The key to a good simulation game is attention to detail, authentic mechanics and a solid world in which art can be allowed to closely imitate life. Having enjoyed “gateway” sims such as the Gran Turismo series, having a penchant for the min/max management style of the Sim City and Civilization games and even enjoying the anorak-trappings of the many flight simulators that have followed on from Microsoft’s original titles, I thought I would be able to appreciate a title many would consider too dry. Farming Simulator 2011 certainly won’t win any awards for its original setting, blistering action or heart-wrenching plot but that’s not the point. We’re here to farm and farm well.
Placing a thousand acres and $12,000 in your fresh, pink, city-folk hands, it’s up to you to save your recently acquired farm from the auction block (presumably after which it will be bulldozed to make way for a new Tesco or cricket green for spoiled boarding school children). You do this by planting your various grains, tending to your herd for milk and delivering your wares to the local townspeople.
With a wide range of real life machinery available (for a price), the experience does indeed look authentic (this, I must point out, is coming from someone who hasn’t seen a pig or a horse in over five years). Sadly, one aspect that doesn’t effectively translate is the amount of hard work that farming requires. Whereas waking up early to plough, sow and harvest for most of the year must be a hugely satisfying and rewarding experience, as is any hard day’s work, when you’re sat behind a keyboard watching it happen on screen, it’s just boring. Other games deal with this issue by providing you with a constant stream of changing options and tasks that require careful management of your resources. Unfortunately, the range of options available in Farming Simulator are rather narrow and, for a small fee, you can pay an NPC to do much of the grunt work for you. Once you figure out the most cost effective way to turn your crops and livestock into cash (the real money is in the brewery and dairy farm, by the way), there’s little appeal to be had from repeating the steps over and over again.
There are, however, multiple missions that also serve as effective tutorials and introduce players to the surprisingly deep level of detail that has gone into providing every conceivable modern farming tool that’s currently available. The game’s full list of features read like an agricultural Christmas list, with major manufacturers and real-life products all on hand. I must admit a giddy moment of childish excitement when I first strapped into my shiny new combine harvester and set off down the road in search of a field ready to be reaped. The handling wasn’t great and sure, I may have harvested more cars than grain as I struggled to keep her on the road (even though I was barely breaking 20mph) but this isn’t Forza and I was essentially driving a mobile factory.
Sadly, wrestling with the awkward driving controls quickly becomes dull and there’s little to keep your interest as you chug along down your chosen path. Visually, Farming Simulator lacks polish. Plain textures and sparse environments do little to catch your eye and leave no chance for wistful daydreaming as you toil in the fields. There is the option to explore beyond the boundaries of your farm and, while this is a nice inclusion showing an impressive level of consideration from producers Excalibur Publishing, you do get the sense that the budget was stretched when allocating assets and designers to the world.
There is some satisfaction to be had while playing Farming Simulator 2011. With such a wide range of equipment and potential ways in which to generate your income, a true fan of the wealth of information and strategy on hand would likely be impressed. The Platinum addition add-on increases your potential inventory even further and introduces new buildings. Most notable is the fact that all renewable energy sources are available for free, lowering your costs in an authentic, if slightly preachy, way.
Unfortunately, the time investment required to see everything there is to do in Farming Simulator 2011 means that much of any playthrough will require long exposure to repetitive missions, endless driving at a snail’s pace and little in the way of visual flair to keep you entertained. Even for the most hardcore of fans, it’s difficult to recommend a title that, while ambitious, simply fails to deliver a well-rounded experience.
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