MODERN lifestyle has divorced us from the simple processes of living off the land. We give more thought to which supermarket we visit than where our food comes from.
But the wildfire popularity of Facebook game Farmville demonstrated the hunger to cultivate our own crops. Sure, it involved much mindless clicking and might well reflect our desire to collect trinkets as much as it was about tending plants and animals.
Farming Simulator – now in its third iteration – taps into our obsession with magpie-style collection of shiny things (money and vehicles, mostly in this case). Its success is part of an unlikely appetite for management sims replicating the drudgery of manual labour (see also Euro Truck Simulator, Ski Region Simulator, etc).
FS15 might be an antidote to the relentless murder and mayhem that is gaming’s stock in trade. But it swings the gameplay needle so far in the opposite direction that boredom is an occupational hazard.
Starting out, you’re given little help deciphering the economy – plant, harvest and sell crops being the main one at first. Yet there’s a certain bucolic pleasure in trundling about the fields in your tractor, mechanically repeating the same tasks until you’ve earned enough cash to upgrade your machinery. Eventually, you’ll graduate to managing forestry and animals, or earn enough to hire employees to do the dirty work.
If you’re in a social mood, you can open your farm to other players online, effectively subcontracting the grind to them for a fee. Quite why anyone else would subject themselves to the mindless tasks is a bit of a mystery, though.
Underscored by a jaunty (and bizarrely almost hip-hop) soundtrack, FS15’s presentation initially impresses with its gleaming equipment (140 tractors, combines, etc). The landscape itself is less striking, consisting of just two farm locations – Scandinavia and the American Mid-West. The console versions aren’t as full-featured as the PC/Mac edition – there are obviously no mods, for instance. Meanwhile, visual and AI glitches abound, including some wacky behaviour by the hired help.
But for many players, the world of FS15 offers a sort of calming refuge from real life, which probably explains why it’s one of the best-selling games this month.