Tractor and Field
Look outside. It’s probably dark, isn’t it? Last week we had to put the clocks back an hour so it’s basically pitch black all the time now for most people’s waking moments. Part of the reason for this is so farmers during the world wars had more daylight to work their fields in the morning. Basically, most people don’t see daylight between October and March because of farmers. They owe us a lot, and I cant be alone in thinking that a decent video game would go some way to compensating for this.
Game: Farming Simulator 17
Developer: Giants Software
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
(Review code provided by publisher)
Enter Farming Simulator 17. The ‘Simulator’ games are often the subject of some derision and misplaced praise from the sort of tossers that only like things ironically and have entirely forgotten what it feels like to enjoy anything more. Which is a shame, because Farming Simulator 17 is, at its core, a good game. Triple A it is not, however, and there are plenty of things in the way of the core to put off plenty of people, but at the centre of it there’s some serious involvement to uncover here.
So, let’s get those cons out of the way first, shall we? Unfortunately, there are quite a few. Graphically and sonically, this is not going to win any awards. On first inspection the visuals aren’t terrible as such, but moving around and exploring the world you’re presented with will quickly uncover plenty of rough edges. Drive through a cornfield in a more standard vehicle and the corn simply appears through the car, like it’s growing out of the roof. Trees pop into view and pop out again, while the HUDs and menus look incredibly basic and about twenty years out of date. This is all despite a promising little intro that shows you some very arty animations of tractors looking all sexy and alluring in various stages of sunrise.
Regarding what you get from the speakers, you may as well stick the game on mute from the start. While walking around your farm you have no music, so are just left with a strange sense of disquiet, and when you enter a vehicle you’re given a limited choice of radio stations, all of which play the sort of tossed-off ideas you’d find on the debut demo from someone who just started learning guitar after having a midlife crises. The noise of a passing car appears suddenly and disappears abruptly, and there’s no spoken dialogue, just unimaginative text boxes. In addition to all of this, the movement is unrealistic and the maps are fairly small when we’ve been spoilt by so many huge play areas of late. The vehicles handle badly too… This is turning into quite a list.
But bizarrely, it’s the atmosphere of the game that is most unsettling. The levels of eeriness are enough to rival a fair few survival horror games. This is presumably unintentional, and mostly down to the lack of inhabitants in your chosen farming town. Combine this emptiness with doing nothing but farming crops, and this feels like a better Walking Dead game than you’d ever get from Telltale (or in fact any game you’d get from Telltale, unless you really like reading boring graphic novels). On occasions when you have to drive across the whole map it’s possible to encounter maybe one car and almost no people, if you don’t get too near the centre (and even then it’s hardly Mardi Gras). Points of interest like garden centres are utterly deserted, and the lack of recognisable music or convincing background noise makes everything feel alienating, disconcerting and not quite like the jolly farm-em-up you may be expecting. You’re blocked from leaving the town by invisible walls across the roads, happily adding claustrophobia and a nice Cabin In The Woods vibe in to the mix. It’s no coincidence this appeared in time for Halloween, is it?
This is, however, something of a budget title. It’s appearing at around £30 at most places; not bargain pricing but not exactly Call of Duty either. But there’s something about Farming Simulator 17 that has really pulled me in, inadvertent creepiness aside. Obviously this sort of game makes a lot of its management features; the sort of thing that made Farmville so popular with all those people who never say anything interesting on Facebook but are happy to tell you how their fucking virtual chickens are getting on. There is something inherently satisfying in amassing money and checking tasks off a virtual checklist, and video games have been using this to exploit the part of us simple, needy humans that seeks completeness for some time. Working the fields earns money, money buys you shiny new machines that can produce food quicker, which earns more money to buy more shiny things and on and on the cycle goes until you realise it’s 2am and you forgot to feed your cat for three days, but at least your virtual cows are happy.
Indeed, Farming Simulator is one of those calming games that could almost pass for meditation. Having played a serious amount of PSVR recently, there’s a lot of experiences on that platform that thrive by putting you on edge. This is the opposite. Nothing unexpected happens in Farming Simulator, and the motion of passing back and forth along fields with ploughs, sowers, harvesters and bailers is reassuring in its repetitiveness. You can magically switch from vehicle to vehicle to save all the intermediate travelling, there’s a decent range of things to do, from cutting down trees to loading things up in your truck for sale and storing grain. You can even do side missions for other farmers, such as fertilising a field against the clock, like a sort of mercenary agriculturalist, to rack up some more Euros. There’s also a really nice, Surgeon Simulator style movement to the game when you pick up objects, as you hold them precariously in front of you to toss them into your trailer or storage area.
That’s not to say I didn’t do my fair share of mucking around; it took me all of seven minutes to see if I could plough the shape of a massive cock and balls into a field (and yes, dear reader. Yes, I could). I also played a game of football with myself using a tractor, with a barn as a goal and a bale of hay as a ball, and made a game out of loading my truck with as many logs as possible and seeing how far I could drive before losing them all, like Jenga but moving and potentially lethal to other road users. But the need to do this quickly dissipated as I become involved the actual business of weighing up my farm and income and deciding what to do next.
But the difficulty with Farming Simulator is there’s a lot about it that is so wide of the mark it’s easy to dismiss it. Even the subject matter alone will make many people assume it’s a joke, and see above for the many faults with it. But once you get used to all of that, it’s fine. It’s not Civilization or Theme Hospital, but I certainly found myself wanting to return to it, and still do now.
I mean, it’s not like I can go outside anyway, because it’s dark all the time. Thanks, farmers.