Farming Simulator 22 Review: "An Authentic But Frustrating Experience"
Plenty of games offer players the chance to live off the fat of the land and channel their inner green fingers (Stardew Valley is a personal favourite), but few manage to authentically replicate the farming experience like Farming Simulator. From plough to cow, Farming Simulator 22 tries to give players a real taste of what it’s like living off the fat of the land. However, the Old MacDonald life isn’t exactly a nursery rhyme and various issues mean the game doesn’t play out as enjoyable but exasperating, especially for complete beginners to the franchise. Does this frustration stem from a game trying to present as close to an authentic experience as possible, or could a lack of clear controls and signposting be to blame?
"It’s A Calling"
As a non-linear game, Farming Simulator 22 hands the keys over to you to make your own story as you work your way up from nothing. With a hefty amount of ploughing, planting, and harvesting you can build up your farm and create an agricultural empire. Well, at least within the boundaries of your town anyway. If you didn’t know already, farming is hard… just ask Jeremy Clarkson. While some games make farming life look idyllic and easy, Farming Simulator 22 really hammers home the tough realities of the job thanks to its glossy intro, which is also the game’s cinematic trailer. The combination of the narrator’s southern drawl and the strumming of an electric guitar really helps to create the atmosphere and has you gearing up to hop in your tractor. As the stubble-sporting veteran farmer of the trailer says: "It’s more than just a job, it’s a calling", and you certainly get to understand that as you spend every minute of the day in-game doing nothing but farm.
There is a fair bit of leniency however, with regards to complete beginners. Farming Simulator 22 gives you the option to choose from three difficulty options: New Farmer, Farm-Manager, and Start From Scratch, which is exactly as it sounds. Farm-Manager doesn’t give you any land but you do get a fair bit of money to start out. If you're also a complete newbie to the farming world, New Farmer is the best option because you'll start with a considerable amount of money, farmland, and equipment. Next, where do you want to live? What about the quaint, rustic Southern France-inspired countryside? Or, maybe the rolling hills of an Alpine paradise? Then again, you may want to go the classic route and bag yourself a spot inspired by the US Midwest. I went with the Alpine paradise, just as it looked like I might come across Julie Andrews running through the hills at some point as I ploughed away.
After a little bit of character customisation, the rest is down to you. From here, you spend your days completing a series of farm-related tasks to help bring in the dollar and build your farm. You can also choose exactly what kind of agriculture you want to specialise in, whether that’s livestock, crop, or forage. By looking at the map, you can scope out your world as to what facilities are available, then you can filter to see what crops are growing or what state the field is in. For instance, does it need harvesting or are its plants still growing?
Keeping Things Personal
If you have spent hundreds of hours building and creating something from nothing, then of course you'll be proud of the end product. From the very beginning, Farming Simulator 22 certainly gives you the opportunity to make the game as personal to you as possible with numerous customisation options available, all beginning with the character customisation at the start. In 22, you have the choice of 12 different people to choose from and a lot more outfit options compared to previous entries, all of which you can change the colour for. It's a step forward and although we're not asking for Sims-level customisation, some more options here would be appreciated.
One of the most exciting new features in Farming Simulator 22 is the Build Mode which allows you to pick and choose which buildings can go where and places a variety of routes to go down. For example, if you want to go about creating wine, you can purchase a wine press and turn those freshly-harvested grapes from your vineyard into some sweet, sweet wine. However, if vineyards aren’t your type of thing, don’t worry, because grapes, olives, and sorghum join the plethora of crops you can grow. However, it’s actually getting to this point in the first place which proves the most difficult.
Money, Money, Money Isn’t Funny
The first few hours of Farming Simulator 22 can prove particularly gruelling as you can’t start building your agricultural playground without some cash. While you do get some spending money in both the easy and moderate versions of the game, it’s raising the dollar once you’ve started which proves the most difficult. Although, don’t rush to sell your John Deere X9 1100 just yet as you can browse through and accept different contracts offered by NPCs. This will raise money in return for completing a task like harvesting their potatoes or fertilising their field. You can choose to use your own equipment to earn more for the contract, or you can borrow theirs if you agree to a price cut. You can also have up to three contracts on the go at any one time, which was a much-requested feature for the new title.
Initially, this tool comes in handy because it's hard to figure out exactly what to do with yourself when you have very little to your name at the start. Although the freedom of Farming Simulator 22 does give you the power to do what you want when you want, in the beginning there's no clear signposting about what to do next. After creating your character, you'll be plonked next to your cows, enjoying the beautiful crisp visuals of the outdoors with no tutorial in sight. The contracts give motivation and some indication as to what to do next… when you're not battling with a very frustrating problem.
Just as I was about to finish harvesting a cotton field and ready to collect some well-earned cash, the equipment simply vanished and I was left standing in the middle of a desolate field with the contract gone and a half-hour of my life wasted. At first, I thought it could just be a glitch. I tried another contract and it happened again without any warning and no explanation, making me waste another huge amount of time with nothing to show at the end of it. Terrified of wasting any more time, I decided to just sell a piece of machinery and buy a piece of land myself which isn't quite in the spirit of the game.
Keep The Wiki Close At All Times
If you're also a newcomer to the series, be prepared to dedicate a great deal of time into Farming Simulator 22. While there are undoubtedly a number of new additions in this instalment which fans of the franchise will love, it's quite evident the game hasn’t been tailored to complete beginners. I tried hard to get through the game myself without turning to Google, but after struggling to even reverse my car out of the farm shed, I was desperate. Thank Saint MacDonald for the gift of the Farming Simulator wiki.
There is an accessible manual in the game which goes into some detail about how to work your farms, but the information isn’t very clear and any non-farmers out there would struggle to get to grips with it. For example, when reading up on where to begin with growing crops, I was told I needed to use a plough, but the lack of signposting on how to actually acquire or use a plough was non-existent. Some of the equipment available in the game is extremely technical and there is hardly any information about which equipment does what. Once again, the wiki came as a life-saver.
Throughout the game, you will see various glowing symbols which represent a certain function. For the majority of the time, these random little symbols just appear to be there but their actual purpose isn’t clear at all. For example, a glowing water droplet indicates where you can top up water for livestock. However, how to actually water the cows required another trip to the wiki as there was hardly any clear information on the instruction manual.
A Real Taste Of Clarkson’s Farm
Fans of the franchise will most likely see Farming Simulator 22 as a refreshing addition to the franchise thanks to updated graphics, fun customisation options and quality-of-life additions. However, a lack of clear instructions made for a frustrating experience which could immediately alienate new players who can’t get through the first 20 hours or so of gameplay before seeing the fruits of their labour finally developing. Then again, that does represent the harsh realities of farming life, in which case, Farming Simulator 22 succeeds in attempting to recreate an authentic farm life experience as possible. Does it make me want to dedicate any more time to the game itself though? E-I-E-I-No. I'll stick to the unrealistic sugary goodness of Stardew Valley.
Reviewed on PS4. Code provided by the publisher.