There’s something oddly soothing about the menial work that makes up the bulk of a game like Farming Simulator 19. Even as someone with next to no knowledge of (or interest in) farming, I found an almost meditative quality to the mundane process of ploughing your fields, growing crops, harvesting them, selling the spoils, and then doing it all again the next day. The bigger-picture farm management adds a layer of welcome complexity, but it’s that in moment-to-moment work—which could quite fairly be described as tedious busywork—that Farming Simulator 19 scratches a very particular itch.
Depending on what game mode you choose, you’ll either start with a functioning but barebones farm—a couple of tractors and some basic equipment—or nothing. In the latter case, you’ll take on odd jobs for other farms to earn a crust until you can afford your own land, but either way, your farm adventure starts with a lot of grunt work: cultivate a field, sow your choice of crop, harvest it when it’s fully grown, and then sell your harvest at one of the nearby silos and refineries.
Though this process largely involves driving a tractor up and down the field, it’s more involved than one might initially expect. In the interests of a lifelike simulation, each tool requires multiple steps to use: you have to back-up your tractor and attach it first, unfold it (if it’s a tool that needs unfolding), lower it to the ground, and turn it on.
From there, it’s all about trying to make sure the field is thoroughly covered, but without too much overlap creating pointless extra work. Imagine the lines you cut up and down when you mow the lawn, and you’re on the right page (you can even mow your lawns in Farming Simulator 19 if you purchase the right equipment!). Again, this is a mundane and tedious process—one that you can, thankfully, automate to some extent by hiring farmhand—but this is a simulator, after all, and much of farming is mundane, tedious work. And, again, it’s satisfying in a mindfulness sort of way: it demands your attention and focus without being mentally or physically taxing.
Sooner or later, though, you’ll want to upgrade your farm, and this is where the more hardcore simulation and management elements kick in. There’s a huge array of different vehicles and heavy-duty farming tools covering everything from sowing crops to rearing livestock to logging trees. Even within the same category of equipment, there’s typically an impressive array of different options, each with their own little quirks: one sprayer might cover a large area but be less efficient in terms of how much fertilizer or weed-killer it uses, while another might be cheaper to run but take a lot longer to cover a whole field. Some pieces of equipment are just better than their cheaper counterparts, but cost a lot more than you can afford.
(For those interested in such things, all the vehicles and tools are licensed from real-world brands. But as someone who couldn’t tell you the difference between a John Deere and a Deutz-Fahr if my life depended on it, all that is beyond me.)
With your farm established, it’s ultimately up to you where you go with it. Harvest crops are relatively easy to manage and can be lucrative if you’re good at playing the market and predicting what’s going to sell well. Livestock brings its own set of challenges with the need to feed, care for, and breed your animals. Logging brings physics into the fray in a way that the other activities don’t, as you try to neatly fell trees and manoeuvre logs onto a trailer with an unwieldy crane. You can specialise in something, or try to be jack of all farm trades.
The flip side of this freedom, though, is that Farming Simulator 19 can be very unfriendly to newcomers or people looking for something more guided. A series of brief tutorials introduces the basics of crop farming and logging (but not livestock), but they’re woefully inadequate. Unless you’ve played an earlier Farming Simulator or you’re a farmer in real life, you might find yourself struggling to do something even as simple as buying a new piece of equipment to get it back to your farm—once bought, you have to pick it up from the store, which means you need a trailer or some such to carry it and a vehicle that the trailer fits onto, which means you need a way of loading the new item onto the trailer… I wish I’d recorded my first few hours with the game, because it was basically a Benny Hill skit’s worth of flailing about with a forklift as I tried to transport various things.
There’s a lot more information tucked away within the various menus, but that’s more difficult to find than it should be and often difficult to make sense of in its own right. A range of stat tracking mechanisms will give you a headache-inducing information dump that is its own little spreadsheet-induced hell. This is all par for the course with simulation games, and it captures the frustrating minutiae that I can only assume is a big part of farm management, but that doesn’t make the lack of truly helpful tutorials any less painful.
Still, fumbling through that learning curve can be enjoyable in its own way, and once things click into place, there’s a lot to like about Farming Simulator 19. It obviously won’t be for everyone by its very nature as a serious simulation game, but it’d have a wider appeal than many people would expect if folks only set aside their jokes and gave it a go. I’m certainly no farmer and have no desire to ever become one for real, but I’ve still found the simulation of such to be fun and surprisingly relaxing.
|Farming Simulator 19|
|Developer: Giants Software|
|Publisher: Focus Home Interactive|
|Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC|
|Release Date: 20 November 2018|
|The publisher supplied a copy of the game for this review.|