If you’ve ever watched an episode of Clarkson’s Farm then you’ll know that farming isn’t easy. It’s slow, time-consuming work and yet richly rewarding when you see the fruits of your labour grow. Farming sims are nothing new in gaming, but quite often it’s part of a wider narrative. Across the Valley, aims to remove all the faff and give players an immersive farming experience that is all about tilling the soil and shearing sheep with your own hands. But if you’re hoping to create your own farming empire, this is not it.
Across the Valley drops you right into a quaint farm with its wooden homestead, barn, chicken coop and field. While you’re given free rein to explore initially, once the first day begins several areas are locked away until you perform various tasks. This began like a tutorial, telling you that seeds need planting and the chicken needs caring for. All fine, learn the ropes and then you’ll be given free rein on the farm. Erm…nope.
Across the farming valley
After the first seven days – you head to bed to move each day on – I wondered if I’d get some leeway. Because even for a training section this was getting long in the tooth. Tasks are pinned to the inside of your home, instructing you to harvest a certain amount of grain or grow tomatoes. In doing so you can unlock new features like sheep and cows, whilst earning more money to buy more chickens or expand your field.
All well and good. However, the hand-holding never let up. I wanted to walk out of my lovely home – which can be upgraded by the way – view a beautiful golden sunrise and start my day, in my own way. Yes, I could head to the chicken coop to see how the ladies were doing, collecting their eggs and giving them a pat on the head. Or go straight to the fields to see how the corn was progressing. Nevertheless, there was never that sense of this is my farm because full control is never quite given.
Part of this has to do with the locomotion system. It relies entirely on teleportation points. Not free teleportation, just specific areas that can be moved between. This method has been employed by VR in the past, yet now comes across as dated and restrictive. I suppose it’s fine for those very new to VR or for younger players. But for most of us used to that joyous immersive freedom VR offers, Across the Farm doesn’t have it.
Another issue is that teleporting can be glitchy. There were plenty of times when I’d land slightly off from the spot. Not too bad when playing standing in a nice open play area, I could just readjust my footing. This was far worse when playing seated or if the position was further off. Because everything is tailored around those specific teleportation points, grabbing any other tools or seed baskets was a nightmare.
On the other hand, there were moments when I did enjoy myself. You can tell developer FusionPlay has tried to make it enjoyably interactive, whilst maintaining some realism. Crops have five stages, for example. Preparing the ground by digging the soil, sowing the seed accurately so you get good coverage, watering the growing crops, removing weeds and finally the harvest. Then there are smaller challenges within some of these. Removing weeds requires raking the ground with the hoe, and if you don’t get all of them some crops can die. Or when you sow the seeds, a percentage indicator tells you how well you’ve managed, aiming for that perfect 100% coverage.
Over in the barn which houses your animals like sheep and cows, you have to ensure they’ve got enough water, and food – supplied from your fields – and are generally happy. Farming isn’t clean either, so poop removal is all part of that process. You don’t want it building up after all. Once your animals reach adulthood further mini-games unlock. You can shear the sheep to collect wool and milk the cows as fast as possible, activities which are fun and a delightful high point in the general plod through Across the Valley. Naturally, you can then sell all your goods to buy more seeds and more animals to continue the process.
Across the Valley review
Across the Valley begins as a charming farming simulator. With a lovely visual art style and the promise of a relaxing countryside experience. While there are certainly highlights along the way like the various mini-games, this is far more farming by numbers. You’re never given enough of a chance to make mistakes and experiment, a sandbox mode would greatly help. Most of all, there was a real lack of atmosphere. It was too tranquil, serene and lonely, I would’ve loved a dog on the front porch. Across the Valley is plain and simple farming. But it lacks the captivating spark to wake you up at sunrise each day.