Ranch Simulator | PC Review
Ranch Simulator is exactly what the title says, a sandbox builder featuring a ranch, and mild combat with wildlife. It is still being developed by Toxic Dog and published by Excalibur Games and was early-access released on Steam March 4th 2021. For reference, this review was made playing the Steam version after the first major update in April 2021. I played the game solo. Please note that the game is set for another major update already in June 2021, which will reset your progress due to drastically changing the premise for placing certain buildings, in case you were thinking about getting it and start playing right now. The game is expected to remain in early access for the remainder of 2021, with a full release approximately one year after early access release.
The first thing you do is create a character to play, and this is done in the full blown character creator interface. While it’s cool that this exists, the purpose of such an extravagant feature eludes me, as you play the game watching your character from the back, in third person. There are no dialogue interactions or anything to give your character further personality, so having customized looks seems unnecessary at this point.
Once in the game, you are put right outside the property, and given a bit of tutorial info together with the beginning of the main quest. The main quest itself is a short series of quests meant to get you started on the ranch, so it’s basically a “tutorial” renamed “quest”. You quickly realise that you inherited a pile of bonfire wood rather than a ranch. And it’s your job to turn it back into its former glory. From the get go you actually have to save/sleep in a tent outside. Quest markers grant quick progress through your tasks, but also remove any challenge from the first half hour of playing. Once done with the tutorial, you are free to do as you please. It’s up to you to get the produce going, and make money!
It’s around here that I'm starting to lose interest in the game. The game feels like it’s full of ambivalence, and while freedom to explore and make your own choices is often a good thing, it was difficult to get on board and decide what to do first, or even realise what my options were. There are several paths, but none of them are clear. The biggest problem with this is I don’t know how to start making money, except waiting for the chickens the tutorial told me to buy, to start laying eggs. It makes the game feel very slow and difficult to get into. Everything I choose to do feels like a chore and unrewarding (it IS a game about simulating chores though, so I guess the title didn’t lie).
Controls are a bit weird, you pick up and “release” stuff with the mouse but you “use” stuff with a use key, which can get confusing. It would make more sense to have one button for all of this. The camera feels a bit clunky overall but especially while driving. The whole game actually is a concept where a top down may serve the purpose better than 1st or 3rd person in a 3D world. Music is what you would expect from the menu, ranchy western tunes on stringed instruments. Inside the game itself it seems music actually only plays when you are close to a turned-on radio, and thus is entirely optional. There seems to be two radio stations, namely classical and another one leaning towards rockabilly and the like. The volume difference on these stations are extreme, so I preferred the classical. One of the first things you have to do is demolish the ruined living house. While it can be unnecessarily tricky to find the “next part to demolish”, it’s quite effective to go haywire with the crowbar while listening to a classical piece.
Overall, the graphics are decent but the other aspects of the game feel unrefined, for example physics. This is not always negative as it brings a bit of comedy. Things you transport are glued to the car, so it doesn’t matter if you accidentally make a hilarious backflip over the railroad tracks. Some mechanics are also quite illogical and I’ll quickly name a few. Even though you are asked to buy two chickens, you only need to load and unload one to complete the quest. It’s not clear to me why but you have to mow grass to build facilities. You can fell a tree, and then cut it up into logs before it hits the ground. The woman in the general store sits there 24/7, but will only let you in between 8 am and 9 pm. There is no way to save outside of the sleeping area. There is no warning that you’ll lose data if you quit without saving, something I learned the hard way.
I’m not sure what is in store for this game with future updates until full release, but it severely needs; more tutorial/narrative and story to grant purpose, some kind of task tracker (beyond the 10-11 quests that are the tutorial) that shows what you are currently able to do in terms of building facilities etc, more tooltips and descriptions of how building/doing something will actually help you progress, and an interface where you can view buildings, their tiers and get an understanding of what might be a good idea to do first.
Of course there is a possibility that I do not have enough experience with this kind of game, and therefore I do not understand how to have fun with it. At least it feels like the game caters to a very narrow audience, and it was simply not for me. I do, however, have respect for games that try niches. While I have no doubt that the developer is putting their finest effort and love into this game, the current state still feels quite crude and a bit shallow. The character creator feels more developed than much of the actual game content. That said, there are some wonky physics and gimmicks that grant the game a certain charm, and I find myself unable to totally tank the rating. Also I’m sure it would be more than twice as fun if you played it with friends and undertook projects together.
Victor’s Rating: (of the current state of early access) 2 Tractors out of 5.