Will fancy controls make a simulation fan of me yet?
What could be more tedious than tilling a virtual field? As you’ve probably guessed, I find simulation games incredibly dull. But maybe it’s just me. After all, the market for them is huge. That’s why you can get all kinds of accessories now too, like the «Saitek Heavy Precision Control System for PC». But will that be enough to get me hooked on hobby farming?
I slam my foot down on the pedal. At a reckless nine kilometres per hour, I’m tearing across the field on a combine harvester. It doesn’t take me long to reach the other end of the field when I’m going at this speed. That means I have to turn round. I spin the controls one and a quarter times to turn as fast as possible. It’s just as well the combine harvester is wide otherwise it would tip over in this breakneck manoeuvre.
Breakneck manoeuvre at 9 km/h
My first attempt at driving the «Saitek Heavy Precision Control System for PC» is somehow fun. What isn’t fun, however, is the name of the input device. It’s pretty cumbersome, which is why I’ve taken to calling it «Farmy».
We’ve had Farmy lying around the editorial department for a few months now. With this lovely weather we’ve been having, it seems a shame to lock myself away in a gaming cave. So rather than being stuck inside at the end of June, I decide to take the virtual world out for some fresh air. The controls are a welcome excuse. Farmy consists of:
- a steering wheel with an integrated gamepad
- a go and break reverse pedal
- a side panel with various buttons and joystick
I test the controls with the «Farming Simulator 17». The packaging does say: «Works great with Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition». That might be the case but whatever. I want to play the latest version of the game. I’m sure it’ll still work.
As I’ve never played a farming simulator before, the first thing I do is select the tutorial. Yeah, I know… I said I think simulators are boring without ever having played this farming simulator game. It’s not very open-minded of me. That’s why I’m giving it a go now.
Right, let’s get stuck in. Once the tutorial started, it said I should left-click on the mouse to continue. OK, now I’m confused. Am I not supposed to use Farmy to control the game? I slap the keys in frustration. Suddenly the input instruction changes. Now I’m supposed to press «2». The game knows what I’m using for the controls. That’s what I call intuitive.
Driving a tractor like a pro
Now we can really get started. At first I’m still a bit tense but with time I manage to relax. The tutorials show that every button and stick is actually used for something. What makes it even better is that it all works seamlessly. That lessens my initial scepticism somewhat.
A quick word about Farmy
To ease my guilty conscience about having gamed while at work, I should probably tell you a bit about Farmy. The steering wheel and the control console can be screwed to the table. Once there, they’re quite secure. The pedals come with a non-slip coating so they stay in place on carpet, parquet floors and lino. For even better grip, there’s a fold-out pedal mat.
Now the hardware is affixed, you know it’s safe even in the heat of ploughing
The buttons look rather cheap, which is a shame as this finish spoils the overall good impression I had of the hardware. The flip switches are only dummies and don’t do anything different to the other buttons. Meanwhile, the steering wheel wobbles when the base is anchored. But what is cool is that it automatically returns to its starting position – even if it does so with a lot of swerving and lurching. To keep the vehicle steady, you need to press the controls from above rather than from in front. Another thing that bugs me slightly is that you need two USB A connections to link up Farmy.
Waning attention span
After watching the tutorial I know what to do and head off for my first day on the farm. As I’m still very much a beginner I set the difficulty level to «easy». In fact, with a surname like «Hofer» you’d think I was born into a farming family. Will I live up to my «person of the farm» («der vom Hof») title?
Thankfully, the game gave me a quick heads-up at the start so I know what I’m supposed to do. In spite of my surname, I still have no idea what I’m doing so I begin by threshing the field. I then take the harvest to sell to the distributor; dig over a field and sew wheat in another. The controls make all of that good fun.
Also, everything gets done quickly because I can hire people to help finish jobs for me. That means I don’t have to drive up and down the fields for x hours. Once I’ve been through the introductory section, I can do what I want.
As a «GTA» gamer first and foremost, I instantly go looking for the fastest vehicle possible so I can make the streets and fields unsafe. That’s not the point of the game but I don’t have a great attention span. In fact, that’s one of the things that puts me off simulation games. I prefer a bit of action. Fortunately, things step up a gear once I’ve got the pickup truck and can test out the quality of the steering wheel. Having said that, it’s not as though the farming simulator would do a good job of simulating realistic reckless driving.
Has your car sunk? Sounds like you need to buy a new one
Once I was done trying to run people over – unfortunately, it didn’t work and I just drove through them – the vehicle ended up in the river. It was all down to my driving ability or lack thereof. It’s a shame there’s no simulation for car damage either. I was quite surprised given it calls itself a simulation game. The farming simulator is definitely no «GTA» and I have to buy myself a sleek new car. If it ends up in the river, there’s no fixing it. And nope, you can’t steal one.
Back to the simulation
OK, apart from exploring the countryside there’s not much else to do. I suppose that makes sense, as the game is called «Farming Simulator» for a reason. It appeals to people who appreciate a quiet life and want to get back to nature. Slow movement is the keyword here. So without further ado, I go back to my farm and look for new countryside adventures.
The simulator fulfills any aspirations of getting back to nature
Without further instructions on what to do, I head off to another farm and take on some work there. I’m supposed to spread manure over the field. And they’re barely giving me six minutes to do it. High time to test out the controls again. After that, I have to attach a weight to the front and the manure device at the back. Once again, the controls make it quick and easy. After three minutes I’ve already finished the job. And I get paid royally at almost 3,000 euros. Never let it be said that there’s no more money in farming.
Although it didn’t take long to spread the manure, I was already starting to get bored. In the threshing in the tutorial, I was able to hire a helper fairly quickly. I don’t think I could imagine threshing a whole field. I’m basically sitting in front of the notebook for 20 to 25 minutes doing absolutely nothing. How boring is that?
Even the cool controls couldn’t make me work for a long time in the field. And yet, there I am, heading off to the next farm to take on a longer job. This time I’m supposed to harvest the field. The lovely neighbouring farmer is allocating 220 minutes for the task. I’m speechless. Am I really supposed to spend three and a half hours going up and down the field with this harvester?
231 minutes and 27 seconds for this job? You’ve got to be joking
Yip, that’s right. Eventually, I try it out and have to overcome my weaker self. So I get behind the wheel of the harvester. Even though I’m against food waste, I don’t take that too seriously when I’m harvesting. I mean, I’m not that bothered if I cut corners or let some produce drop on the ground. Fortunately, digital food waste isn’t an issue yet.
After driving round the field for the fourth time, I hit my chin on the steering wheel. I’ve only been on the harvester for ten minutes. How can people do this? Instead of surrendering to my thoughts and switching off, I get nervous. Slow movement is different.
My leg starts to bob up and down of its own accord. It must be restless leg syndrome or something. I don’t normally get it and can usually sit quietly and quite happily do nothing. Come on, pull yourself together and get back to harvesting, I tell myself. But after five more minutes, I call it a day.
One go at simulation is enough
I just can’t do it anymore. It’s not like I played for long – maybe two hours at most. But it felt like an eternity. Simulation games weren’t and still aren’t for me. They just signal boredom is on the cards. And I’m an avid JRPG player, so I know what boredom in video games means.
Maybe it comes down to the fact I want to slip into another world when I play computer games and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Granted, it’s unlikely I’ll ever drive a tractor. But it’s even more unlikely I’ll get to go on an alien hunt with laser guns or goad the Hell House in the playground in Sector 6 with my fire spells.
The way I see it, there are two types of people: those who like simulation games and those who don’t. I definitely fall into the second category, even though the game controls did seem pretty cool.
Saitek Farm Sim
Farming Simulator 2017 (PC, FR)
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