Flawed but Popular Simulators – Farming Simulator

I’ve put over 100 hours into Farming Simulator 17 on PC, and 15+ hours in the Nintendo Switch Edition. It’s safe to say that I really do enjoy the experience that this sim offers, but that still doesn’t make me blind to its obvious flaws. Here are a few things that I’m hoping the development team over at GIANTS Software improves on in future iterations of the series.

SIMPLISTIC VISUALS

This doesn’t look bad, but it does look a bit bland for a modern title. 

Like many other game series, the Farming Simulator franchise has been around for several years. With that being the case, it’s gone through multiple hardware generations. As one would expect, the gradual advancement of hardware has led to the developers being able to build more complex virtual worlds. Farming Simulator 17 is indeed a very big step-up over the very first iteration, but there are some areas which are still surprisingly lacking. The sim’s visuals are pleasant, but they’re also rather simplistic when compared to most other modern titles.

The artists over at GIANTS have done an amazing job at detailing the various in-game models, but the rest of the game’s world just comes off as being flat. The color palette appears washed out, and the lighting system, in particular, could use an overhaul. On top of that, shaders are nearly absent. Ice Flames’ upcoming Pure Farming 2018 is a good example of how a modern simulator should look. Graphics certainly aren’t everything, but it would be nice if the next FS actually looked like a game from this generation.

THE PHYSICS…OR LACK THEREOF

Kind of hilarious, but why?

This is one aspect of Farming Simulator that tends to bug me a lot—its very floaty and twitchy physics. I touched on this in a past article where I gave my thoughts on how cool it would be if driving simulators like FS and even American/Euro Truck Simulator had a complex physics system like Spintires does. For a game that’s all about driving farming machinery, FS seems to have noticeably unrefined driving mechanics. The various tractors and harvesters handle well ‘enough’, but the faster vehicles like trucks and semis feel incredibly loose. It’s as if the sim’s physics system can only manage to sort-of function with slow-moving vehicles, but anything that goes beyond 30MPH sends it into a frenzy. I always set the cruise control when driving the pickup truck simply because its handling feels like a rocket-powered box when moving at high speeds. 

In addition to the poor handling, getting stuck is also a nightmare. Sometimes I may clip a fence or something, and more often than not my vehicle will just get stuck there as if it’s being held by some ultra super glue. At least when I get a truck stuck in the mud or a dense forest while playing Spintires, I can sometimes wiggle and wobble my way out. In FS, it’s usually always useless to try and put up a struggle. One time I got a tractor stuck on a fence, and thought to try and push it out of the way with another vehicle. Pushing did nothing, so I tried ramming it out of the way—it didn’t move an inch. Sure, a tractor that weighs a few tons isn’t going to budge very easily, but try ramming one in real life with something of equal mass at high-speed—actual physics will make sure something moves one way or another. I thought we left these simplistic physics systems back in the era of early 3D titles. I’ll continue to tolerate the simplistic visuals any day over this weak physics system. The thing is, there are moments when the physics system reacts like how it’s supposed to. For instance, working on a field in a tractor or harvester at an an incline will force the engine to work harder and the vehicle will move slower due to weight and gravity. Even pulling a trailer adds weight to a tractor. That’s pretty realistic, which makes me wonder why this level of detail isn’t applied to the entire physics system. 

A MORE LIFE-LIKE WORLD

The open-world maps are well detailed, but they somehow still feel empty.

What separates simulators from most traditional games is the heavy focus on realism. While most games tend to take liberties in bending the laws of realism simply because it’s not supposed to be like real-life, simulators seek to try and emulate as much of those laws as possible. This is why most non-sim fans tend to view these titles as being a mundane chore rather than anything fun. But, that’s exactly the reason why actual sim-fans enjoy them. So, when something looks or feels unrealistic, it tends to really stand out. I already mentioned the poor physics of FS, but this lack of realism extends to other parts of the game’s world too.

The various maps in FS17 do look pretty nice and feel expansive, but it’s all mostly just for show. The AI civilians just seem like they’re there just for the sake of being there. You can’t interact with anyone or really anything aside from your machinery. Apart from the mansion in the Estancia Lapacho DLC map, you can’t explore any building interiors. Even going to the vehicle shop just has you selecting what you want from a static menu from the outside of the building. What about the other fields that belong to other farms? They change from time to time, but it’s all static. One minute you’d look at a bare field, the next minute you’d see crops popping up. It would be nice if the changes could be seen in real time with AI farmers working on the fields. Speaking of farming, it doesn’t feel totally authentic. For instance, the weather has very little effect on what’s going on. I’m sure we all learned in school that plants need three main things to survive: good soil, a healthy supply of water and sunshine. It’s mostly sunny anyway in Farming Simulator, but when the rain does come, it doesn’t do anything aside from stopping you from working for a few minutes. It would be nice if a steady supply of showers resulted in more crop yield, or too much rain flooding the fields and destroying the crops. Even if the rain just washed the dirt off your machinery that would be a step-up over the currently minuscule level of interaction the weather has with this sim’s world. Speaking of weather, why are there no seasons? I know there’s a mod that provides this functionality, but that actually leads to another improvement I’d wish to see.

LESS RELIANCE ON MODS

It would be nice if I didn’t have to use a mod to work my fields in straight lines.

For the most part, a lot of the issues I’ve brought up in this article have been improved with mods. While the sim’s physics system is still just plain basic, there are mods which do make things a little better, such as making the tires react more realistically to the uneven terrain of the soil in the fields. Even the aforementioned natively missing feature of seasons has been added in by means of a mod. But that’s the problem I have with this; there shouldn’t have to be mods to add in features like this that should be considered no-brainers. The beauty of PC gaming is that most developers allow players to alter their games, which is always great. But there are just certain things like what I mentioned that you’d think the actual developers would take care of beforehand.

This problem becomes truly obvious when playing the same games on consoles, where mods are far less plentiful and most times even totally nonexistent. I mentioned earlier that I’ve played both the PC and Switch versions of Farming Simulator 17. While I enjoy the Switch version thanks to the hybrid functionality, I can’t help but miss all the mods I have on the PC version. Things like the aforementioned improved physics, as well as other features like the GPS Mod which allow me to actually drive in proper straight lines when working on a field which compensates for the otherwise twitchy driving mechanics. Playing the ‘vanilla’ version of the sim on Switch after pouring so much time into the modded edition I have on PC gave me a full reminder as to how much things need improving, and really it’s this that drove me to write this article.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love Farming Simulator 17. I still think it’s a great sim despite these issues. But, I also do have expectations for GIANTS Software. This series will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary in April. It’s come a long way since the first iteration, but after these many years and so many iterations, I want to see GIANTS truly push ahead. The massive popularity in the farming-sim genre that this franchise has generated has to lead to other studios trying to put their own spin on the concept, but the majority of them have turned out to be nothing more than cheap knock-offs. But, there looks to be competition on the horizon. The aforementioned Pure Farming 2018 from Ice Flames could turn out to be the next big quality farming-sim. I’m hoping it does as this would put figurative flames under the feet of the devs over at GIANTS (pun intended). Competition tends to breed creativity, so the threat of their crown being taken from them could potentially push GIANTS to improve their Farming Simulator formula. Ultimately, only time will tell.

Related:  Overpriced Simulator Add-Ons Make Microtransactions Look Minor


Active comments on PC Invasion: