go, get on with it. Go on, what you waiting for? Yeah, me too…
But that’s exactly how this feels, as though you have just been bequeathed a farm from a relative and in this game, there’s no dog or mayor to welcome you here, so the Harvest Moon faithful are going to be in for a shock. Fans of lightweight social media games will also have no chance here too, as whilst the concept of farming in video games is not exactly new, few have dared to rip all of the fun out and offer little reward, whilst allowing for no personality in the player’s approach to the situation just makes this game feel overtly sterile compared to the other farming games out there. Still not sure who it’s for? Me either. Would someone interested in real farming actually want play such a slow, complex and often lonely game? I imagine that farmers doing the real thing would hardly feel inclined to settle down and play this virtual slog after a long day’s hard work already.
It is fair to say, though, that this game will leave many lost and confused from the very start. The game does feature a small tutorial with written instructions when you begin your career, this highlights the basics of the harvester, planting and selling your goods. The game then lets you go your own way and gives you complete freedom to expand your business the way you want to, but perhaps the initial freedom the game grants you from the start is simply too much. There are some telephone helplines scattered around the two locations, which does make it possible – to a certain extent - to unearth some helpful advice and tips. The small help section that has come to replace the traditional manual gives small pointers about how things work, but often doesn’t link the steps throughout the complete process from start to finish, often leaving the user guessing or using trial and error to discover how some of the game’s core mechanics work. There is a selection of tutorial missions accessed from the main menu, but again these miss the finer details of running any farm in this game, raising lots of unanswered questions. This can prove to be frustrating and often expensive when you buy equipment that is not cross compatible with your current machinery. I hope you’re an expert, or have spent a lot of time with previous iterations of the game, otherwise playing this can at times become a frustrating mess of scattered parts and broken machinery, and even when you do have the equipment you need, you are then left to then try and figure out the finer controls and movements of such treasures as cranes and front loaders which can be an absolute nightmare.
That’s not to say that the game is rubbish though, and as far as business simulators go, I still had fun and felt a sense of achievement making money and expanding the farm. I loved that it gave me the freedom to choose animals, crops, forestry and mission requests from locals. I loved the world they created, and although it’s not a looker, it is by no means ugly, and the framerate really is great. The physics are interesting though sometimes odd, but overall good for this type of game, offering a nice feeling of weight, pull and push which is all good and satisfying. Farming Simulator 2015 does feature the ability to speed up or slow down time which can alter the growing process, but this needs to be managed by you as well, though sadly both equipment and staff are somehow unaffected by this change, creating a situation where your crops grow and die too fast, leaving you no time whatsoever to harvest. Weather also effects what you can do and sometimes rain will prevent certain types of jobs from being completed. On the odd occasion this may prevent you from harvesting, leaving you entirely helpless as you observe the crops die before the weather clears up again. That would not be such a huge issue if making money was not as much of a challenge, with lots of the available equipment consuming quite substantial amounts of money. Realistically, you’re probably looking at least a good 2-5 hours just to buy one new tractor that works with the one tool that you need at that specific moment. Unsurprisingly then, this can become more a chore rather than being considered ‘fun’.
There are lots of jobs to be done if you want to make lots of money, so the game does give the option to hire AI farmhands to set to individual tasks, which can be a big help in getting the jobs all done on time. The AI is limited to three staff working at once and whilst this functions well enough, it can sometimes become stuck or employees will not do their jobs correctly. It is also worth noting that whilst the game advertising co-op as a feature is fine, this is such a niche title on the home consoles, so let’s face facts, you’d have to be immensely lucky to even find one solitary stranger to work with, so unless you have some mates that are into sims like me, then you’re going to have to try to play with random strangers. It is a great feature though for those whose mates will not only play this, but own a copy of the game too.
Farming Simulator 2015’s new feature of Forestry is also a nice addition, with new equipment and a fresh way to make money which fits perfectly alongside the rest of the package too. I would go back to it and most likely will, so the same could probably be said of you too, just make sure that you get a good deal, and be prepared to put a lot more hours in then most RPGs will coax out of you. So, if you’d like to earn some virtual currency you should probably pick this up after all, just don’t expect a bumper harvest to await you.
“This time next year we will be Millionaires”