While reviews of any sort can only ever be subjective, sometimes writers have to don a different 'hat', so to speak. Games often have particular tempos or ways of doing things that may not marry with your mindset at the time, with other work and deadlines looming. Farming Simulator 20 requires a very particular hat – a farmer's flat cap, to be precise. It's an unhurried beast that absolutely insists on its own slow-and-steady pace. Give it time, though, and its monotonous rhythms become pleasurable and the intense chatter and mindless speed of the real world melt away at the wheel of a combine harvester.
Essentially, Farming Simulator 20 is a 'numbers-go-up' game. Yes, most video games are, but this one puts the dollar total at the top centre of the screen at all times – you want that ever-depleting figure to be as big as possible. A short tutorial gets you acquainted with the very basics of attaching equipment to your tractor, cultivating a field, sowing seeds and then harvesting the produce before dumping it in a silo or a trailer. It can then be transported to one of the various outlets surrounding your acreage and deposited in their silos in exchange for hard cash.
This cash is then used to buy sexier farming gear with which to cultivate, fertilise, sow and harvest more efficiently. While we started out with precious little knowledge concerning heavy-duty farm machinery, let alone the process of growing crops and keeping livestock, well, living, we soon started to learn the ins-and-outs. The tutorial quickly leaves you to your own devices, so be prepared to hit '+' and delve into the Help menu for explanations of the game's various systems unless you're a Farming Simulator veteran.
The shop is always accessible on the '-' button and lists a load of real-world branded equipment. It wasn't long before we started eyeing the stats of more expensive hardware with envy. Clicking the right analogue stick over a certain bit of kit explains what it actually does and why you need it in your arsenal, and each item has its vital stats listed. Ooo, check out the 12-metre width on that harvester! Why, I could work the same land in half the time! What's that? A seeder that can be used without first cultivating the field? Another 50% time saving!
It's these rather mundane benefits which you'll need to appreciate and work towards if you're going to harvest (ahem) enjoyment from Farming Simulator 20; that 'Simulator' in the name isn't for show. While developer Giants Software does add some video game abstraction to the farm work (you won't be waiting for weeks as your crops grow, for example), most of the time you'll be grafting; slowly and surely working those fields methodically up and down, although without the mud and other substances sticking to your boots.
As you steadily make money and expand your empire through the purchase of neighbouring plots and better equipment, you have the option of hiring AI helpers to do the donkey work. They're not intelligent enough to navigate the vehicles around the farm but get a harvester or tractor in position at a corner of a field and you can push 'Y' to have a farmhand take over the dreary work striping the land. You'll have to pay their wages, of course, but we never found ourselves in a position where we couldn't afford to hire AI workers.
Hitting 'R' and 'L' cycles through all of your vehicles, active or otherwise (and we enjoyed how the engines start up if the vehicles were idle). There's a large array available, although earning the big dollars to purchase the quicker, more efficient machines will take a while. Early on we stupidly blew $45,000 on a pick-up truck which we should have put towards a sexier harvester or another tractor, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to burn around the terrain a bit faster.
Roads and trails are latticed over the landscape, although we found great joy in pushing our tractor and trailer over hills and perilous terrain as we barrelled to the highest-paying outlet to flog our grain. A vehicle reset option in the menu helped us out the couple of times we got into trouble and overturned our vehicle, although it wasn't the easiest thing to find.
In general, the UI is big and bold. The whole game can be played on the touchscreen alone, and works well enough in this regard. Optional gyro controls are available for the steering (we thought the dreaded Joy-Con drift had returned or that our cheap tractor was pulling to the left until we realised we had gyro enabled in the settings). The bar at the top of the screen is ever-present – something to be aware of if burn-in is an issue on your TV – and it can sometimes obscure your vision of the road/field ahead when you're zoomed in. Thankfully, there are none of the typical Switch port complaints when it comes to text size in Farming Simulator 20; it's all large enough to read in whatever mode you're playing.
Livestock adds another layer of resource management, and you can even ride horses around your land this time which lends a real home-on-the-range quality to the whole thing. It's a lot to juggle, but as you purchase more fields and work them in different ways you'll steadily feel more confident conducting the whole farming operation; skipping between vehicles, checking fuel levels and prices, selling accordingly and planning future endeavours as you eye which produce is on the up-and-up, offloading your spuds for a tidy profit before prices plummet.
Getting the balance takes time, though, so don't expect to reap rewards without dedicating serious effort in the sowing of them. It's one of those games where you really have to sit back, throw on a podcast and 'relax' for a couple of hours at a time. You might be able to leave things for 5 minutes if all your vehicles are operating, but monitoring and orchestrating farmhands still requires input, just not the intensive type you might expect. You can't rush this – good things come, and all that.
Graphically, the game does a good job of providing some spectacle, in a last-gen sort of way. The machines all look great, and there's some lovely lighting as day cycles into night while your tractors work through the darkness and then the sun rises over the distant hills. That said, other elements are pretty rudimentary-looking. Hitting the right stick shifts to cockpit view, which isn't the most attractive way to play and the foliage, crops and grass in the fields clip through the vehicles.
The disappointing draw distance is also an issue, and this can affect gameplay. Has the other end of this field been harvested or not? It's often difficult to tell the state of things beyond your small draw distance radius. Hitting the left stick brings up your map with all the crops (although colourblind players might find it tough to follow the colour key) and the state of any given field in realtime, and soon you’ll know what's where without even checking, but it’s still irritating to be unable to see what's at the other end of the field you're in.
It's hardly a graphical powerhouse, then, but it gets the job done and occasionally surprises you with a lovely vista as you get along with the old routine. Anybody who's after glitz and glamour should look elsewhere – Farming Simulator 20 is built for people who relish the details of the mundane and find beauty therein. Taken on those terms, it puts in an admirable, more-than-workmanlike performance that should satisfy series fans and is worth a look for anybody looking to slow things down a bit – to stop and smell the roses (and manure). Turns out those farmer's flat caps can be mighty comfortable, given a chance.
Farming Simulator 20 won't be for everyone, but if you're after high-octane, instant gratification, why are you sniffing around something called 'Farming Simulator 20'? It requires time and devotion – if you're not one to enjoy the long, languorous journey you'd be better off sticking to more abstract farming sims. Once you get into its low-key repetitive groove, though, there's a wealth of wholesome, calming work to get lost in and a satisfying flow to cultivating a field, sowing seeds, harvesting, repeating and watching those numbers go up.