What is it: First/third-person farming simulator
Play it on: Dual-core CPU, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 500 series GPU
Reviewed on: Windows 7, Intel Core 2 Quad 9450, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 570
Alternatively: Euro Truck Simulator 2 (85%)
Copy protection: Steam
Release date: Out now
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Giants Software
Multiplayer: 1-16 player online co-op
Link: Official site
It wasn't long after I started playing Farming Simulator 15 that my eyes began to glaze over. It’s not because of the subject matter, which at its best I actually found oddly relaxing as I cultivated, sowed, and harvested my fields, up one row and down the other, with nothing but my thoughts and the diesel roar of my Deutz-Fahr to keep me company. The trouble is that underneath, it's not really much of a simulation at all. It's just tractor porn.
I was initially enthusiastic about Farming Simulator 15 because of the obvious effort that went into creating its undeniably impressive array of agricultural machinery. Tractors and attachments look fantastic, with switches, knobs, and buttons all where they should be, plus flashing lights, augers that move realistically, and even caked-on dirt that looks ‘right.’
But far less attention to detail has been paid to the rest of the game. Even though I opted to play in the US, for instance, my earnings were measured in euros, not dollars; posted speed limits were 55, yet the speedometers in my tractors measured KM/H, not MPH. No effort to actually "Americanize" the setting was made beyond slapping red, white, and blue on just about everything within eyesight. [Correction: It is possible to change measurements, though this oversight has little bearing on the review's conclusion.]
That superficiality goes all the way down. The physics are a joke—roaring over and off of rocky outcroppings reminded me of driving the Mako in Mass Effect—and I moved ghost-like through fully-grown fields, bushes, and even pedestrians, none of which registered any trace of my passing. Yet wooden fences and clotheslines stopped me as fast and as dead as if I'd hit the ground after jumping out of a plane. With some effort, I managed to overturn my tractor, only to learn that there's no option for getting it upright aside from hopping into another tractor—fortunately, I had several—and smashing it around until it bounces back up on its wheels.
The time acceleration mechanic is especially bizarre. Farming Simulator 15 will run at up to 120 times normal speed, but the setting affects only the passage of game time, and not the real speed at which anything moves or gets done. At normal speed, I completed a single cultivator pass through a small field in less than one minute; at 120 times normal, that exact same pass took two hours and 50 minutes of game time. I thought it might be different if I left the job to a hired hand, the game's way of automating jobs, but it was exactly the same: Accelerated time passes by much more quickly, but the world crawls along at an unchanged rate.
Farming Simulator 15 is a very unguided game. I began with several tractors, basic implements, and a field of wheat waiting to be harvested. But once that was done, I was entirely on my own, a situation not helped by the largely uninformative tutorial and a brief instruction manual that explains the basic mechanics but little else.
Commodity prices fluctuate based upon supply, but while arrows beside each commodity type indicate whether its price is up, down, or stable, there's no record of past prices, sales, or anything that makes the game feel like something coherent is happening under the hood. Not that it really matters anyway, thanks to the ridiculously generous side missions: I made nearly 20,000 euros in a single day by completing three grass-cutting jobs. Worse, I was given the same yard to cut, every single time.
And as pretty as the tractors are, everything else looks like it could have come out of Farming Sim 2012. Textures are flat, the draw distances are terrible, clipping errors abound, and virtually the entire world is non-interactive. People shamble around aimlessly, like zombies, with dead eyes and expressionless faces, and even the shop where I bought all my swanky new equipment was utterly empty: My purchases simply appeared, like magic, in the parking lot. It's actually kind of creepy.
The sad part is that I actually enjoyed the ‘farming.’ Keeping my rows straight(ish), pulling loads of canola and corn in my beat-up old Hurlimann, and not really having to think too much about anything. I spent the better part of an hour one night just hauling corn from the field to my silo, watching the harvester trundle up and down the field under the light of the moon. I wasn't even really playing the game. The PC was doing most of the work, and yet it was the closest I ever came to feeling like I was on a farm. Then the field was done, the harvester came to an idling halt, and my hired hand disappeared without a word. And with nothing else to do, I swapped tractors, hired someone else to plow the field, and went off into the night to see if anyone needed their grass cut.