They say competition is what drives progress - and when it comes to farming sims, it certainly seems to be true. After having gone uncontested as "King of the Farming Sim" for years, Giants Software's titular Farming Simulator finally has some real competition in Pure Farming 18. Despite the number after the title, this is actually the very first Pure Farming game there's been - and it's a game that brings with it a number of ideas and innovations that really drive the genre forwards.
First, and perhaps most significant, is the addition of a mode that answers a lot of the criticisms aimed at games like Farming Sim - a proper career, or as the game calls it, "campaign" mode. Seeing you inheriting a farm from your late granddad, the game's career is an objective based mode that gives you targets, missions and goals to complete. Slowly easing you into the world of farming, you'll take on a series of missions that work as more of a quick tutorial than anything else, as the game talks you through the many different processes you'll need to keep an eye on while running the farm - but what's surprising is that, rather than drying up, the tasks keep coming. Providing some much needed structure to the game, the career mode constantly throws missions and objectives your way, meaning there's always something to be working towards, and a goal to achieve. Before too long, you'll be reaping what you sow, buying up extra patches of land, and expanding your farm around the world to Italy, Japan, and Colombia - a long way from your humble roots in the US of A.
As with many games like this, Pure Farming 18 is a game that places a lot of emphasis on immersion. Rather than pressing a button or waiting for a timer, this is a game that asks you to do everything yourself - from manning the combine harvester and gathering your crops, to ploughing the fields down again, and choosing the next seed to sow. With a handy first person option letting you get inside each of the game's vehicles, while it may not be quite as in depth a simulation as Train Sim World (you can't interact with any of the switches in the cab, for example), there's still a cool feeling when you hop in your combine harvester, and start reaping the rewards of all your hard work. There's even a few really nice (yet also really weird) touches, like the ability to wash your tractors when they get dirty - even if we are a bit disappointed that you don't actually wash the dirt off yourself (just pointing your hose at the tractor seems to gradually clean the entire thing).
As with Farming Sim, Pure Farming 18 is a game about cycles. You'll plough your fields, sow the seeds, gather the crops, and then take your produce down to the local sales centre to sell it on for a profit. The more money you get, the more fields you can buy; the more fields you buy, the more money you make, and the bigger and better machinery you can buy; in turn letting you make more money, faster. The bigger your farm gets, the more you'll have to start to delegate things out, too, with your fat cheque book letting you hire workers to run some of the fields, giving you chance to concentrate on doing the fun bits.
And the career mode really does make a huge difference to the game. One of our biggest criticisms about the Farming Simulator games has always been that there's not really all that much structure to them - if you're not really all that self driven when it comes to building the biggest farm possible just for the lols, then there's not really much to give you reason to keep going. And while Pure Farming 18 does have a Free Farming mode, which lets you choose where to start, and how much money you want to set out with in your bank, the addition of the career mode makes a huge difference.
The different territories offer more than just a change of scenery, too - in Colombia, Japan and Italy, you'll be growing different crops, using a wide variety of different (and sometimes bizarre) machinery to keep your farm going. From lanky coffee bean gatherers in Colombia, to a single wheel bike with a giant ski on the back that plants rice in Japan, there's a surprising amount of variety here, beyond the standard ploughing and harvesting on a tractor - even if that kind of still is what you're doing, technically.
However, alongside the My First Farm and Free Farming options, Pure Farming 18 also offers one final mode - the much vaunted Challenge Mode. And again, this is a really well done, and interesting kind of addition to the genre. Offering eight challenges per territory, there's a really broad range of unusual tasks and scenarios on offer here, with each usually seeing you working against a timer. From a farm being threatened by a forest fire in Columbia, forcing you to gather as much as you can before the flames start licking at your doors, to scenarios that see you having to deal with a drought (meaning there's a lot of crops to irrigate), or which simply give you a load of broken down vehicles, and asks you how many you can limp to the garage in fifteen minutes, there are some really interesting tasks here that test how you approach the game, and force you to think in different ways.
And if anything, that's really the par for the course with Pure Farming 18 - this is a game that's different as it is impressive, and a real game changer that puts Farming Simulator on the back foot. Having clearly thought really hard about what farming sims were missing, developers Ice Flames have put together a game that's genuinely inventive - and it'll be interesting to see how Farming Sim responds. While we would have liked some more realistic weather effects (it's sad that the rain doesn't actually hit your windscreen, making your wipers just for show), and an in-game radio wouldn't have gone amiss (we're looking at you, Euro Truck Simulator), Pure Farming 18 offers so many interesting little ideas, it's a lot of fun to mess around with. With Free Farming mode giving seasoned pros the sanbox they love to mess around in, while the structured My First Farm mode and Challenges will keep everyone else happy, this is a game that caters to almost all bases - so long as you find the idea of a farming game fun. With Farming Sim taking a year out to perform a graphical overhaul (amongst other upgrades), it'll be interesting to see how Giants respond. Having been unchallenged for so many years, there's a new king of the farming sim in town.