As appetizing as freshly-laid fertilizer.
The general reaction to the existence of Giants Software’s Farming Simulator series makes me feel sorry for real-life farmers. If it wasn’t enough that farming is no longer as lucrative a profession as it once was, now they have to contend with a bunch of people who play video games—a medium which requires its participants to sit on their buttocks for extended periods of time doing nothing but twiddling analog sticks around on a chunk of plastic—branding their livelihood “boring.”
The same could be said for truck drivers, who saw their occupation become the subject of a video game in the form of the Euro Truck Simulator series. However, that franchise has done a great deal of justice to their profession due to the high level of care and attention that has been put into replicating the intricacies of their job, from its meticulously recreated vehicles through to the gorgeous presentation that’s been put into its cargo routes.
While its core concept is still ripe for mocking, Euro Truck Simulator has proven that, amidst all of the dire PC simulation games that unsuccessfully attempt to occupy that “so bad it’s funny” market that is now so prominent on Steam, engrossing games can still be made out of even the most seemingly mundane of subjects. Unfortunately, the Farming Simulator series has never really concerned itself with being a decent simulation of farming, let alone a decent game. That trend continues in Farming Simulator 15.
If you are familiar with the Farming Simulator series, then its latest entry won’t exactly bowl you over with its ingenuity. It’s the Farming Simulator of old with a fresh lick of paint… only that lick of paint isn’t so much fresh as it is a flaking, dull shade of beige. But simply writing Farming Simulator 15 off as mundane would be to suggest that it is middling yet inoffensive, which absolutely isn’t the case. This is an awful game. An awful game that, by virtue of it becoming inexplicably popular among YouTubers, has garnered far more attention than it deserves. But why have so many been convinced that Farming Simulator 15 and its predecessors are worthy of their money, so much so that the game now—and unfortunately I’m not making this up—sits behind The Witcher 3 in the UK’s video game sales charts?
It certainly isn’t because of its user-friendliness. After being given a tutorial of how the game’s basic machinery worked, Farming Simulator 15 shoved me into the deep end. A brief overview of its trading markets detailing (and I use that word incredibly lightly) how I could earn my money was thoroughly useless, whittling down its only objective—buying and selling farmed goods—to a few lines of text. After the tutorial had ended, I was placed in front of a field with a few vehicles at my disposal, and no clue as to where I should start my journey as the world’s most under-equipped farmer.
After purchasing some more chickens, as chickens were the closest thing I’d seen to actual life in the opening half-hour of the game and were therefore my only hope of companionship in the eerily desolate world of Farming Simulator, I sought to sow some seeds in order to kickstart my fledgling business. As I can imagine is the case in reality, doing so was a time-consuming and arduous process, given that the machinery used—a Vitasem 302 ADD, to be exact—is a bulky thing that doesn’t exactly turn on a dime, instead forcing you to perform a three-point turn each time it does one lap of a field.
After ploughing backwards and forwards across the field for around 10 minutes, I succumbed to my boredom and eventually hired a worker to carry out the dirty work for me. Considering that these types of activities are Farming Simulator 15’s bread and butter, that it took me such a short amount of time to completely lose interest in it wasn’t very reassuring. But the whole point of Farming Simulator is to eventually grow your farming business into an agricultural empire, amassing a ton of wealth with your wheat, beets, and potatoes.
Unfortunately, the system for achieving this life of luxury isn’t exactly nuanced, with it mostly boiling down to planting stuff, harvesting it, and then dropping it into a hole in the ground. The prices you get for each product shifts depending upon the season and general public demand, but aside from occasionally looking at a pricing guide that will offer you an insight into what food item is selling the best, gameplay is almost entirely limited to picking up stuff and then putting it down the aforementioned hole.
Not that I know much about farming, but I can’t imagine that this is how the process goes down in real life. I should imagine that there’s at least a few more steps between your product growing on your field and then it magically earning you a living, but Farming Simulator 15 doesn’t really hassle itself with anything that might actually make it resemble an actual farming simulator. Instead, it focuses almost entirely upon the controlling of its various vehicles, which have admittedly been recreated rather adeptly (at least I imagine that they have, given that I have no idea what the interior of an actual tractor looks like), but they don’t exactly make for an engrossing game in and of themselves.
Other farming activities such as the maintenance of animals are blissfully overlooked, with you buying chickens, sheep, and the like before the food/materials they produce pop out of them with no interference from the player. I’m sure some actual effort goes into the taking care of these animals on real-world farms, but Giants Software are so preoccupied with their damn trucks that the most amount of legwork you’ll need to do with these animals is hop around your neighborhood hand-delivering the chickens’ eggs.
A swifter way to earn money is via the game’s job board, which posts new tasks to perform every few minutes (the length of time it takes to receive new job listings can be altered in the game’s settings), but again, their implementation is flawed. I frequently found myself receiving the same job over and over again, while at the beginning of my time with the game an hour’s worth of job listings went by that required me to own a frontloader and pallet fork, two things that were way out of my price range due to me having just started out.
Visiting one of the job boards during your first few hours with the game is essentially luck in regards to whether you’ll actually even be able to entertain accepting one of the tasks they give you, with the game assigning them randomly and not taking into account the length of time you’ve been playing or your farm’s financial situation. That being said, when you can finally accept one, they’re dull as shit anyway, with them revolving around the same fetching, carrying, and delivering gameplay as is required in the game’s main objective.
If the gameplay wasn’t dull enough, Farming Simulator 15 also has one of the ugliest open worlds you’re likely to see in a video game in recent memory. While its vehicles have clearly had no small degree of effort put into them in order to make them resemble their real-life counterparts, they’ve been plonked into a world so inexplicably devoid of life and color that playing it often feels like you’re taunting your body into putting you in a spontaneous, boredom-induced coma.
There are two maps to choose from, one that is mostly all greys, greens, and browns while the other changes it up a bit and also features the color red, with the presentation of both of them having been completely overlooked in favor of making those trucks look extra shiny. The game also suffers from texture pop-in at almost every turn along with a woefully poor draw distance, while its pedestrians meander around each map's barren towns like tormented spirits unable to cross over to the afterlife due to them not yet having accepted their death.
They move silently, pass through your vehicle if you attempt to run them down and they’re never seen communicating with one another or even attempting to enter a building. Their lives are utterly meaningless and their detached presence lends an air of creepiness to the game’s environments. But Farming Simulator 15 isn’t a survival-horror, so their eerily inhuman behavior likely wasn’t a result of a design choice from Giants Software, but rather them not really caring about the appearance of their game outside of their lovely fucking trucks.
But even the trucks suffer from some degree of carelessness in their presentation, as Giants inexplicably decided that these things should be almost godlike due to their ability to withstand damage without developing so much as a hint of a scratch on their bonnet. While I wouldn’t expect Forza levels of wear-‘n’-tear to make it into a game called Farming Simulator 15, that there isn’t so much as a sound effect to accompany you crashing headfirst into a tree is pure laziness. It’s telling that even the game’s greatest selling point is bogged down by a clear lack of effort.
I think the appeal of Farming Simulator 15 and the reason why it has attracted such an unreasonably large following is due to it ostensibly offering some semblance of serenity in a medium oversaturated with gore. It’s not difficult to see why people would seek a more relaxing game after having their senses barraged with endless gun-toting violence, but this game doesn’t offer the video game equivalent of a week spent dozing in a hammock on an Aruban beach; it’s an exhaustingly dull weekend in the Scandinavian countryside with only chickens and low-poly civilians for company.