It’s back! The series that lets you live your wildest dreams, assuming in those dreams you’re driving a tractor around a virtual farm.
If you’ve never played Farming Simulator before it’s, well, exactly what it sounds like. It’s a game that lets you run a farm whether that be one focussed on growing crops, looking after animals, chopping down trees or all the above. It’s slow-paced, complex and often overwhelming but if you spend enough time getting to grips with its controls and mechanics, it can be rewarding.
I’d recommend newcomers to the series to start the game on Elmcreek, one of Farming Simulator 22s three levels, on the easiest difficulty. Doing so will trigger a tutorial to guide you through the ropes of the game. As I said before, Farming Simulator is a complex game. The dev team has done an incredible job of fitting all the game’s various controls onto the limited input of a controller but it’s a lot to take in. You trigger most of the in-game actions by pressing the face buttons whilst holding one or both of the shoulder buttons. These button presses change dependent on the type of machinery you’re operating. Fortunately, you can display the available controls for each of the vehicles in the top left-hand corner so you’re never left to the mercy of your memory. You can also turn these prompts off should you hate yourself that much.
The game has three difficulty options in total, each allowing you to play in different ways. Opt for easy mode and you’ll start with a small farm, a handful of equipment and some cash in the bank. This is perfect if you want to jump straight in and hit the ground running. Punt for the intermediate option if you want to start with nothing to your name but a sizeable wad of cash in the bank. There’s enough money to buy some land, buildings and machinery to steer the game into your preferred way of playing. Going for the hardest difficulty will start you with very little in the bank and no machinery or land to your name. This mode requires you to work as a contractor, lease hiring machinery until you get enough money to start purchasing equipment. Earn enough money and you can start building your very own farm. These difficulty options also affect the gameplay options but you can tweak them everything as you play.
One of Farming Sim’s greatest features is the accessibility to its gameplay. You can tweak many gameplay options to tailor the experience to your liking. If you’d rather muck around driving tractors without worrying too much about the intricacies of crop management, turn off crop withering, the requirements of using fertiliser and lime and disable seasonal impacts. If you’d rather steer on the side of realism, with crop damage, a volatile market and having to manage the quality of soil, you can change the settings to accommodate that too. Farming Simulator 22 has a robust set of options and if there’s something you’d like to adjust, chances are that you can.
When you first boot up Farming Simulator 22, you’ll be greeted with one of its first new features – a character builder. For the first time in the series’ history, you can make your very own character! You start by choosing a masculine or feminine face and hairstyle from a set of preset options. You can then dress your created avatar in a wide variety of branded and unbranded items of clothing and uniforms. The character builder isn’t akin to one you’d find in an RPG, it’s much more simple, but it’s nice to finally have this option. It also pairs well with multiplayer, adding an extra level of personality to play.
When you finally get going in Farming Sim you’ll dip into its varied gameplay. There’s so much detail packed into the gameplay no matter what activity you decide to start with. Make no mistake, though, this isn’t a game that commands you to enjoy it by dragging you by the balls through intense bite-sized adrenaline-fuelled snippets of gameplay. It’s instead a considered and laid-back kind of game. You’ll spend most of your time driving up and down the same field at eye-watering speeds of upwards of 8 mph. But the loop of preparing a field, planting seeds and harvesting the crop is moreish.
If you’re into farming and have a favourite activity, it’ll be in this game. You can harvest crops, plough fields, use sprayers for crop protection, apply fertilisers with spreaders and use your chaff to make silage or bales amongst many other things. And none of it feels half-arsed. Each piece of equipment has a full set of controls to manage every aspect of using it. Again, it’s complicated, but it’s something that comes more naturally to you as you spend time playing. If you prefer a more hands-off approach to manage your farm you can hire AI workers to carry out tasks for you. Their work output is limited to certain tasks but they can help out with the basic management of the farm. This comes in handy when you own several fields. They’re far from perfect, though. You’ll often see them struggling to find the edge of irregularly shaped fields or getting their equipment stuck in trees. The only saving grace is that they’ll pose no threat in the inevitable AI uprising.
Farming Simulator 22 also introduces a few new crop types: sorghum, grapes and olives. The latter two have new machinery specific to planting and harvesting them. These aren’t huge shake-ups to the franchise but any extra activities are welcome to an already bountiful offering. One of the bigger changes to gameplay, however, is in the form of production chains; extra avenues for selling your produce. Rather than the traditional method of selling grain at the elevator, for example, supply chains allow you to create products from your harvest. You can then sell these as they are or combine them with other products to get more money. An example is creating flour from grain and chaining it to the bakery to help bake cakes. You can manually deliver these items to other sale points or automate everything if you prefer to sit back and reap the rewards. Regardless of your choice, it’s a neat way of opening up another avenue of income without just flogging everything you harvest. These sale points appear throughout the map but another cool new feature allows you to buy and place them on any land you own.
Farming Simulator 22s new build mode extends the build features of the previous game tenfold. This improved mode lets you quite literally build the farm of your dreams, funds pending. You can place buildings, trees, fences and decorations with ease. There’s an option to manipulate the terrain, creating hills and troughs throughout your land. And the final icing on the cake is a paint tool that lets you lay down grass, dirt and concrete. The terrain tools can be a little fiddly to use but there’s a nifty tool that smooths off any harsh edges. There are also different sized brushes to help you paint and/or manipulate greater or smaller areas. It’s a great little addition to the game.
That all said, on the face of it, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Farming Simulator 22 for the previous game. That’s not the say the visuals have remained the same; there are some improvements here. The vehicles and machinery are as beautifully detailed and crafted as they’ve ever been. The different materials look almost life-like and you can pick out the individual bolts that hold together the machinery. Each tractor has a fully-rendered interior too with onboard computers displaying live data. There are improvements in crop detail across the board too, especially the chaff, dust and sprites when harvesting. The environments do still serve as a backseat for the machinery and look less “premium” but they are a step up from the previous game. Ground textures have more depth to them and a greater draw-distance lets you see more of the world.
But these subtle improvements bring with them some problems. The frame rate is erratic during standard play. Farming Simulator doesn’t need to be a fluid 60 fps, it’s a slow game, but the frame rate hiccuping is jarring. In parts, it’s even nausea-inducing. The game reportedly renders in 4K and that may well be the cause of these problems. I don’t have the technical know-how or equipment to check whether this is native 4K. All I can say is that it does look very crisp. HDR support is also part of the offering and by in large it’s fine. It does lend to some post-apocalyptic and other-worldly-looking skies during certain times of the day, though. In short, the graphical improvements, whilst nice, aren’t worth the drop in performance quality.
All in all Farming Simulator 22 feels very familiar. Too familiar in fact. It still manages to nail that satisfactory loop of sowing seeds, harvesting the crop and selling your spoils. Options are plentiful, giving you the opportunity to play how you like. The tractors and machinery in the game are outstanding in their detail, as they have always been. The new features are welcome, with the new build tools being a standout, but it doesn’t quite feel enough of a change. Even less so if you’re on a PC where you can install mods to add most of these new features. Does it warrant throwing away 100s of hours on the previous game? I’m not so sure. Granted, the lower price tag makes it an easier pill to swallow should you decide to pull that trigger.
From a content point of view, Farming Simulator 22 is the best game in the series. But there’s a bit too much roughage here. I’ve had gripes with the vehicle physics since Farming Simulator 15 and these are still present. They feel far too responsive for their size and the smaller vehicles are almost uncontrollable. The quite severe performance issues on the newer consoles are problematic, to say the least. With this being the first venture on “next-gen” consoles I was hoping for something special and, in all honesty, it feels like a slight step backwards for the franchise. It’s frustrating because there’s a competent game hidden beneath the flaws. Hopefully, in time, Farming Simulator 22 will live up to its on-paper promises but for now, it’s so-so.