Thursday, June 07, 2012

Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming Review

Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming, developed by ActaLogic and published by UIG Entertainment.
The Good: User directed farming and animal raising, multiplayer
The Not So Good: No tutorial, lacks guiding optional objectives, monotonous mechanics, obtuse controls, insufficient interface, stability issues
What say you? Absent assistance and repetitive methods wilt this farming simulation: 3/8

The PC is a great resource for weird, strange games from all corners of the globe. A perfect example is the series of niche simulators created by Slovene developer ActaLogic and German publisher UIG: Mining and Tunneling, Snowcats, Airports, Woodcutters, Tow Trucks, and, of course, Bungee Jumping. Wanting to check out the appeal of these…interesting…products, I decided to head out to the farm with Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming, a semi-sequel in the Agricultural Simulator series that moves the “action” to the 1950’s through 1970’s in the northern Alps and Tuscany. So, let’s spread our seeds and see what sprouts!

The presentation of Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming is a mixed bag overall. The animals and farm equipment both look nice, as you would expect in a game that focuses on animals and farm equipment. The tractors, plows, harvesters, and other assorted mechanical devices are detailed replicas of their real-world counterparts. The animals also look good (though only one model is used for each type, so all cows look identical), although the animations are a bit repetitive. Your farm buildings aren’t intuitive (the barn and cellar could have been interchangeable) and are recycled in each game setting. Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming also has significant issues with clipping, with animals and equipment commonly passing through doors and fencing, which obviously breaks immersion. I also experienced a rather strange bug: climbing up a ladder threw me into the air on occasion. In addition, buying a second item from the machine shop crashed my game. The sound design is very basic, with few effects that lack a sense of nature and campy music as you till your fields. Overall, Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming has an acceptable set of graphics and sound effects that do not hinder the gameplay.

Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming simulates historical farming in an agricultural motif. You are given a choice of two farms (Tuscany or the Alps) that are basically the same (even with identical buildings, although in a different layout) and no objectives. Intrinsically, you are driven to make lots of money by growing food and animals, but I would still like to see some optional goals to shoot for (like breeding pigs or meeting a quota of corn) beyond a simple sandbox scenario. Conversely, the lack of objectives means the player is free to do as he (or she, although in the game your avatar is male) chooses. The game options allow you to adjust the game speed (you can play in real time, if you are insane) and working day length, and you can join other prospective farmers online in multiplayer, which would be a potentially interesting feature if there was more variety in the game mechanics.

Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming tries its hardest to make farming as unintuitive as possible, as the game features no tutorial and the HTML manual is in German. Part of the difficulty for newcomers can be attributed to the interface, which uses icons to display where nearby things can be found or placed, but never explains what the icons actually mean. Now, I can figure out what an egg stands for, but what about a triangle? Your first exposure to the game is also spent learning the layout of the farms and which doors open and which ones do not. There is no minimap and no building labels, so finding your way around can be difficult. The game and manual really fail to explain where things are supposed to go, and trail and error is spent figuring out where to place empty milk jugs, breeding cattle, seeds, hay bails, tractor attachments, and every other aspect of farm living. The game provides several camera views, but I would like to use the mouse to change my perspective in more than just the first person tractor view. The “tab” key pulls up a menu for advanced actions (like lowering plows) and the “control” key gives stats describing the current time and stockpile of goods and their locations (if you can figure out which buildings are which, of course). A lot more time could have been dedicated towards making Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming accessible.

There are two things to do in Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming: grow crops and raise animals. The former involves attaching various tools to your tractor and then driving across your fields, which can be any area you designate. While this may be realistic, doing the exact same thing, only with different attachments, is not riveting: attach the plow, then attach the cultivator, then attach the fertilizer, then attach the planter, then attach the sprayer, then attach the harvester. The four tractors with twelve attachments (which must be bought in town, a short tractor ride away) do give you some toys to play with, but Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming is an exercise in tedious repetition. The animals require even less work, as they are almost completely automated: just place a box near the chicken coop and an empty milk jug in the barn and you’ll get eggs and milk, respectively. The only time you’ll have to directly interact with the animals is leading them into the barn for breeding (two at a time) or loading them on a carrier to bring them to town for a handy profit. This is probably a good thing, since leading them involves holding down the mouse button and walking very slowly towards your destination: a very boring process. I guess that could be said for a majority of Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming, which has an uninformative interface and lack of variety, two things to kill general interest in a computer game.

Unintuitive controls, no tutorial, the lack of objectives, and repetitive actions mean Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming will only possibly appeal to a very small niche. While I like the idea of the game, the tedious duplication of collecting goods and disdain for in-game help ruins any appeal the title might have offered. Farming involves doing the same thing (driving over your fields) with different attachments (plow then cultivator then seed spreader then pesticide then harvester), and that’s it. Animal raising involves placing food in specific locations and bins in other locations to collect milk or eggs, and that’s it. Animals can be bred by locking them in the barn, or you can sell them in town, but the restriction and repetition of the actions you are allowed to do makes for some dull gameplay. The game is also very unfriendly to new players, just providing a bare manual (in German, no less) and no in-game feedback to serve as any sort of direction. While the lack of objectives makes Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming more open and freeform, it also makes you wonder what exactly to do next. I do like the prospects of multiplayer, if it weren’t so easy to keep things running on your own. Only the truly curious that don’t mind infinite reiteration will discover enough value in Agricultural Simulator - Historical Farming.