There is a certain attraction to craftsmanship of any kind. Whether it is carpeting, driving a train or, as is the case in Farming Simulator 2013, growing crops, you can’t help but admire those skilled enough to actually ply those trades. Granted, flying a jet plane is a little more glorious than shoveling dirt, but the principle remains the same; there is beauty in being really good at something and especially so when it involves creating things. It is this attraction that has led to the success of the Farming Simulator franchise which in turn has led to this somewhat unlikely game being reviewed here on Hooked Gamers.
I won’t bore you with the back story of Farming Simulator, simply because there is none. You own a farm, or rather the bank does, and you need to make some cash to pay off the loan and expand. It is a deceptively simple premise but it involves hard work.
Simulators are, almost without exception, difficult to get into. If you know the trade that they simulate, you may be able to guess some of what you need to do to get up and running. Farming Simulator offers a number of tutorials that will give you – some – idea but they’re far from perfect. No, most of your learning will have to be on the job and you will have to use common sense to figure out what to do. So, there is a field behind your farm that is ready to be harvested and an old combine harvester to do the job. Get cracking!
It may feel a little odd to start the growing circle with harvesting, but it is actually the best way to ease you into dealing with everything that it involves. Struggling with the small harvester taught me vehicle control, how to raise and lower its cutter and how to switch it on. But best of all, it taught me how to hire someone to do the harvesting for me. But not everything is delegated so easily. The combine fills up quickly and someone will need to drive a trailer under its pipe to catch the – in this case – wheat so that it can continue uninterrupted. This task cannot be done by a hired hand so you’ll have to perform it yourself. As your serf charges per hour, you’ll need to remain vigilant in order to avoid an overly large bill. There is an odd randomness to what can be done by others and what has to be done by you. Plowing and sowing can be delegated but fertilizing – which involves the exact same routine – is a ‘manual’ job and so is selling the harvest at one of the crop exchanges. I’m not quite sure what to make of that mechanic, but it does ensure that the financial gains are much greater when you do more of the work by yourself, making even some of the more tedious and repetitive tasks worthwhile.
After this first harvest, the process of plowing, cultivating, sowing and fertilizing seemed less daunting undertakings and day by day my bank account was starting to look healthier and healthier. I bought land and traded my tractors in for two bigger ones. It was then I realized that, while a little more comfortable at doing the tasks at hand and cooler looking than the old hand-me downs from the previous owner, bigger tractors don’t necessarily mean you will make more money. I can hear you say “well duh” but if you, like me, had been standing next to this big plot of land I bought, you’d also have thought “I’m going to need a bigger gun”.
Fortunately the local farm machine shop had the answer, and my purchases had not been in vain. You see, bigger is better when it comes to farming. Taking out another loan, I bought a sower than was 50% wider, decreasing the time a hired hand would need to sow the fields. I was on to something now, and got a cultivator that was twice as wide, a plow that was double the size of the old model and a new fertilizer that could fertilize the same amount of soil at twice the speed. It almost broke the bank, but hey, anything for efficiency.
Polish here, none there
The above gives you a good impression of what kind of decision making is done not only throughout the initial stages of the game, but throughout its entirety. The shop offers a lot of information to help you make those decisions, like the daily maintenance costs of tools and vehicles, their power and their applications. A clunky but workable PDA screen offers additional information like the weather forecast which can be useful to determine what crops to plant, crop prices at the exchanges and more.
Speaking of clunky, that’s probably an apt description of many of the game’s screens and much of its workings. For a franchise that has reportedly sold over 2 million copies, one would expect a larger investment in the game’s engine and tools, but as it stands, pretty much anything you touch will feel oddly out of place, overly large and unpolished.
Luckily, the exception to the rule is found in the vehicles and their attachments. These have received a great amount of detail and driving around with a Lindner Geotrac 94 tractor with a Horsch Joker 6 CT cultivator attached to it is a sight to behold and likely to be an absolute dream come true for any fan of big machines. The level of polish even goes so far as to make vehicles seem out of place in an otherwise completely bland graphics engine. I realize that fans of Simulations have different expectations of the graphics engine than say First Person Shooter fans, but the engine looks so dated that even the trees look miserable.
It’s a simulator alright
Farming Simulator 2013 is a simulator in the purest form and, given its topic of farming, one of a kind. It is so much so, that at times it is difficult to recognize as a game. It does offer up some quick challenges that – if completed successfully – will give you a couple of extra bucks to spend but besides that your only goals are to buy more land, bigger machines and add more crop variety. For true Simulation fans, that is exactly how it should be but as a game, it falls a bit short. Still, the title Farming Simulator 2013 makes it pretty clear that it wants to be a simulator and it succeeds masterfully within those confines.
A great excuse too play around with combine harvesters and other farm behemoths.
Yesteryear's graphics engine would have made this game look better than it does.