Farming like a rock star with Saitek's Farming Simulator bundle
"The first rule of Farm Club is: You do not talk about Farm Club."
For years the simulator genre bubbled along without many North American gamers knowing or caring much about it. But with the advent of YouTube and the erosion of the barriers separating European and American gamers, simulator games are more popular than ever. Whether you want to drive a truck, cut down a tree, or fly a plane there's a simulator out there for you.
Farming Simulator games have been delighting a very particular type of gamer since 2012. In Farming Simulator you are placed in charge of some pastoral fields and tasked with cultivating, planting, harvesting, and selling crops to make money. You use the money to buy better machinery and more fields so you can make more money, and then you keep doing that over and over again until you get bored.
Farming Simulator 15 was released earlier this year, and introduced forestry into the game among other improvements and upgrades. Now players can expand their agricultural empires beyond the fields into the woods, whether going it alone or teaming up with friends in the game's popular multiplayer.
"Farm big or farm home."
-Traditional farmer saying
For my first-ever experience with Farming Simulator, I wanted to play the game at the highest possible level. It looks like I waited for the right time to put on my first pair of virtual overalls, because peripheral company Mad Catz (through their Saitek brand) have recently released the Farming Simulator bundle, a trio of officially licensed and fully supported peripherals designed specifically for controlling the heavy machines of the Farming Simulator world.
The Farming Simulator bundle can be yours for just under $300. The wheel and pedals and vehicle side panel are available separately if you prefer (in case you already have a wheel and pedals for some other game) but if you're going to spend $150 for accessories to play Farming Simulator it almost seems silly not to spend $300 for the whole official package, doesn't it?
Everything about this peripheral package has been designed to give you an authentic heavy machinery experience, and it shows. The steering wheel rotates 900 degrees, and comes with a removable one-handed turn knob so you can execute perfect U-turns while operating the control panel, texting on your phone, or holding a beer (please note that this is only recommended while driving a virtual tractor, and shouldn't be attempted in real life).
Since so much of the challenge and fun of Farming Simulator involves making efficient turns at the end of your "crop lanes" (this is very technical farming jargon with which you might not be familiar) using a wheel specifically designed for it makes the whole experience a lot more fun than using a standard wheel or a mouse and keyboard setup.
"A poor farmer blames his tools. A rich farmer spends $300 on peripherals."
The control panel is fantastic, sporting more than 25 programmable buttons and a joystick capable of six axes of movement with its twistable top and mode switch button. The joystick is a life-saver when it comes to Farming Simulator 15's new logging features, as the complex cranes introduced in the game's newest edition can be frustrating to manage with less-specialized controls.
It's a nice touch that the panel attaches to the edge of your desk or table in the same way as the steering wheel, rather than just resting on top. This allows you to really create a proper tractor experience, with the buttons and joystick in roughly the same place as they would be in real life.
The panel offered a great way to learn Farming Simulator, since the distinct colors and shapes of the different buttons helped me remember what did what without having to constantly look at the on-screen prompts. It helps that the controls function similarly from one vehicle to the next, so you start to anticipate what button you'll press to turn on a particular function and what switch you'll flip to attach a trailer.
Though, sadly, the switches don't actually flip. They're just buttons shaped like switches.
There's nothing special about the pedals, especially when compared to some of the other models on the market which feature real metal in their construction. The Farming Simulator pedals are simple plastic, like the rest of the bundle, though the base is well-constructed and grippy so you shouldn't encounter any slipping problems. Considering most of the machines you're driving in Farming Simulator reach top speeds of around 20 miles per hour with the gas to the floor, it makes sense for the pedals to be the least-impressive part of the whole bundle.
As is the case with many wheel/pedal combos, I had trouble positioning the pedals so my knee didn't clunk against the underside of the wheel, where it fastened to the table. I ended up moving the pedals to the side a bit and was able to use them without trouble, but this is a struggle other tall folks out there are likely familiar with.
"too many barns, harms the farm. too few barns, farm alarm. adequate barns, farms like a charm." -conventional wisdom
— Brian Lee (@LRcomic) August 8, 2013
To really maximize my farming joy, I combined the Saitek bundle with some of the very best hardware and peripherals we have on hand around the GameCrate offices. I paired Acer's new Predator gaming laptop with the X34 curved G-SYNC monitor to get an immersive experience at the highest possible graphics settings.
The wheel and control panel eliminate the need to ever use the mouse and keyboard in-game with Farming Simulator 15 (with dual joysticks on the wheel handling the game's occasional on-foot portions), but just as a good farmer doesn't plant a lousy crop right in the middle of his best field (I assume) I didn't want a low-end keyboard or mouse getting in the way of my farming dreams. I went with the Mamba Chroma TE from Razer and the MX 6.0 keyboard from Cherry (which I've personally modified with textured WASD keys scavenged from the Corsair Strafe).
"Get rich or farm trying."
I spent several days enjoying the world of Farming Simulator 15 with this dream-come-true setup, and had more fun than I ever imagined would be possible with a farming game. If you're a fan of the franchise and have the money to spend, this bundle is an easy recommendation. Compared to playing the game with a mouse and keyboard, it's no contest. Much of Farming Simulator's appeal rests in the way it makes you feel like an actual farmer, and the Saitek bundle represents a huge leap forward in that regard.
If the idea of driving digital tractors around a simulated farm doesn't appeal to you at all, $300 of peripherals are not likely to make a difference. The core experience of playing Farming Simulator 15 remains the same, and it can't compare to the fun of more traditional games for many players. But there's something special about spinning a tractor around a field with the Saitek wheel that hasn't been captured often in games before, something that connects with whatever it is that makes some kids love trucks and construction equipment and some people love intricate model trains.
Farming Simulator isn't for everyone, but the Saitek Farming Simulator bundle makes for the very best video game farming experience we've ever had.