These days, practically every possible kind of pastime, occupation and setting has a gaming equivalent. Take the simulation genre for instance; a place that’s packed with all manner of seemingly mundane concepts that have gamified to create some of the most bizarrely engrossing experiences you can play. Farming simulators have been around for years, offering up a relaxed environment where your only worry is harvesting some crops before they with whither or keeping your pigs well fed.
With Giants Software’s Farming Simulator seemingly sidestepping a release on a Switch this year (it debuted on the console last year), Visual Imagination Software’s rival series (yes, there’s even rivalry in the virtual agriculture scene) Professional Farmer has stepped into the fill the void with Professional Farmer: Nintendo Switch Edition. With a similar setup and collection of in-game systems, can this new hybrid iteration do enough to set it apart from its more popular counterpart? Let’s pull on our muddiest set of wellies and head out into the fields to find out…
To be blunt, Farming Simulator is to Professional Farmer what FIFA is to PES. One has the bigger budget and access to real-world licences, while the other has to make do with dodgier-looking assets and made-up brand names. So if you’re a farming sim devotee, you’ll have to make do with a generic Vistra tractor rather than a John Deere or a Case model. It’s certainly more authentic having some familiar badges and designs, but for most of us, these knock-off combine harvesters and slurry tanks will do the job.
And do the job they do, but that’s about the only real positives you can lay at Professional Farmer’s poorly-rendered feet. It’s functional in the fact that it runs, but it does very little to set itself apart from Farming Simulator or attempt one-up it in terms of in-game mechanics or aesthetic chops. Its vehicles are mostly devoid of detail (especially if you’re playing in the preferred cockpit view) and everything from grass and crops to the background mountains look like something pulled straight out of an early ’90s foray into CG animation.
Compared to the far more detailed array of trees, barns, vehicles and backgrounds in Farming Simulator: Nintendo Switch Edition, there’s really no excuse for the developer releasing a product that looks substantially inferior to a game that came out one year prior. This also applies to the in-game physics, with everything from tractors to harvesters handling unwieldy to the point of farce. This is a simulator after all, so why is our vehicle still moving when we’ve been holding down the brake for a few seconds already? And why does our tractor get stuck halfway into a tunnel while other cars simply pass right through us?
Unfortunately, the agricultural playground you’ll be working in isn’t an open-world setting, but a series of Monster Hunter-style sandboxes that you’ll need to fast-travel to from the menus. The loading times aren’t too bad when you do so, but considering the memory that’s been saved in the drop in asset quality, surely the developer was in a position to link all of its fields, towns and other rural locales into one interconnected setup? Giants Software managed with the various Farming Simulators on PS Vita, so why has this issue persisted in the Professional Farmer series?
Despite these problems, the game's approach to menus – and the access it gives you – is one of its better qualities. By pressing the ‘-’ button you can see all your vehicles, check the status of each field, see how your livestock are doing and perform that aforementioned fast-travel. You can even hire a farmhand to help keep your various animals watered and fed. However, it all feels a little pointless when you consider that the overall cost of the meat your produce never changes, regardless of how good your animal husbandry is.
The actual farming mechanics themselves are decent, and despite the lack of licenses, there’s a good variety of trailers and vehicles to buy. Having your farm start off with a large sum of cash already invested in it does take away a little of the joy that comes with building your business up from a single field and a tiny farm to a fully-fledged empire that covers the entire county, but it does a least provide you means to till, plough and harvest at your leisure. Of course, that’s if the game doesn’t suddenly bug out and send your tractor falling through the level, like ours did a couple of times. Oh, what a lark. Still, you do get a virtual dog on your farm, so we guess that’s worth a point at least.
Despite having a year extra to work on its own addition to the genre, Visual Imagination Software’s agricultural offering fails to outdo Farming Simulator at its own game. There are things to like about Professional Farmer: Nintendo Switch Edition – including the more realistic harvest cycles and the deformation of soil when tilling and ploughing a field – but even the presence of a faithful digital pooch isn’t enough to keep this semi-handheld offering from being towed back to the garage from whence it came.