Farming Simulator 17 is like a surreal Pleasantville. On the surface, everything looks and feels the way it should. There are tractors, crops, and an economy to buy and sell those things. Time passes, crops grow, and there is room for the player to expand their farm. If one looks to the edges, however, everything is just a bit off…
Some of these details are minor enough to simply be taken as limitations of the game engine, but inside a game that is so meticulous about details, there is a moment of dissonance when, upon exploring something like the loading dock for the farm’s train, one finds that the staircase to the loading mechanism is simply a dead end. No door, no interactive interface, just a pre-rendered box which cannot move.
Once one of these details is noticed, they begin to add up. Street signs declaring speed limits, but no consequences for breaking them, pedestrians which vehicles simply phase through, tractor hitches which never seem to come undone, no matter how ludicrous the vehicular acrobatics the driver performs, the player’s inability to sink in water, and so on.
Farming Simulator 17 is a farming simulator, not a life simulator, but the lack of polish on these details means that any time the player squints at the world around them, it falls apart. The illusion is broken, and the perfect world Giants Software has created fractures.
Their awareness of the issue is evident from the very start, where the tutorial has the player, by and large, operating a machine in isolation, then hitting the tab key to switch to the next vehicle, which is in an entirely separate location, without crossing the intervening space. While this feature is, without a doubt, a boon to players, it immediately cuts the legs of the game out from under itself. Instead of feeling like a vibrant, industrious farmer, the player is left with a series of minigames that could loosely be called “farming”.
This is unfortunate because, underneath the initial coat of paint, there is a real game here. A solid, if simple, exploration of economics. Crops can be bought and sold, prices vary and are prone to change as time goes on, incentivising the choice of a variety of crops to better capitalise on the changing market, and rewarding the player for watching for possible trends. The mechanics for actually obtaining the product are simple, but not without challenges. Vehicles for harvesting and sowing crops are designed in such a way that operating them perfectly, an activity with many similarities to filling in a child’s colouring book results in optimal yields for minimal time spent. Vehicles feel authentic in their movements without sacrificing the potential for their mechanics to dictate play. Larger vehicles move slower and turn in wider arcs, making their use more skill-based than the smaller, lighter vehicles. Trailers move in a fairly realistic fashion without being frustrating to manipulate, and none of the vehicles handle in ways that feel arcade-like.
Simulator games such as this have a long history of clunky or unintuitive mechanics which ask the player to have a game manual open during play, but Farming Simulator 17 seems to be oriented towards a more casual player-base, going so far as to place the relevant key commands for any vehicle the player occupies along the side of the screen. Typically, there are few enough that one page of single-key commands is sufficient, and in instances where there are more, it is very easy to flip between them.
Furthermore, these commands are contextual. Rather than throwing too many options at the player at once, only actions the player can take are displayed. This choice allows the player to skim-read the options until they find the function they want, such as “attach trailer” without having to read “detach trailer” “rock trailer” and “unload trailer” as well. These decisions ease the player into the experience, rather than, say, strapping them into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 and shouting “Fly me!”
The game’s audio is appropriate, if bland. Tractors sound like tractors, cars sound like cars, and the silence of the world is broken up by the occasional background sound of a twittering bird, but nothing really stands out. Crashing a truck into a tree at high speed offers a dull thunk, rather than some sort of sickening metal-on-wood slam, and a moment later, the player goes back to their previous action, unhindered. In fact, it seems that the only method by which a vehicle can be totally destroyed is dunking into a pool of water, which ejects the player and strands the vehicle in the depths of the lake. In these things, the uncanny nature of the game is further highlighted.
Farming Simulator 17 isn’t so much a farming simulator as an idyllic and simplified version of life as a farmer. Animals are raised, crops are grown, but everything else in the world seems secondary, as though the world’s creator only dimly recognised that those other features had to be there, without the capacity to give them the same life he’d given to the things which were of the most import to him. Like a giant dollhouse which, on the surface seems workable, but falters when closer examination reveals that the toilet lids don’t move. This lack of attention to detail means that, regardless of how closely a tractor is modelled on the real thing, the player is left repeating the same handful of tasks, with little change in the pattern, infinitely. There are no different “enemy-types” as one might see in a Role Playing Game (RPG), and the upgrades, side-grades, and other improvements the player can make exist to allow the player to complete their previous challenges more easily, rather than enabling them to rise to new challenges. Once the player has completed the handful of tasks once, they have seen every bit of challenge the game has to throw at them. Farming Simulator 17 features three difficulties and a variety of toggles for altering the difficulty and attention-to-detail of gameplay features, but once you’ve ploughed one field, you’ve ploughed them all.
Farming Simulator 17 does have multiplayer, but given the early nature of this review, it was not tested. In concept, it has the potential to improve the play experience by offering players the chance to work together, be in two places at once, and so forth, but whether it actually functions that way is unknown. Fans of the idea of a farming game with depth and variety of play are better off pursuing the likes of Stardew Valley and simulator purists may have more fun with the likes of IL-2 Sturmovik. There is certainly a niche audience for this laid back farming game, and the experience of wandering through this world, so similar to a farmer’s version of Nuketown from Call of Duty, was as enjoyable as the game itself. If the feeling of empty isolation and the experience of this surreal, inescapable world was intentional, it may be the most well-crafted experience in Farming Simulator 17, easily able to stand toe to toe with the most emotional moments of any game.
+ Mechanically sound gameplay
+ Potential in multiplayer
– Lack of diversity
Average Final Score: 4.5 / 10