It’s an odd hobby, gaming. One minute you can be holding up jewellery shops and shooting strangers in the face from point blank range, the next you’re sat upon a tractor for half an hour ploughing a field in the hope that your crop will afford you a new, meatier tractor or an extra bit of kit to help plant your seeds a bit quicker. But that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in Farming Simulator, a game which has a bizarre amount of promise, but manages to fall face first in the mud.
The process of ploughing, planting and harvesting is strangely hypnotic, often dropping you into the kind of blind trance that’s probably more associated with after-party mornings at university that any normal gaming night. The chugging of the tractor engines, the determination to plough every square inch of your land in perfect straight lines (although I bet most people try to draw a cock in the soil, I did…), the concentration to not go too quick or unhook your plough, it’s mesmerising in a way. There’s some financial management too, letting you sell your goods to the right people at the right time to make as much money as you can, before doing it all again with newer stuff to make even more cash.
Having some cash lets you hire help to turn over a field in far less time, and with far less effort. It’s an exponential growth, with more money letting you get better kit, which in turn lets you harvest more and so on. It’s a shame, then, that beyond all these points the game is pretty much as enjoyable as you might expect it to be from the title. I know that tractors aren’t exactly as nippy as go-karts but there are times when you feel more like you’re trying to drag a castle round a field instead of a tractor. Add to that the insistence on doing some bizarre flipping and falling over when you do something crazy like reverse a bit, and the relaxing trundle around your farm quite soon becomes frustrating and awkward.
It’s not much by way of a visual treat either. It’s a farm, so there’s never going to be loads to look at, but that would lead me to assume that the environment would be quite pretty, not the sludgy under-resolution effort that seems to have made its way to the PS3 version. The framerate drops at times too, again baffling with the visuals being displayed, and you’ll see entire buildings pop in and out of view frequently as you drive about the place. People will happily wander through your vehicles too, and other cars will gladly drive into the back of you despite your digging blades spinning at full speed.
There are a few extra missions which help to mix things up a bit, and you feel a duty of care when you’re mowing a golf course, but these go to highlight the imbalance of your earnings when you take ages to make some money, then double it with a single short extra job. Maybe that’s the way of real farming, but it makes for more annoyances when you’re trying to make ends meet on your virtual farm.
I really wanted to like Farming Simulator, and I can see why other people would. Despite all the annoying issues, there’s a deep simulator hiding under here, but you need to invest a lot of time to get the most out of it. With ropey tutorials, last-gen visuals and some epic bugs a lot of people will give up long before you get into a groove (pardon the pun) and start doing things right, but I found it too difficult to enjoy with so many things going wrong. Hopefully if we see another of these types of simulator titles on the PS3 it’ll pick up a bit, but for now this isn’t at all what I’d hoped it would be.
Reviewed on PS3