There’s something strangely soothing (and satisfying) about Giants Software’s latest agricultural sandbox adventure. It could have been the country tunes that gently wafted out of my tractor’s radio, or maybe it was the soft droning sound my harvester made as I collected my crops. I didn’t even mind that my first farm was a massive commercial failure, or that I made the rookie mistake of trying to expand my farming operations far too early. There was something about Farming Simulator 17 that resonated with me.
You may mock the idea of a game about the fine art of farming, but one thing that’s undeniable is that Farming Simulator 17 is a serious simulator. Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t perfect; it’s an acquired taste. You could think of it as a thick slice of surströmming (fermented herring) on a thin slice of crispy bread. It may sound repulsive, but a few slices later, you’re in gastronomic heaven.
This year’s edition doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it improves on what came before by delivering a competent upgrade to the franchise. It’s still not the best-looking game on the consoles, but it’s certainly a vast improvement on the last one. The various farm equipment (from vehicles, buildings to animals) show an impressive amount of detail, whereas the environment may seem a little lacking in some areas. There are two locations in the game: a sunny rural American town outfitted with diners and white picket fences, and a thoroughly depressing Russian obschchina (farming commune) – complete with rusty abandoned factories.
The core game can be played solo or with a friend (in co-op) mode. The game play remains unchanged from previous games. It boils down to a simple premise; it’s all about maximising your time, surviving the economy, turning a profit through agricultural wizardry and repaying your bank loans. Sadly, the core gameplay doesn’t change much between the two different locales. I was hoping that your chosen setting would have an impact on what you could grow or sell, or whether the local economy would dictate your choice of farm.
There isn’t a story to play through, instead –in pure sandbox fashion- you make of the game what you will. Do you want to start a wheat farm? Go forth and cultivate your fields! Do you want to farm with cows or more to the point, do you want a dairy farm or are you merely providing meat to the local abattoir? You’re the author of your own farming story.
This year’s version sees several new additions. For instance, you can finally play as a female farmer, grow sunflowers and soya beans or try your hand at pig farming. Obviously, you’ll need to keep your pigs fed, keep their pens clean, make sure they have water and bedding, and only once you fulfil all their needs, you’ll reap the returns from the sows. After all, you reap what you sow!
There’s very little (if any) hand-holding in Farming Simulator 17. It’s the one part of the game that may confuse newcomers to the genre. The tutorials cover some facets of the game mechanics, but much of the game depends on trial-and-error. It is the one aspect of the franchise that I love, but I recognise that it’s something that could be improved on.
Another addition to the franchise (especially for my fellow farming brethren and sistren on consoles) is mod support. At the time of writing, only the developer has uploaded downloadable add-ons, but the hope is that in time contributions from the game’s wider community will add to the game.