No… just, no…
I have to preface this review with a scene from the 1973 film Soylent Green, an essential sci-fi classic which is surely due for its big budget, controlled-narrative remake soon. The film depicts a brutal Orwellian future (in the distant year of, uh… 2022) where elite families rule a broken world, and the lower classes cannot escape or mount a successful resistance. People sleep on top of each other in apartment stairwells like rats, and real food is a bygone relic – the Soylent company produces artificial, lab-grown “foods” in a range of colours – Red, Yellow, and the titular Green – which serve to keep the populace weak and minimally nourished.
Unfortunately, Lawn Mowing Simulator is not analogous to the beef, but to Soylent’s mass-produced bars of chemical sludge; masquerading as food and available everywhere, yet barely meeting even the most basic requirements of such a classification. “How did we come to this?” the old-timer Sol Ruth laments, with tears in his eyes. Indeed…
In a recent Gamespot piece, developer Skyhook Games had this to say;
"When we first set out to create Lawn Mowing Simulator, we had one goal: we wanted to show as many people as possible what it's like to operate ride on mowers for a living, and what it's like to build your own business where grass rules everything…"
Yeah, right. ‘As many people as possible’, that’s the kicker – I suspect their motives were perhaps more of the financial variety. It took some warped genius to exploit the marketing potential of this idea in the world’s current state, I’ll give them that. But Skyhook are now laughing their way to the bank while you mow a bunch of shitty, lifeless lawns in real time.
From The Gamer; “Simulators are a special kind of genre. While most games are about creating a particular type of experience, the simulation genre isn’t actually about creating anything at all,” suggests our own Justin Reeve, a self-professed fan of flight simulators and a pilot in real life. “Simulators are about recreating something. This of course creates all sorts of problems... like whether a given aspect of the flight model is accurate, but it represents, in any case, a completely different approach when it comes to game design. You’re trying to make something as close to reality as possible.” I would add that a good simulator should also simulate something which the average person is not likely to ever do in real life (ie. Flight Simulator). Otherwise, realism should play second fiddle to fun gameplay. Lawn Mowing Simulator is a far cry from being “fun”, and it’s not particularly realistic, either. After the inexplicable success of recent ‘joke sims’ like Goat Simulator I was expecting some humour from the game…after all, the title itself is enough to elicit a pained chuckle from the uninitiated…but beyond that the game is excruciatingly dry, with no story, cutscenes, dialogue or NPC interactions whatsoever. It’s a real shitter.
You missed a spot…
Let’s talk about one of the game’s few features. As many have noted it’s rather difficult to mow every single blade of grass, even by driving slowly and in straight lines. I guess this is technically “realistic” but in practice it’s just annoying; you can press and hold Y/Triangle to view all the bits of grass you’ve missed, but you actually have to stop mowing before you can do this. You’ll get sick of it real fast. What else have we got, then? Officially licensed lawn mower models which will surely excite nobody, besides (perhaps) those who already work in the industry…though I highly doubt that any of these folks would prefer to mow a virtual lawn and get paid nothing, for the same amount of time they could have been mowing a real lawn for real money.
What might have worked better is if Skyhook had looked into blockchain/NFT technology and made this a Play-to-Earn model instead. Graphics wouldn’t matter, as LMS looks dated anyway (on PS4 and X|S), and the environments/properties are essentially lifeless. The grass looks alright in LMS, I guess…but given that this game is literally about mowing grass, and nothing else, they could have put in a lot more effort here. No turbo mowing Multiplayer madness, either *sadface*. Even if you had the ability to look inside each mower’s engine, and diagnose/fix problems, or something – that would expand the gameplay enormously, and you’d learn stuff, too! Perhaps as with Gran Turismo, some manufacturers were not comfortable with their products being heavily damaged or tinkered with in-game, though I’d wager this was possibly just outside of the team’s scope, or not considered for inclusion. Normally I’d say fair enough, but this is supposed to be a straight-up simulator, and it’s not like the game is jam-packed full of other modes or features to compensate.
This brings us to a more fundamental problem, which lies at the core of the idea itself. Comparing LMS to something like PowerWash Simulator is handy because the latter has taken an activity which is not only aesthetically pleasing to perform in-game, but which also (more importantly) transcribes well to videogame controls. Hence, fun! The arcade classic Tapper established this almost 40 years ago, and the inclusion of its tribute/clone ‘Nuka Cola Tapper’ in Fallout 4 proves that the formula is timeless. The problem with LMS is that it’s not only a simulator – it’s specifically catering for this trending sub-genre of casual ‘Relaxo-Sims’ which are intended to be nice and chilled and relaxing to play, without any overly strenuous controls, complex puzzles, or the like. Other genres are crossing into this sphere at the moment; the RPG platformer Omno being a great example. However, in Lawn Mowing Simulator, once you’ve done the “ground check” on a Map and picked up the same four nondescript items that could potentially ‘damage’ your mower, you get on the mower…start the engine…and spend the next 30-45 minutes with R2 held down (but not all the way down, of course, as this will overload the motor). It’s mind-numbingly dull.
Come to think of it, is mowing the lawn really all that relaxing in real life? It’s loud, tedious work, requires the use of safety glasses, and most regular ride-on mowers will give you a fair workout after a while. You’re also bound to kill and maim a decent variety of ground-dwelling critters in the process, and destroy food sources for others. Many nonetheless feel it is satisfying to cut grass in this way, however I think the only way you could properly translate this to gaming is with an arcade machine. You need to be able to feel the rumble of the engine through the back of your seat, and the pedals could vibrate a certain way when you’re connecting with the grass, etc. Console controllers and keyboards just aren’t going to cut it, if you’ll pardon the pun.
New World Mower
At the end of your toil you receive roughly the equivalent of what you’d get in real life, and buying new equipment or depots (I think that’s all you can “level up” to, anyway – if there’s more, I don’t care) is so expensive you would have to mow an obscene amount of these lawns, without any differentiation in gameplay, before you could afford the top items. Unfortunately the core gameplay loop is neither relaxing or engaging enough to make this worth the effort for most players.
In my brief time with this product, which constantly reminded of the World Economic Forum’s nefarious line “you will own nothing, and you will be happy”, I half-expected Klaus Schwab to jump out from behind the hedges and check my social credit score / impact on the environment / whether or not I had been a good boy. After only four lawns mowed, I was about ready to cry, just like poor old Sol in Soylent Green.
Lawn Mowing Simulator is an unsalvageably bad idea which has somehow been brought to fruition and plastered on the front page of gaming marketplaces the world over. PC modders should have a field day with this one, and at present that’s really the only sort of person I could in any way recommend it to. Now go and mow your own lawn, if you feel so inclined, and are lucky enough to possess one!