GAME REVIEW: Farming Simulator 17 (Xbox One)

The Farming Simulator franchise is perhaps one of the most unique in gaming. For a long time, there have been games – particularly on PC – outside of the traditional zeitgeist and more concerned with straight simulation. Historically, titles that simulated train driving or farming were the epitome of niche, with gamers as deeply invested in them as one expects of hardcore Football Manager or Kerbal Space Program players. Around 2012, this changed.

As the popularity of Steam continued to grow, ‘ironic’ games became more and more a part of gaming’s comedic strokes – arguably starting with Bad Rats and progressing into Valve’s infamous Ricochet, the idea of gifting someone an ostensibly bad game became somewhat of a tradition – I myself have a few guilty pleasure games I’ve been gifted by a friend over the years. This led to the birth of ironic videos focusing on these mostly buried games, such as Farming Simulator Mad Skill and Farming Simulator 2013 Review.

At some point things started to change. Reddit’s gaming communities turned from quasi-admiration to legitimate affection for the likes of Farming Simulator. And since then, the games have happily cemented themselves as a part of the annual games conversation. Farming Simulator 2017 sees the franchise plough its way onto both current gen consoles.

There’s a new help section, but the reality is that you’re going to have to get your hands dirty to really get what you want from this game. Farming Simulator 17 won’t hand anything to you. There’s a multitude of crops to be grown, and each is as in-depth and involving as the last. It’s easy to lose hours to the mundanity of it, to drift into a world of simple and honest labour, digitised and reduced to the flicking of thumb sticks. It is a surreal experience to play on an Xbox – but the team has done a fantastic job of translating the somewhat complex keyboard and mouse inputs to a controller.

This isn’t an entirely new experience for those who’ve played previous entries, bar the expected graphical improvements – and the fact that even the console versions will support mods is exciting for the future, as previous entries have seen the avid community add new vehicles, farms and features. A nice bonus is the ability to play as a female farmer for the first time. There’s a trove of content here, and the late game animal feature has been expanded – bringing cows, sheep and chickens into the world.

There are farmhands available to hire as help, but the A.I. doesn’t make me fear any oncoming singularity. They’re morons and not to be trusted. You can also help other farmers out and chip away at a missions menu, helping create a sense of structure and almost narrative sense for players who prefer this to the completely open ended approach.

Ultimately, this isn’t a game for everyone. I certainly wouldn’t expect my little sister to enjoy it, and I’d hardly leap to recommend it in place of Call of Duty or Battlefield, but then, Farming Simulator 2017 seems content in its niche – it knows that people who want this kind of experience will seek it out, and there’s an overwhelming calm to it all. The repetitive and methodical gameplay offers a respite from the frantic world of triple A gaming, and offers a level of meditative calm unmatched by much else.

There are the expected issues, mainly graphical – this will hardly make anyone forget they’re playing a videogame, but somehow that now basic feel added to the experience for me. Watching the grass change from long to short ala PS2 graphics took me back to mowing lawns for detention in Rockstar’s Bully. Watching my digital pigs strut about offered a peek into a digital world unlike any other I’ve had the pleasure to visit. One longs for a VR mode. I feel I could easily play endlessly and live my dreams of a simpler life, not unlike the VR community around Euro Truck Simulator 2, and the idea of sitting in my tractor as it chugs along is enticing. If you’re listening Giants Software, I beg you to make it so next year.

I’m not sure where I land with this. It’s something I’d recommend, but only to those already interested enough to have read this review. If you’re someone with a passing interest in simulation games in general, I’d say this is easily the peak of the genre. It’s bursting with content and open ended enough that your farm and playthrough will doubtless diverge massively from mine. There’s even multiplayer! Sadly I don’t know anyone else playing on Xbox, but I imagine it’s a fantastic experience with likeminded folks.

Heartily recommended to those who long for the mud and fresh air of farm life without leaving their room.

Available on: PS4 | Xbox One | PC

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