Let me get this out of my system up front: Stop being so ‘sheepish’. There’s a lot of ‘horsing’ around. It’s a bit…’dog’-ged and ‘ruff’ around the edges. Get a ‘Moo’-ve on and stop being a ‘chicken’. You really have to ‘plough’ through the game to ‘weed’ out it’s positives. They really made a ‘pig’s ear of this. It’s really quite b-ewe-tiful. You can’t see the wood for the trees. It separates the wheat from the chaff.
Okay. Now that all of my farming related puns are on the table, let’s review Farming Simulator 19, shall we?
It has been a few years since I last strapped myself into a virtual tractor and took to the fields. I managed to fall fowl (sorry, there’s another one) of the Farming Simulator release structure, buying the full console version one year, only to buy an almost identical game the next year on the Vita. Feeling a little burned out on the formula, I took a few 3 year break.
Booting up Farming Simulator 19 then felt like a very fresh experience because of the combined iterations I’ve missed in the past few years mixed with the new content and the brand new graphics engine adopted by Giants Software. If you’re a lapsed player like me, this year’s iteration is a perfect time to don that plaid shirt and get back too it.
It has been a decade since the Farming Simulator series started and in that time it has both a) exploded in popularity and b) become the butt of a lot of game related jokes. The truth is, the core play loop in Farming Simulator remains relatively unchanged from day 1 till the 2019 edition. You cultivate your fields. You sow your seeds. You wait for the crop to grow. You harvest the crop. Deliver and sell the harvest for cash. You reinvest the money into more efficient, more cost effective, higher yielding tools/crops/vehicles. Profit. Repeat Ad infinitum. Much like every other entry into the series, that loop is still the mainstay of Farming Simulator 19 which involves driving up and down a field in straight lines (or employing someone to do it for you at a cost because you’ve forgotten where you put your glasses and can’t drive straight) for hours on end. With Farming Simulator 19, this could be on 2 new crops – cotton and oats – but the cycle is the same.
This series has always been, and likely will always be, a simulator pitched at a niche audience, but even for those that have no interest in Farming itself (like myself) playing Farming Simulator 19 is serene and almost therapeutic. Going back and forth, back and forth, slowly trudging through the fields, dragging whatever tool you have attached to the back/front to change the colour of the ground is as relaxing as it is monotonous. It’s easy to lose hours to this game without noticing, especially with the introduction of radio stations (a feature which has been added since I last played), playing everything from country to upbeat dance music which has replaced the cheesy tunes that inhabited the game the last time I played.
Should you be feeling the grind with the farming itself, you can also complete missions which are now presented in a new menu and don’t need you to visit the quest giver to start (thank you Giants!). These missions have a variety of objectives from cultivating and delivering a certain type of animal or crop to transportation missions, making a return from FS15, tasking you with taking a load from one point on the map to another. There’s also a new type of mission, revolving around the stages of bailing up hay. These missions are a welcome break from the free form farming, giving you additional objectives and helping you to keep a fresh bank balance in the process.
Accessibility has always been my main concern with the Farming Simulator series. Each and every time I’ve picked up one of these games, starting out has always felt like staring at a learning curve the size of the cliffs of Dover. I’m happy to report that there’s been a lot of progress in this regard in Farming Simulator 19, while there’s still room for improvement. Firstly, there’s the differing campaign modes. In single player, you get to choose between 3 different situations – a new farm, a farming manager and a real simulation mode. In the new farm mode, you’re handed a farm, a reasonably healthy bank balance and enough tractors, seeds & equipment to get your first few harvests underway. There’s also a few helpful hints early on to get you going. The farm manager mode is slightly different – here you’re given a huge bank balance but no fields, tractors or equipment and you’ve got to purchase all of that yourself. This is a mode designed for those that have experience with the game and understand many of the basics, to give a much more customised play through. In the last and hardest mode, you start with a small bank balance, the bare minimum to get you started and far lower pay for your yields. This is a mode designed for those that fancy a challenge and have a lot of time on your hands – something as simple as employing people to cultivate a field might be enough to break the bank. These game modes mean that no matter what your experience with the Farming Simulator series, there’s a mode for you here.
There’s also a whole host of tutorial’s to help you understand the basics. These guide you through everything from the basics of cultivating, sowing and harvesting, weeding, keeping your soil, bailing, forestry, keeping animals and more. They’re bare bones guides on how to do things, often not going into enough detail about how to do the tasks it’s asking you to do but it’s a sand box for you to trial and error through, outside of the game.
It’s the UI that has seen the biggest improvements in regards to accessibility. Button presses and what they do are now ever present in the top left of the screen should you want them to be and if you’re making a mistake (like turning on your Harvester before unfolding it), a message flashes on screen to tell you what an idiot you’re being. Elsewhere, when looking at a field, you’re given a list of useful facts on it like what’s planted there and what stage of growth it’s at. This means, as your farm grows and you purchase more and more fields, you’re not going to be cultivating a field you’ve just sown by mistake (yes, I did this often in FS16). Another improvement is to do with farm building. Placement of new animal enclosures, barns, silos etc is much easier than in previous years. I’d have liked to have seen these UI improvements go further, especially in regards to the equipment. It’d be so helpful if the game would tell you what each tool is and what it does when looking at it, especially early in the game when you’re still finding your feet. The only current way of doing this is to find it in the catalogue of tractors, tools and equipment for sale and match up the visuals.
And that catalogue is vast. Featuring the full A to Z (or AGCO to Zunhammer, if you will) of agricultural equipment (now including machinery from John Deere too) it’s almost overwhelming to look at. While I personally don’t know my Krampe from my Massey Ferfuson, if you’re into brands of tractors, you’ll likely be in your element, pouring over the sheer number presented here. It’s straight up tractor porn.
This is where the game excels this year – presentation. Giants Software have employed a whole new graphics engine for Farming Simulator 19 and it’s a modest but definite upgrade on everything I’ve seen from last year’s entry. The tractors and equipment are closing in on photo-realistic, the engine visibly churning away on the inside and slowing down realistically when you jump out. There’s even vision obscuring effects from the heat coming from the exhausts. The sky, especially during sun sets, is quite beautiful. There’s a tonne of landmarks around the games two different maps too which, while not winning any beauty contests, are still appealing to look at. Crops now have better visual growth stages so you can better tell how far along they are, just from a glance. There’s astonishing attention to detail employed in various area’s (like in the Farm’s kitchen?) but it’s not wholly consistent. There’s still a few dud textures around and the water effects, especially at the waterfall, break the immersion that’s built up elsewhere.
The last new addition for Farming Simulator 19 is horses. Riding around your farm on horseback is a really pure and lovely experience. The actual riding is simplistic enough, going through 3 speeds – walk, trot and canter – with a jump should you come across any obstacles like fences you want to leap over. The riding animation is slick when on flat ground but when riding downhill for example, the horse does look magnetised to the ground with the same movements that’s a little jarring the first time you see it. It’s also a little jittery when running over small environmental objects. It’s a solid addition to the game though, opening up a new revenue stream for you to peruse while offering a refreshing new way to navigate the massive play areas.
The one element of Farming Simulator 19 I’ve been unable to test is the online portion. There’s been very little online activity during my review period with the game but the idea of having multiple farmers all working on one map is a deeply enticing idea.
Farming Simulator 19 is the most expansive game of its type to ever release on consoles and represents a definite step forward for the series and the genre itself. For lapsed players like myself, there’s never been a better time to get back in the saddle (quite literally this time around) with new crops, horses and a visual update that’s a night and day leap from how it looked just a few years ago. It’s still a difficult game to approach for first timers, is rough around the edges and lacks some of the features that the Farming Sim community have been crying out for for years (seasons being the main one), but Farming Simulator 19 does just enough to keep the series moving in the right direction.
Farming Simulator 19 is available now on PC, PS4 (review version) and Xbox One.
Developer: Giants Software
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code for the game by the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.