Last summer Farming Simulator 3D trucked its way onto the 3DS, allowing gamers to establish and manage a flourishing agricultural empire on-the-go, without having to get their hands dirty or don a straw hat and suspenders. It was a game that we found to be enjoyable at times, but the omission of any tutorials or guides lent to a steep barrier of entry that greatly diminished any potential for broad appeal. Now, a year later, we’re getting a 2014 iteration that, out of the gate, looks identical to last year’s model. The question is: has Farming Simulator 14 done anything to warmly welcome city folk into its complex world, while also planting enough new content to entice the locals to stick around for another harvest?
Farming Simulator 14 drops you right into a generic town that’s pretty lifeless outside of the subtle presence of cars on the road and your farming operations. There are a few dozen houses serving cosmetic purposes, a handful of businesses where you can sell your crops or pick up any ordered machinery, along with empty fields that can be purchased once your farm is ready for expansion. Outside of a single graphic of a veteran farmer — who looks like a mix of Yosemite Sam and Hershel from The Walking Dead — that accompanies the introductions and the save screen, there’s again zero presence of actual human beings. It’s a minimalistic approach that ensures the town serves its purpose, but does nothing to be memorable or interesting.
When starting out, your farming ventures will be limited to three fields: one is awaiting harvest, one ready to be cultivated, the other overgrown with grass that can be converted into hay for your cattle. All the necessary equipment needed to start turning a profit is on-hand and ready to be put to use. Tapping left or right on the D-pad will cycle through drivable vehicles, and it’s up to you to get them equipped with the correct attachment, and either manually steer them through the fields or get them to the desired position and engage autopilot — which costs a little money. It might not sound too complex to start, but if you’re unfamiliar with farming procedures and equipment, expect to spend quite a while figuring things out for yourself; once again, the mind-blowing absence of proper tutorials leads to a trial-and-error process that’s sure to deter and annoy many.
Even having played Farming Simulator 3D extensively about a year ago, we had forgotten the order of things, and struggled to get the operations, well, operational. There are a small number of explanations that pop up when using certain pieces of equipment for the first time, but it’s more of a simple item description when what you'll really need are comprehensive instructions or visual guides. In result of this, reading the manual from start to finish is not only imperative, but you should anticipate returning to it on a regular basis to answer many questions along the way. To make these circumstances more aggravating was the fact that our initial file was started on beginner mode. Simulator or not, there’s no good reason not to implement more assistance for the players that need it — which will be everyone that’s never played a farming simulator — most people.
Just like our time spent with Farming Simulator 3D, once you’ve worked past this befuddling period there’s a reasonable time to be had. Finding the right pattern of use for vehicles and equipment between numerous fields — to ensure constant efficiency/productivity — is a game in itself, and it’s fairly rewarding when accomplished. It’s very hard to avoid moments of feeling overwhelmed by too many machines, but it’ll be a while before you’ve invested in the assets to have that many moving pieces, and by then you should mostly be familiarized with the lay of the land. Prep the soil, plant seeds, harvest the crops, drive the produce to a selling point, and repeat. Throughout these activities you’ll have to intermittently replenish fuel, seeds, and fertilizer, but it’s as easy as driving to an indicated area on the map and back.
Producing hay to feed the cattle — which results in milk to be sold and fertilizer for the fields — is dependent on different equipment than what’s used for the crops, none of which will be awarded from the start. By using the touch screen to enter into the catalogue (or store), many pages of machines and attachments can be scrolled through and ordered; that's if you have the funds, of course. This is a frustrating exercise in shopping considering all offerings are listed by their product name, with a complete lack of explanation of their function. We had to enter in and out of the manual to identify a mower, a tedder, and a baler, just so we could get to makin’ hay.
In what feels like a tacked-on attempt to diversify play, there are also optional missions that present themselves on the touch screen at irregular intervals. These are largely the same as they were in Farming Simulator 3D — just recover a lost/dropped shipment from somewhere in town to earn extra money — and will likely be seen as an annoyance by most, and quickly declined. The pay is fine, but disrupting farm activities by reallocating a vehicle and diverting your attention elsewhere can throw off your whole routine. Plus, to be frank, driving at 30 mph through town isn’t fun, it's a chore.
And that could be said about Farming Simulator 14 as a whole; it’s a game of responsibility and chores that doesn’t reward the player outside of acquiring more property and more machinery. Regardless of the exact reason, however, it can still be a highly addictive and entertaining affair. We started off struggling with the lack of tutorials and irritated with all the trial-and-error present in figuring things out for yourself, then after a couple hours we were dangerously hooked. Yet the fact remains that we aren’t sure who we can recommend this product too — there’s little changed or added for owners of FS3D, and the game isn’t welcoming enough to newcomers. Maybe we can’t confidently recommend it to any one particular type of player, but if you’re dead convinced that a farming simulator would be up your alley, even when taking into account the barrier of entry, then we certainly wouldn’t talk you out of a purchase.
Offering a core farming experience that’s deceptively addicting and almost too engaging, Farming Simulator 14 can easily harvest up hours of your life. Problem is, getting to that point means overcoming a steep learning curve that will keep the interest of most players from ever taking root. The majority of what's on offer is decent enough, if a bit unspectacular, but failing to implement a full-fledged tutorial or any kind of video walkthrough to assist newcomers makes it tough to recommend. Also, those that invested in last year’s model should know that this iteration changes/adds very little — unless you're agriculturally obsessed, it's definitely not enough to warrant another purchase. Farming Simulator 14 isn’t the cream of the crop, it’s not a load of crop, it's just struggling to grow and waiting on a little rain to bring better days.