It’s been far too long since we had a new, decent farming simulator. Farming Simulator 17 launched way back in November 2016, and with it brought a new gold standard for the genre by offering beautiful scenery and heightened focus on accessibility without sacrificing too much in the way of detail.
Since then we’ve not had a whole lot. Farming Simulator 18 was portable-only, and the less said about Sodesco’s Real Farm the better. There have been good farming games – Stardew Valley has been ported to more platforms than anything but Doom at this point, and Farm Together is a great reprieve from the many ways gaming’s pretty naff at times – but if you’re looking for anything a bit more sim-y, it’s almost as if the genre’s been left fallow for a year.
Pure Farming 2018 is a lot more than just “the first good one in ages” though – it’s unquestionably the place to start for anyone hoping to get into farming simulators going forward. Though it isn’t without its problems, PF2018 is ludicrously accessible, but still with enough depth to keep hardcore simulator fans involved too. Pure Farming might well be the new cream of the crop.*
*I know that’s technically a dairy pun but whatever, I’m hilarious.
Ludicrously accessible, but still with enough depth to keep hardcore simulator fans involved too
Much like any other farming simulator, Pure Farming 2018 sets the task of managing day-to-day activities on a burgeoning agricultural business and making sweet, sweet cash through any means possible. Playing the trading game buy predicting popular crops and growing them accordingly, breeding the best livestock possible, or becoming a roaming farmhand and helping your NPC neighbours with odd jobs all help you earn money to expand your business and buy new, better equipment.
Where Pure Farming 2018 differs from other farming sim games is in the sheer amount of stuff there is on offer. While Farming Simulator 17 has two maps (three with the platinum expansion), Pure Farming comes with four: the USA, Japan, Colombia, and Italy. There’s also Germany (naturally, these sorts of games are huge there) available as DLC. Each map offers its own landscapes and challenges – for example, the Japanese map puts you to work tending to waterlogged rice fields, something never encountered in the USA.
Sometimes the game does falter in making each locale feel genuine
The maps are huge, varied and full of places to explore – the built-up areas dotted around the maps feel much more suggestive of active farming communities than even Farming Simulator’s bizarre ghost towns, with NPCs more frequently wandering and driving about, and playing a more active role in your business through tasks and selling you equipment. The game isn’t exactly a looker, but it manages to give a unique atmosphere to each locale that made me want to juggle running multiple farms in every map to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.. It’s so obvious the game comes from a place of love for farming and for simulators that is infectious. The vehicles are built with care and detail, and, even if there are areas where it could be improved (see below), the farms are a delight regardless.
Geographical variation is great, but sometimes the game does falter in making each locale feel genuine. South America only recently came to other titles, and Asia is something entirely new for the genre, so it’s a shame to see things such as the same NPCs walking around all four locations, game-critical signs (such as car washes) being written in English, and every place using dollars as their currency. I’d have loved to have navigated the Italian market in Euro, or the Japanese market in Yen, and it would’ve given a great air of authenticity to each map.
It’s not just maps that Pure Farming has more of; there are three different game modes, including the biggest and most comprehensive tutorial ever seen in the genre. First up is the My First Farm campaign, which is a fully-fledged story mode following your character (who can only be male until a later update…) as they take on their deceased grandfather’s failing farm. The mode is great for those unfamiliar with farming simulators, as it walks you through everything, from using the equipment to making the most of the local services. It’s more than a tutorial mode, though, as it features side-quests and a sense of progression that can often feel out of reach to newcomers in more sandbox-y simulator experiences.
There’s also a quick challenges mode that offers small, self-contained missions in a variety of situations. Some of them get pretty exciting, even compared to the high-octane non-stop action farming sims offer, such as using your tractor and water tank to fight wildfires that are slowly threatening your farm.
It’s a neat feature, seeing as it gives you quick access to high-end tech that can be a nice change of pace from the other modes, but working out where it fits into the game as a whole, other than to pad out the offerings a bit more, can be very difficult. Farming simulators aren’t fast games by definition, and a sense of progression and purpose to the work you’re putting in is vital. Quick, self-contained missions seem to go completely against the idea of a farming sim – I appreciate it being there, but I’ve never found myself drawn towards it like the other modes.
I appreciate it being there, but I’ve never found myself drawn towards it like the other modes.
And, of course, there is the standard farming mode that takes the training wheels off and leaves you to it. This is the best way to explore the various maps, and is easily the best choice for any genre veterans wanting to get their teeth stuck in as quickly as possible. The words “As quickly as possible” certainly don’t apply to the rest of the game, though.
For me, simulators are zen experiences. I enjoy putting some music on and just ploughing a field and tending to my chickens for an hour to calm down after a long day. They’re not fast games at all, and that’s what I love about them. But Pure Farming 2018 has taught me that there is such a thing as too slow, and it’s when it takes the better part of an hour to manage a single field.
A whole lot of doing the same thing over and over again.
Each field requires ploughing, sowing, fertilising and harvesting on the regular to ensure the maximum crop yield, and each of these stages can take inordinately long amounts of time – 10 to 20 minutes each for even a mid-sized field. And each stage has you do functionally the exact same thing for those long stretches of time – get the equipment, slowly cover the entire field, nip off for quick fertiliser/water/fuel refills as and when needed.
It doesn’t help matters that controlling vehicles is often more like playing Twister on the keyboard. The controls can sometimes be unintuitive, and every function tends to inhabit its own key instead of giving it an intelligent or cohesive control scheme. This is one of the only areas where Real Farm had something to teach the genre with its slick control radial menu that worked great on any platform.
Even after driving in the same pattern on the same field for an hour, it’s difficult to be angry at PF2018 for it. It’s that pastoral, relaxing air (“The Old MacDonald Effect” as I’m now calling it) that makes or breaks a farming game for me, not so much whether every piston is firing at the exact right time for a certain brand of combine harvester or whatever. When it comes to giving the feel of farming in a variety of countries, PF2018 absolutely nails it.
Pure Farming 2018 might not be the best simulator around, but it does come close. Farming Simulator 17 offers a consistent quality to its environmental design that PF2018 stumbles on, and it’s slightly more respectful of the player’s time (seriously, an hour for a field is ludicrous). What Pure Farming does instead is offer more of just about everything any would-be sim aficionado needs to get into the genre. Lovely, peaceful environments to grow into, easy ways to quickly play with the biggest toys, and a tutorial mode that puts every other game in the genre to shame. This is easily the place to start if you’ve given even more than a passing glance to a farming game before.
A copy was provided by the publishers for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC [reviewed]/PS4/Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Ice Flames/Techland Publishing
Release date: March 13