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Farming Simulator 15

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Giants Software
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Farming Simulator 15: Gold Edtiion'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 2, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

In Farming Simulator 15, you face the daily challenges of a modern farmer as you grow crops, sell produce, rear livestock and manage and develop your own farming complex in two immense open worlds.

Nowadays, simulator games come in two distinct flavors. The first are joke games that use the simulator moniker for something strange or offbeat, like Goat Simulator, Surgeon Simulator 2013, and Shower with your Dad Simulator 2015. The second are the hardcore ones that do their best to replicate the subject down to the minutiae. Microsoft Flight Simulator is probably the most well known of these, but recent years have also seen games like Euro Truck Simulator. Farming Simulator 15: Gold Edition might not be as hardcore as some of its contemporaries, but it certainly belongs in that camp.

You begin FS15 by choosing one of three towns in either Scandinavia, the heartland of America, or Eastern Europe (courtesy of the included Gold expansion pack). Then you're dropped into the world, and the only directive you have is that you've borrowed some money from the bank to start your farm. Your goal is to make enough to pay off your bank debt and ultimately become the most successful farmer in town.

Interestingly, FS15 assumes that you're familiar with how the game works via earlier entries in the series or that you'll learn in a trial by fire. There are tutorials for how to operate some machinery, and there are some hint bubbles scattered throughout the town, but that's about it. The game never actually tells you your goal or provides a guide about what you need to do. On the one hand, you can hopelessly get lost right from the outset, as players will have no idea about the order in which crops can be properly planted and grown. On the other hand, it also means that the game is more freeform than expected, since you can do just about anything you want with little to no penalty.

You don't deal with livestock much in FS15. You can purchase three types of animals: chickens, cows and sheep. Chickens produce eggs but require no maintenance, so you can generally leave them alone but can periodically pick up their goods. Cows can be fed different types of grass to produce more milk, and the same can be done to sheep so their wool can be harvested. That's really all there is to it, since you can't get any more animals in the game.

The main focus is on crops, and that's where you can see the developer's love of farm vehicles. There are loads of real manufacturers on board, so you can use plows to till the field and seeders to plant canola, corn and wheat, to name a few. There are specialized machines for harvesting the crops and transport trucks to take them to silos for storage. There are even machines for things like pulling potatoes, making hay bales, and creating special food mixtures for your cows, so they can produce the most milk. In total, you're looking at over 15 different vehicle types by a host of European farm equipment manufacturers.

It is here that you'll find what makes the game tick. You're driving around with vehicles bigger and more complicated than your average car. Like Euro Truck Simulator, the game taps into the inner desire to drive these machines. The game doesn't really penalize you for not doing your job properly or crashing into things, so you just have to contend with the simple joy of driving big vehicles. In a way, it makes for a relaxing experience since there are no hard deadlines to meet and no sense of time being lost if you drive while the machine takes care of most of the hard work.

New to the series is woodcutting. With a few special machines, trees are treated like any other crop, since you can grow them, cut them down, sell off logs or chip them down for use as heating fuel. The woodcutting machines are lots of fun to use but a little more complicated since you aren't just controlling where they go but how the crane manipulates the logs so they can be transported to wood mills or placed on trains for travel to other places. Unlike the other crops, you can forego the growing of trees and just cut them down in wooded areas. Also, you can cut them down by hand with a chainsaw, which may be slower but easier to use.

What may surprise new players is the fact that you're doing all of this in entire towns with several sectioned off lots. Wandering the world lets you see plots that you can purchase to grow more stuff and buildings where you can sell your harvested crops. You also have access to a bulletin board of odd jobs that rotate often. As long as you have the equipment to do so, you can harvest mushrooms, transport extra barley, or mow lawns for extra cash if you have some downtime.

Unfortunately, while the world is pretty large, it is also rather sterile. There are circus tents and trailers but no lines or people headed there; you don't even hear music playing when you pass by. You'll see a few cars drive by, but no one stops unless you explicitly block their way. Some towns may have a resident or two wandering about, but they ignore you and will pass right through you if you stand in front of them. Even the animals seem to ignore your presence, so the world feels expansive and empty at the same time.

As for the economics of farming, FS15 can get fairly deep in some areas and shallow in others. At any time, you can pull up a listing of all of the items that can be harvested and their current sale value for the day. You're also told if that value has gone up or down from the previous day or if it has remained steady. What you aren't given, however, is a history of those prices over a period of time so you can better determine trends in crop prices. Much like dealing with animals, the game seems to put some value in this area of farming but not enough to push the title into full simulation territory. At least you are given a detailed look at the costs in terms of running the farm, so you can see whether it's worth it to hire a few hands to run the machines instead of doing everything yourself.

Perhaps one of the best things about FS15 is that it has an active community months after its release. The game has a multiplayer option that lets up to 16 players work on a farm simultaneously, and while the performance is good, it's stunning to see that there are lots of servers still running and populated. There also happens to be a sizeable modding community that adds more objects and maps. The game makes it easy to select these mods without doing too much hard work, so those who are fond of the core gameplay will find almost endless content thanks to the community.

Graphically, FS15 isn't much of a looker. The many work vehicles look great and sport lots of details, but the same can't be said for the car you use to drive around the environment. The night and day cycles are cool to see, and the land, at first glance, looks rich thanks to the heaps of tall grass, flowers and crops adorning the landscape. Go to areas devoid of that, and you'll see blurry ground textures and heaps of hay and straw that are low on polygon count and have visibly hollow insides. Textures for the rest of the objects are also blurry and low resolution, while the world has tons of detail pop-in from any distance. It also doesn't help that things like water look very last-generation, and the filling and depletion of harvested crops looks to be very unnatural. Granted, most simulations don't emphasize looks, but the disparity between the screenshots and what you see are too large to ignore.

There isn't much to critique in the sound department — mostly because you hardly hear much from the game at all. Outside of the main menu, the title sports no voices, and unless you count the braying of animals, the game is also devoid of voices. What you are going to hear all of the time is ambient noise, such as the chirping of birds during the day and the rumbling of combine engines or the grinding of sawmills. There's some good use of volume in relation to distance and sound location, so you can hear the sounds surround you to help with the immersion factor.

Farming Simulator 15: Gold Edition can be something of a guilty pleasure for some players. It isn't the deepest when it comes to handling the business side of farming or dealing with animals. It's also rather sterile when it comes to making the levels feel alive. What it does provide, though, is the chance to drive around lots of farming equipment to provide a strangely calming experience. Those starting the game for the first time will feel helpless without external guides, but for fans of the series, the Gold Edition provides just enough to justify picking up the expansion while keeping everything that attracted fans in the first place.

Score: 7.0/10

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