Simulators have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, thanks in large part to the advent of the YouTube generation and their creative “Let’s Play” endeavours. These games make good source material for such videos; their open world settings and lack of story afford the gamer and audience complete creative freedom.
As with traditional games like chess or poker, simulators are easy to learn but devilish to master; a series of nested loops of repetitive gameplay adhering to strict rulesets. It’s this simple premise that keeps people playing: the more time and effort you put in, the more you get out. Simulators make a valid case for gaming as a lifelong hobby, with many fans devoting years to the mastery of a single title.
Farming Simulator 2013 has been a sleeper hit for Giant’s Software, proving immensely popular with a PC audience and enjoying mobile ports to both 3DS and PS Vita. This latest release for PS3 and Xbox 360 has been a gamble for the developers, who have opted to forgo a watered down version and instead bring the full-blown Titanium Edition to the console market.
The console port features everything found in the original PC release, with over 100 fully licensed farming vehicles and their respective tools. There are tractors, harvesters, hay-balers, ride-on mowers, even trucks, all faithful recreations of their real world counterparts. You can sow and harvest all manner of crops and indulge in side professions such as animal husbandry or delivery driving. The sheer scope of the game is huge.
This, sadly, is where some of its problems lie. Even as a fan of the series, I found myself overwhelmed as the all-too-simple tutorials ended abruptly and I was dropped into a vast, if somewhat bland, open world. The game holds your hand for a few brief moments, showing you how to manually operate some of the machinery (which does feel intuitive with the analogue input of a gamepad) and then asks you to choose one of the two available maps to begin your agricultural career in.
The original map has a rather nondescript European setting which is susceptible to inclement weather (heavy rain drastically affects what you can and can’t do). The American map is far more interesting, evoking shades of the Kent family farmstead and featuring some very pretty vistas and sunsets. Both maps are too big in my opinion, especially given the rendering distance of the consoles; the draw distance is very short and the texture pop can sometimes become jarring. It’s wise to familiarize yourself beforehand with key locations, such as selling points for crops and refueling stations, as the map you carry on your in-game GPS is never very clear.
In line with the PC version (although never fully explained in the tutorial) you begin your new career with a surplus stock of tractors and a small amount of each crop already stored in your silos. Selling these immediately will allow you to free up some cash and obtain more useful vehicles early on. This is your first lesson in agriculture: each crop commands its own price, which varies depending on where and when you are selling the product. Prices can be checked via your GPS, and it’s always wise to sell at the highest price possible, even if that means driving to the other side of the map.
In the first few hours you’ll develop your skills behind the wheel of your machinery, sowing crops as neatly as possible and then harvesting them when ready, before dispatching them to your silos for storage. It can become quite addictive and very rewarding when you manage to maximize your yield and sell it at a profit, although ultimately you will progress to hiring laborers to do the manual work for you at a modest hourly rate, whilst you zip about the map buying and selling.
This is when the true nuances of agronomy come into play. Once established, you will need to micromanage every element to achieve maximum efficiency: the fuel in your vehicles; the tools attached to them; even their physical location on the map at any given time. If you have a field ready to be harvested but your nearest harvester is already on another job or too far away, your crop will spoil. If you haven’t fed and watered your cows, your milk production will drop. If you are offered a princely sum to mow the lawn at the local golf course but don’t have the right tools, the job will expire. It helps on occasion to manipulate the time ratio in the menus when things are getting hectic.
There is no story to speak of and the game will only end when you tire of it. By consequence, it’s also not possible to lose in this game, although you can fall victim to the financial pitfalls that have swallowed so many real life farms, by over-leveraging your business with exorbitant bank loans. As has been evidenced in recent years, it’s all too easy to rely heavily on credit, making progress slow, stunted and ultimately boring. But keep your business lean, efficient and fighting fit, and Farming Simulator 2013 is a gratifying experience.
The ultimate aim of the game is simple: expand your farm by acquiring neighbouring fields, purchasing vehicles and boosting your bottom line. You grow your bank balance alongside your beets. When you have settled into a comfortable routine and things are going well, that compulsion to sow one more field, deliver one more consignment, add one more luxury vehicle to your fleet, can become very addictive. This game can easily become a time-sponge for the strategically minded.
Sadly, there is no multiplayer, a feature which proved very popular on PC. Giants Software has since confirmed that they will not be patching the game to include this, although there is Xbox Live and PSN marketplace support, meaning they could add extra content further down the line.
There are 42 fields in this game (over 97 hectares!) and you can own them all if you play your cards right. Approached with the right mind-set, a little planning and a lot of patience, Farming Simulator 2013 offers a true evergreen challenge for the console gamer looking for a new experience.