Roll up those sleeves, we’re digging in to Farming Simulator 2014

Ever watch one of those late night jazzercise infomercials? They generally feature a bunch of folks prancing about on screen bedecked in spandex, really getting into the workouts and the music and the whole experience. Out loud you’re saying “...Huh” in a derisive sort of way but in your head, deep down, you’re wondering—they’re all so chipper, aren’t they? There must be something I’m missing.

I get that way about the Farming Simulator series. The butt of so many jokes, its inexplicable popularity outside of the U.S. is nothing short of mind-boggling. Farming Simulator 14 (that’s 2014, not the 14th incarnation) recently landed on just about every platform under the sun, but the iOS variant was only $3 so I figured I’d take the plunge. And you know what? It’s not for everyone. Or for most, I gather. But there’s something a little bit magical here—provided you’re the patient sort.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

A few minutes in, and I’m already off to a bad start: there’s no tutorial. I’m all for learning by doing, but a devilishly intricate simulation game is not really the best place to dive in headfirst.

That said, the basic controls are easy enough to figure out: push the throttle to adjust your speed, steer with that sliding steering wheel thing. But I certainly don’t know my header from my tedder and strapping various odds and ends to your tractor to see what they do gets a bit stale rather quickly. There is a manual, though it’s little more than a webpage with screenshots explaining what all of these buttons mean, and a quick summary of how the various farm implements work—a tedder converts dry grass into hay, by the way.

There’s a bit of a learning curve, but the workflow is simple: prep a field, sow some seeds, harvest your crops once they’re ready, and then sell or store them.  And then do it all over again

Grow, my pretties.

These sorts of games revolve around optimization: prices for crops fluctuate based on how much you’ve unloaded to the various merchants, so you’ll want to rotate your goods regularly. Purchasing meadows paves the way for grass, which lead to hay bales you can feed to cows, who’ll produce milk and fertilizer. You’ll want to sell the milk, and dump the fertilizer on your fields to improve your crop yield.

If this all doesn’t sound very enticing, then it probably isn’t for you; I’ll admit I have a soft spot for this sort of thing. I count Dwarf Fortress and (the original) Harvest Moon amongst my favorite games specifically because they champion a sort of measure twice, cut once approach to gaming. They might feel sluggish, repetitive, and maybe even boring to the uninitiated. But the best of their ilk are cerebral exercises that reward careful planning, while punishing haste and ignorance mercilessly—see my other obsessions Monster Hunter and EVE Online for more details.

A bit of a non-sequitur: check out the trailer for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Farming Simulator.

That, friends, is the mark of a developer that knows it’s got a winning ticket. The bravado is dizzying. Absolutely nothing about what I’m watching there strikes me as particularly interesting, but couple all of that heavy machinery chugging through fields, with a bumping soundtrack and frenetic camera work and I’m suddenly mulling over a download.

Three bucks on the Apple App Store. You’ll get a ton of vehicles to sift through, a pretty large map, and a challenge that scales with the amount of effort you put it. But… it’s still a farming simulator. I’m having a blast, but your mileage may vary: it’s a clean, polished experience that suffers from a lack of guidance, but otherwise well worth the thinking-gamer’s time.

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