Playing Critic: Learning while trying to emulate Old McDonald

Playing Critic: Learning while trying to emulate Old McDonald

It might surprise you to know that, although I was born and raised in Iowa, my practical experience with farms and farming is close to non-existent.

I spent one horrible day in a cornfield as a detassler when I was a teen. I didn't have an issue with being clad in garbage bags, soaked with sweat and ravaged by mosquitoes. But never-ending sneezing combined with a sunburned nose, plus bloodshot eyes almost glued shut with gunk? That, I couldn't take. Yep, allergies. My crew chief and I agreed it would be best if I stuck to pouring coffee at my family's doughnut shop.

So I knew I'd probably be in a little over my head at the start of "Farm Simulator 18" for PlayStation Vita.

And that assumption was quite correct. Playing on "beginner" difficulty, I managed to sabotage myself repeatedly for quite a while.

For instance, I thought I was being clever by planting sugar beets, because of the high price I could get for the crop. Too late, I discovered that the only way I could harvest them would be to buy a piece of machinery I couldn't afford.

So I looked up what my combine was capable of harvesting — wheat, canola, corn and sunflowers — and planted corn in my other field after I'd finished cultivating it for use. But, when the corn was ready for picking, I found to my chagrin that while my harvester technically was capable, you can't pick corn with a header meant for wheat and canola. Thankfully, in that instance, I had more than enough funds to buy the header I needed.

And yet I still messed up. I aimed too high and bought a corn header too big for the harvester I was using. I sold it back and sheepishly bought the right one.

My follies continued, but I think you've got the general idea.

"Farm Simulator 18" is a single-player game devoted to simulating large-scale agriculture using heavy machinery. You'll plant and harvest a wide range of crops, as well as raise livestock and sell the resulting materials, i.e. hogs, milk and wool.

Whatever difficulty level you choose to play at, you'll start off with a field of wheat ready for harvest, a field that needs cultivating before use, and a meadow you can use to produce hay or grass to sell to a biofuels plant. (Difficulty only seems to determine what financial resources you start with, including grain already in your silos.)

You'll also have: a Case IH Agriculture Axial-Flow 1660 harvester with a 1030 14-foot header attached; a Massey Ferguson MF 5610 tractor with front loader; a Deutz Fahr AgroStar 6.61 tractor; a Metaltech DB 8000 tipper for grain transport; a Kuhn Cultimer L 300 cultivator for plowing the field; and a Great Plains 3P1006NT sowing machine.

If you want better equipment and new gear — livestock trailers, mowers, tedders, balers, fertilizer sprayers, etc. — you'll have to buy it.

Oh, and in case you couldn't tell by the company names and model numbers, yes, the game features real farm equipment. Its use is simplified — I'm pretty sure you don't just drive into a header to have it magically attach to your combine — yet generally realistic.

Realism is, of course, desirable in a simulation game such as this. And some aspects of "Farm Simulator 18" have it in spades. Many of the basics of farm operation are dutifully rendered, i.e. cultivation, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, etc. You can even hire helpers to drive your machinery for you.

However ...

Crops grow at an accelerated rate, you don't have any watering to do, and except for accidentally leaving a crop to rot in the fields or livestock to starve, there's no real risks in the game-play.

In other words, there's no disastrous weather, no insect infestations, not even a need for crop rotation to keep from overworking the soil.

There are occasional "quests." Basically, the guy who also serves as a bare-bones tutor will also sometimes pay you to pick up and deliver material for him, or he'll give you a heads-up if a business is paying more than normal for a certain commodity at the moment.

But those are completely optional. Really, you just plant what you want, raise what livestock you want, and try to make money while upgrading your equipment and buying more fields. And if you buy up all the available farmland, you can cut down trees and claim new land that way. And that's all there is to it.

As someone generally uninitiated to the complexities of modern agriculture, I found "Farm Simulator 18" to be enlightening in many regards. No, I don't suddenly fancy myself an expert, but I now know a lot more about combines, hay production and other topics than I did before.

And for that, I value my time playing. It's not exactly a game I'll go back to again and again, but there's something relaxing about it, and I can certainly see it being attractive to sim-game lovers.

Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette's Playing Critic. Contact him at jleizer@news-gazette.com.

'Farm Simulator 18'

Platforms: PlayStation Vita. Other versions available for Nintendo 3DS, iOS and Android.

Price: $29.99 for Vita, 3DS. $4.99 for iOS, Android.

ESRB rating: E for everyone.

Topics (2):Internet, Technology
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