I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm right here in New Zealand and I understand all too well the time and energy that goes into making a living off the land. The Farming Simulator games are a new experience for me as a gamer and I must admit, my real-life experiences had made me somewhat dismissive towards the franchise…..but I now get it. The digital land you initially turn sod on to make a quick buck quickly becomes more than just a piece of earth and actually becomes…your farm.
During the set-up, you choose one of the two farm maps. The somewhat hillier topography of the Scandinavian farm, suits more livestock, small cropping and forestry. Where the wide open spaces of the flats in the USA is akin to an Iowa or Indiana farm, far better suited to massive crops of corn and cereals with HUGE machinery used to covers the hectares. But, to be frank, both types can be used and worked in anyway you chose if you are willing to put in the time.
Once a farm type is chosen and the tutorials completed, gamers are given a tractor, a few basic tools of the trade, ie: plough, seed drill and a harvester- and are left to their own devices. There are no goals or endgame to strive for. Farm Sim 15 is not about winning, it’s about the economy of farming. How one actually becomes financially successful is up to each “Farmer”. The pay-off for successful farming is saving up enough to buy new land and machinery…and Oh, the machinery!! Huge tractors with tracks, detailed implements, massive harvesters, all challenging to control, but lovingly re-produced both inside and out. The same can’t be said of the landscapes and farmland, which is functional but unfortunately did not take advantage of the power of my PS4.
You have a farm and some machinery, time to make some cash. The commodities menu gives you the current market rates for the crops or produce farms can sell. Timber, silage, wheat, corn, stock feed, cattle to name a few. Work the land, plant the crop, allow it to grow, then harvest and sell. But here in lies the mystery of a game such as this. This is a “game” about “working”!? Driving a tractor round and round an 8 hectare paddock towing a plough or bailer, either virtually or in real-life, soon becomes laborious, as I can attest. As much of my youth was spent in a tractor doing that very thing. To be successful in Farm Sim 15, there are certainly periods of boredom that have to be dealt with. Later, the ability to hire drivers is economically viable, but as with the other running costs of fuel or buying fertilisers, these have to be budgeted for.
I chose to play on the hill country Scandinavian map and as soon as it was affordable I took up the new addition to the Farming Simulator games, Forestry. Felling trees, cutting logs and taking them to the Lumber Mill was great fun…and featured a lot less ‘round n round’ of the pastoral endeavours. Forestry is a great earner to boot and while I did the fun stuff in the hills, I paid A.I. drivers to carry out the work in the fields. Online multi-player lets other players come and help you work the farm instead of using the ‘hired workers’ which is a fun sideline, but the lack of couch co-op in a title such as this was a huge oversight.
So, make money, get bigger machinery, buy more land, harvest more crops and diversify. Spare cash can then be used to expand into biogas supply, solar power panels, green houses, even huge wind turbines which provide a steady income for the farm. The multitude of revenue streams for the farm is great, however they have to be managed and Farm Sim 15 becomes a quasi-real-time strategy game, with a lot going on at once. And that right there is the clever nature of the game. You start out with a Tractor and a couple of paddocks and you can make your farm as big and as complex as you like. Do what’s fun or do what pays. Specialise or diversify. There is a huge element of freedom. The only rules are the rules of farming the land, not what some game designer think you should be doing at certain times.
Even with my experience on farms, to start with, I was a bit overwhelmed as to what to do first. But not long after coming to grips with the use of the machinery dealership, where crops go to be sold and what equipment is best for what job. I had a thriving farm based on cereals, forestry and biogas supply. Making a real-life living off the land is an ongoing battle, but hugely rewarding….just like this clever wee game.