Giants Software; PS Vita; £6.49
Krone. Lemken. Kotte. Deutz-Fahr.
To the uninitiated, these brands hold no significance. But to anyone with an agricultural background, these names represent the epitome of prestige, ranking alongside Rolls-Royce, Mercedes Benz or Bentley. They represent the very best in modern farming machinery. And in the latest pocket version of Farming Simulator from Giants Software, you get to put these behemoths through their paces as you build your very own agricultural empire.
As someone who first experienced Farming Simulator as a full-priced retail release for the 3DS in 2012, I was pleasantly surprised to see it brought to the PS Vita for a very modest £6.49
Although nowhere near as in-depth as its PC counterpart, this little title presents a very large and engaging – if rather bland looking – open world, if only it can capture your attention long enough for you to realise it. By far the biggest turn-off for most will be the ridiculously steep learning curve. The game starts you off with a minimal fleet of machines and tools, guiding you through your first few days as a farm hand with pitifully abrupt tutorials.
The first task is tilling the ground with a special piece of machinery attached to your tractor. You then attach a seed planter and focus on keeping as straight a line as possible as you sow your first batch of wheat. At any point you can choose to let the AI drivers take over at the push of a button, but you’ll be paying by the hour for their services and you’ll soon notice the wage bill eating into your profits if you don’t pitch in every now and then.
After a day or so, your crops will be ready to cultivate. You follow the same procedure with your harvester, however this time you need to be ready with a tractor/trailer combo to capture the seeds and deposit them into one of your silos. it certainly does take quite a bit of coordination to keep all of your machines running at optimal speed without causing a collision. Once harvested, you start the tilling process over and take your crops to whichever vendor is paying the highest price.
After a few cycles you should have earned enough money to invest in extra machinery or even purchase a neighbouring field to expand your farming empire. Once you have established yourself and achieved a certain level of efficiency, it does become rather satisfying to watch your collection grow. You can then invest in non-essential accessories, such as the Krone Big Pack 1290, which compacts the hay left behind by your havesters into neat little bales, ready for collection and removal by the Arcusin Autostack.
A few hours later and you begin to covet the high end harvesters and tractors available through the in-game store, which offers a two-tier system of basic and advanced models. This makes earning the money to facilitate those purchases quite a time consuming prospect. A high point for me – after four hours spent labouring in the fields – was driving into town to take delivery of the Krone BigX so I could begin harvesting corn, a very lucrative commodity in this game.
You can also invest in various methods of maximising your yield. You can take a little extra time to water your crops, or even create fertilisers by bringing waste to the biogas plant and converting it into slurry.
As well as managing the day-to-day running of the machinery across your fields to obtain maximum efficiency, you also need to pay close attention to the prices being paid for each crop around the map. There are four merchants each paying varying prices which can be checked at any time on the in-game menu. When prices are low, store your crops in their respective silos and wait for a spike in demand. This level of micro management adds a further layer of immersion to the overall experience. When you do manage to achieve a brief moment of equilibrium, seeing all your machines hard at work and your bank balance growing as fast as your crops, it feels very rewarding.
The odd wrench is thrown into the works every so often in the form of mini-games, which act as rather nonsensical missions that you can choose to accept for extra cash. Again, you must use your own judgement. Pulling a tractor off a job to hunt down a missing shipment of car parts might seem like easy money, but it can have a knock-on effect if it means your other machines are waiting around while you get the job done.
Simulators have never held much allure for the modern gamer. Mainstream audiences have always favoured the high fantasy and immersion of action blockbusters over the attention to detail and sedentary play style of a real-world simulation. Many would rather farm gold than crops in a field.
But when approached with the right mindset, this on-the-go simulator is certainly worthy of your time. It may even be the perfect introduction to a whole new genre of gaming; I’m considering moving up to the PC version which features a dazzling array of machinery and even livestock. Giants Software recently had a Kickstarter campaign funded to bring multiplayer servers to the PC; the idea of a persistent world farm that a group of friends can manage online holds a certain draw.
Mixing skill, asset and time management and requiring lots of patience, Farming Simulator is certainly not for everyone. But if you can get past the bland visuals and awful music, you will uncover a gem of a game that will provide many hours of laid back entertainment.