Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Farming Simulator 2012 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Farming Simulator might not have been made by a Japanese company (it’s actually a German production), but I know we have a lot of fans of the Harvest Moon series who read Otaku Gaming, so I thought they might be interested in reading about a realistic equivalent…

Farmers have it pretty tough in the real world. To say it is up there with the most difficult, most unappreciated jobs is an understatement – after all, most people don’t spare a thought for where the food comes from, as long as it’s on the plate in front of them. While Farming Simulator 2012 doesn’t manage to capture the hard life and labour of a farmer, it does do a good job of introducing players some of the realities of the world.

The core game revolves around growing one of three kinds of crops – wheat, corn and canola, and then shipping it off for profit. The process involves irrigating the fields, planting the crops, harvesting them once they grow and then preparing the field to grow more crops. The game starts off giving players three fields, but they can then purchase a massive number of additional fields across a fairly large environment to increase the amount of crops that can be harvested. As the farm grows, Farming Simulator becomes a surprisingly intense time management game, as crops will wither and become useless if not harvested within a reasonably strict time frame.

To help make the time management easier, there’s an in-game shop that features a range of trucks, tractors and other assorted farming goods. They’re all based on real-world equivalents though I suspect that they’re a bit easier to drive around here. Shortly enough, you’ll be in possession of multiple tractors, and that’s when the auto-drive comes into play. Because it’s physically impossible to manage 10 or more fields manually, being organised enough to set the various tractors to work the fields on autopilot becomes key to reaping massive profits. As the tractors drive around out autopilot a small amount of money is taken out of your account (an abstract way to represent the cost of hired help, perhaps), but the reward of being able to focus on three, four, five things simultaneously outweighs the small expense.

While it might seem like three crops is a paltry number, what you’re growing is largely irrelevant to the experience. Keeping the stock of all three up is effort enough when you’ll want to take advantage of the “high demand” market prices that require you to drive your produce all over the place to earn greater profits. In fact, in a nice little nod to the realities of the market, the only way to really turn the kinds of profit to make the crop growing worthwhile is to sell when it’s in high demand.

Aside from the crop growth there’s not a whole lot to do in an environment that is quite large but largely empty of interaction. There’s a couple of places, like the train station or inn, to drop off crops, and then a refuelling station. There’s a small village of non-interactive buildings, and some cars that drive around. There’s a real-time transition from day to night but it doesn’t have much of an effect on the game. There’s the occasional “mission” that pops up, but they’re usually a distraction that messes with your carefully structured farming cycles, and the rewards just aren’t there.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game is that it’s on the 3DS, given how new that console is and how niche the game is. But in action it all makes sense. The game isn’t anything to look at in 2D, but the simple environments and vehicles look nice and clean in 3D. There’s something elegant about seeing neat rows of crops ripe for harvest, and the 3D effect here is subtle, but essential.

The real problem this game faces is, as a realistic farming simulator, not many people would have played a game of this style before. With that in mind, the utter lack of help in terms of tutorials makes the first couple of hours of play more than a little frustrating. I can’t speak for the quality of the instruction manual, as the copy I was sent is from Germany and I don’t read German, and though the game is in English there’s no English translation in the manual, but I would suggest starting there, at least. Once the game’s system is figured out it all makes logical sense, it’s just getting there that proves a bit of a pain.

I’m glad they took a risk with putting Farming Simulator 2012 on the 3DS. It’s a wonderful, laid back experience for the most part, and if it helps give people a better awareness of the farming world then so much the better.

- Matt S

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