Farming Sim is one of those games that no-one really seems to understand, yet that sells like the proverbial hot cakes. So successful has the series become, that it's now turned into something of a yearly instalment (or, at least, bi-yearly), with Farming Simulator 15 looking to build on the solid, if somewhat inaccessible base 2013's game left behind. Promising an array of new features, better graphics, and two suitably different farms to, well, farm to within an inch of their lives, Farming Sim 15 on consoles aims to mirror its PC brother's success, which has so far sold over one million copies. So, does this fix the problems with the last game? Well, in a word: no.
While there's a surprising amount of games that either revolve entirely around, or feature a farming component (Harvest Moon and Rune Factory are two that spring to mind), Farming Sim 15 is a very different beast. Sitting firmly in the more realistic camp, this is a game that plonks you in control of your very own farm, and gives you precisely nothing in the way of guidance. There's no mission objectives to complete, no structure to work your way through, and nothing in the way of a story - instead, it's an entirely free form game where you're free to manage your farm as you please.
What you choose to do here is up to you, and there are plenty of ways to make money from your fields. Along with ploughing, sowing and harvesting crops of your choice (using an array of suitable machinery), you can buy cows, chickens and sheep to get revenue from milk, eggs and wool respectively; do random odd-jobs for lazy villagers ($5,000+ for delivering some pizzas using our tractor? Don't mind if we do...); or, in a first for the series, chop down every tree in sight in order to sell the wood for profit.
The only issue is, actually getting the money to do so is a bit of a challenge. Logging equipment is incredibly expensive in the game, and while a chainsaw will only set you back a grand, buying the equipment to transport your logs will set you back over a hundred thousand. Each tractor has a variety of add-ons, but many of these add-ons are only compatible with a certain type of tractor, so the money you have to spend very quickly shoots through the roof. In reality, what this means is you'll need to play for hours on end, harvesting, ploughing and sowing before you can even begin to think about expanding into logging - and that's a bit of a shame for those who're eager to try out the new system.
As with many sims, then, Farming Sim 15 is a game of balance, where the fun (and challenge) derives from getting the job done and turning a profit. Starting you out with only a handful of tractors and equipment, you'll have what you need to plant some seeds in your first few fields, but everything else is an upwards struggle. Perhaps the best thing to do to begin with is to buy a few more fields, as then at least you have something to do while your one crop's growing. As you drive the tractors for yourself, and have to work all of the machinery too, it pays to have something to keep you busy.
When you're first starting out, most of your revenue will actually probably come from helping the villagers out. Like most country folk, these are people with more money than sense, as the often trivial - yet incredibly lucrative - tasks they post on the jobs board prove. Whether you're mowing someone's lawn for $4,000, or delivering some supplies for $6-7,000, it's well worth investing in a mowing attachment, and a fork, so you can make the most of the money making opportunities. Just make sure you remember to buy a decent weight to attach to your tractor as a counterbalance, too. Otherwise you'll find this happening a bit too much:
Still, if you weren't sold on last year's Farming Sim, there's little to win you over this time around, as all the same problems remain. While having a sandbox mode is great for people who already know all the ins and outs of farming, Farming Sim desperately needs something with a little bit more structure - something a little bit more game-y - to help newcomers find their footing in an easy to understand manner. A quest system, some sort of objective system, and even a fairly rudimentary story would all go a heck of a long way towards making Farming Sim that bit more accessible - and help it appeal to a much wider audience. The ability to manually tend to your animals, rather than having it almost all done through vehicular interaction might help, too. That doesn't mean it needs to go entirely against its sim heritage, either - accuracy and authenticity are great, but they're also things Farming Sim doesn't quite get right. The game's physics engine is weird at best, with tractors often tipping over, while it's be nice if things felt that little bit more... realistic? Better graphics and weather effects could really increase the immersion, having some sort of soundtrack would help pass the hours (how about letting us listen to online radio stations, like in Euro Truck Sim?) while some bug fixes (like how you have to pretty much do a rain dance around a fallen tree to get into a position where you can actually cut it) would help a lot too.
So, while Farming Sim doesn't get anything phenomenally wrong, it doesn't do anything to fix the problems from last year's game either. If you loved Farming Sim 13, and fancy taking it for a spin on your "next gen" console, then this is a perfectly serviceable update. But if you were hoping for a genuine improvement, with plenty of new stuff to do, you'll probably have to hold off for the eventual Farming Sim 16/17...