Surprises are great, for the most part, but unexpected surprises are even better and this is pretty much what can sum up Farming Simulator 2013. I think it would be fair to assume that beyond mainland Europe where the series has achieved historical success that there would be naysayers as to who would want to play a farming simulator. The truth is that you, yes you, would actually probably enjoy this. This is not simply a more legitimate Farmville but it is in fact a very grounded, very tight business simulator.
Entering into the world of farming may be an unusual transition for most gamers and unfortunately in the first few hours the game does not help itself to welcome in beginners. Firstly the presentation will not impress most as the menus sit looking like something from a bygone age, edges never looking completely rounded off and a cursor that somehow seems cumbersome. Musically the game fails to impress upon loading as you are greeted with a sparse musical soundscape reminiscent of a painful elevator ride. These are minor quibbles but in the grander scheme it feels as though these were things that could have been improved, there would be no major rewrite of code. It is a shame as it feels as though you have accidentally picked something out of a bargain bin, and while presentation aesthetics should not influence initial impressions it is hard to get around it.
Furthering initial difficulties are the tutorials, of which there are definitely less than there should be. Beyond the mechanics behind driving vehicles and the like there are no guides as to how to handle the likes of animal husbandry or even the financial aspect of trailing yourself out of debt as the game begins. While there are answers to be had online, a brief glance over the forums will educate you more than the skimpy tutorials or lacklustre manual will. Again it is a shame as while you don’t want to spoon feed gamers you really have to invest in bringing them comfortably into the game world and have a grasp of all mechanics. Even the tutorials that are there are presented in the least informative manner.
When trying to understand the working of some of the equipment it would have been very useful, and save players time, by having a video of the mechanics in action rather than just text. This simple addition would have helped in a very immediate way but instead you read the text and then try to practically apply it in a hands-on segment. It is genuinely hard to grasp what should be happening as you have no visual guide to compare against what you are doing. It’s easy to complain about games being too hands-on (Press A to jump...achievement unlocked!) but on the other side you really need to either teach the player how to do things and not make them check online to find out how to actually play.
Luckily there is something here that engages, and while the conceit may be alien the core gameplay mechanics are reassuringly familiar. You begin your career with a loan from the bank as you try and expand your farm, once again there isn’t much explanation about to actually go about getting out of debt but at the base level you understand it is about having good crops. Within a short time you will get into the cyclical nature of running the farm with ploughing, sowing, spraying and cultivating all becoming familiar tasks. It can feel like a lot of work, initially it is very focused on micro-management and you will find yourself laboriously covering a lot of ground trying to extract as much quality from your fields as you can. As you progress and start to turn a profit you can actually hire a farmhand and with a simple button press you can have them perform tasks for you. As you progress and buy more fields for your agricultural empire you will need this help as there is a lot to manage.
The options to improve your farm are impressively vast, from vehicles to attachments, silos to animals you will be spoilt for choice. I don’t have much experience with farm vehicles in the real world but it definitely seems that they have been lovingly recreated and the quality doesn’t slip across the hundred or so vehicles. There is something quite satisfying when you acquire a new vehicle and then taking it out for a spin, but not too far as the fuel will cost you money too. Where the modelling does fall down is in the interiors and for those expecting a Gran Turismo approach to interior modelling prepare to be disappointed. It is a genuine shame as there has been obvious care given to the vehicles themselves in the first instance, and much like the menus and tutorials you do get the feeling that had an extra bit of care been applied then this would be the complete package.
Beyond the modelling of the vehicles the game world is functional at best, textures pop, edges tear now and then and the draw distance is largely questionable. Again, while you aren’t buying a farming simulator for the visuals these problems while not constant can break the idea of playing a simulator. Similarly the audio could have achieved another layer of polish, it is next to absent with only the hypnotic hums and growls of equipment to save you from falling asleep in the field. It’s not that you need the likes of a licensed soundtrack to keep the game trucking along but just a little bit more effort would have made a world of difference.
The game plays out with no real goal other than make money, which is fine as there is a sense of accomplishment as you deliver a good harvest or as you expand your lands into one of the other forty fields. Balancing profit into investment with running costs may not sound like fun but this is resource management brought into a reasonably accessible and entertaining product. There are strangely some side-quests that will pop up from time to time that will offer you the chance to earn extra income, they will usually involve travelling through town in your vehicle and then performing some manner of task such as spraying or cutting. The tasks are not particularly innovative but the developers have done well to keep proceedings varied and nipping through town has a refreshing effect on you after working the fields or balancing the books.
The game also boasts a reasonably sturdy multiplayer element that will see up to ten players working on a farm. The great thing is that there is no competitive element here, you will work to help the farm you are on so anyone with ideas of a head to head combine deathmatch may be disappointed. It is genuinely refreshing to be playing online for the sake of helping someone and not swearing into your headset every five seconds. It is strange that there exists such a commendable online experience where other simple areas seem to have been skimped on.
I would find it hard not to recommend Farming Simulator 2013 to my friend, even after they look at me strangely. The truth here is that there is a very solid game in behind the less than attractive facade and if you enjoy management games you will be at home here. There are improvements to be made in the next iteration and by all accounts it looks like that is likely to happen. It may be condescending to say this but if the necessary improvements were made then I would be genuinely excited about getting my hands on it. For now what we have is a great management game, a great online experience and the ability to draw rude things in a field with a combine harvester. Sometimes trying something outside of your comfort zone pays off and the best compliment I can give Farming Simulator 2013 is that you should try it, you actually just might like it.