Farming is in my blood. Both my grandfather and great grandfather were farmers for their entire adult lives. This means that far too many of my summer days were spent in the middle of a corn field, instead of in front of a gaming console. I only mention this to explain my shameless attraction to farming simulations. Dating back as far as SimFarm on PC (and pretty much any other avenue since), the notion of managing a digital plantation has fascinated me. So when it came time to review the newest installment in the Farming Simulator franchise, not to mention the first version to grace the PlayStation 4, I couldn’t wait to put my digital green thumb to the test.
Facing Hash Realities
One thing they don’t teach you in agriculture classes (yes, my rural Michigan high school actually had agriculture classes!) is how hard it is to manage an entire farm. If Farming Simulator 17 is any indication, it’s a task that’s damn near impossible to accomplish, especially when you only know the basics of raising a few specific types of crops. Upon starting the game it becomes immediately apparent that if you don’t plan on pouring over the details in the game’s in-menu manual, you might as well drive your Massey Ferguson off a cliff. Just know that if you plan on actually taking your tractor cliff diving, make sure it isn’t a leased model. The in-game insurance policy doesn’t cover stupidity.
Unless you have a genuine affection for farming, it is rather difficult to explain why Farming Simulator 17 is even remotely appealing. It has unnecessarily complex mechanics for handling the tilling, planting and harvesting of fields. If that wasn’t enough to keep you pacified, there’s also a poorly explained opportunity to branch off into the world of livestock trade. Don’t forget about figuring out how to take advantage of the in-game economy, which is both unwieldy and constantly in flux. Mastering this rural Wall Street is crucial to keeping your farm operating at its peak capacity. Oh, and did I mention that all of this is all done without the helpful guiding hand of any narrative elements, whatsoever?
The key to any successful play session is going in without any sort of plans or ambitions. Depending upon the needs of your farm, you could find yourself spending hours behind the wheel of a harvester, taking your truck into town to pick up seed, or hauling a load of freshly harvested crops to the local grain elevator. Don’t feel like handling all of the field work yourself? Feel free to hire a team of workers to take care of the tedious tasks you don’t want to waste time on. That sounds a bit too close to real life, doesn’t it?
A Tough Row to Hoe
If manning your own crops isn’t enough of a time suck, there are also optional tasks being requested by other local farmers. Remember those hired hands I mentioned earlier? Well if you are having trouble making ends meet, you can essentially become one yourself. While this is a great option, should the financial need arise, once these tasks have been started there is no way to pawn them off on another subcontractor. That job is yours, bub. Never has this been more apparent than when I accidentally accepted a “challenge” from a farmer that needed one of his fields of underground crops harvested. When the mission timer came up and it had a par time of four hours to complete (not in-game time, it was actually real-world time) I knew I was in trouble.
Farming Simulator 17 isn’t for the faint of heart. This isn’t really the kind of game that you pick up and play in half-hour bursts. In order to get anything fully accomplished, plan to set aside a couple of hours at a time… and that is just for reading the manual. The mechanics are pretty much impenetrable without doing your homework beforehand. One of the main reasons for the required reading is the lackluster opening tutorial, which barely has any substance. Hell, even the tutorial is presented to the player in pop-op dialog boxes, featuring large walls of text in a very small font. It also doesn’t help matters when there is so very little guidance between steps in the tutorial process. Nothing says “fun” like scouring the map for the next instructional way point, right? You may be better off opting to read the manual and skip the opening entirely. At least with that option you have the ability re re-read anything that you missed the first time around.
Once you get past the dark ages of learning the core mechanics, you learn that this isn’t a game at all. It’s a job. Pretty much anything that you could imagine being present on a farm can be found here, for better or worse. Granted, some of the mechanics and controls are better fleshed out than others, but it definitely feels like very few stones were left unturned. The problem is the game itself starts to feel like a jack of all trades, but master of none. Plus, the whole lack of fun element ends up draining the experience of all ambition and drive.
Sure, you get to witness a seed’s evolution from germination to harvest, yet many of the visuals and texture work are just plain hideous. While working a field of any substantial size, you can fully expect to see only a fraction of the crop fully rendered, with all of the plants in the distance appearing to be a hideous mass of “Wheat Texture #4.” Adding further confusion to this dysfunction is the fact that other objects in the distance, say the town storefronts that are just past the edge of the half-rendered field, look perfectly fine. Despite being so thorough on the simulation side, if the actual foundation aspects like presentation are thrown to the wayside, it immediately begins to take a toll on the overall realism.
When compared to previous installments in the series, Farming Simulator 17 is a drastic improvement. However, there are far too many rough edges to really recommend the game to anyone that isn’t hardcore into the digital farming scene. There were obviously ambitious goals that the developers were striving to achieve in this iteration, most of which they genuinely managed to accomplish. Unfortunately, when you add new features and forget about the fact that a game still needs to be fun, your priorities are ultimately being invested in the wrong place. Unless you are down for hours of aimless fieldwork, it may be best to avoid this rustic chore.
Farming Simulator 17 review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.