Most gamers have had the experience of being burned by a game with “simulator” appended at the end of the title. At this point, the word is less a descriptor of a genre than it is an indicator of a generally poorer quality title. Fortunately, Ranch Simulator appears, at first glance, to be an exception to the rule, but the early access nature of the game means its sitting at a critical juncture where a great deal of more content is necessary.
Right off the bat, Ranch Simulator surprised me with just how well polished it was. The experience opens with unexpectedly deep character customization that rivals titles with far greater backing. Seriously, players can customize nearly everything they’d want to about their character. After the initial loading screen, this attention to detail continues. While there is plenty to critique from Ranch Simulator, there isn’t much to be said against its aesthetic.
I think during the entirety of my play, I encountered only a small handful of visual bugs. An oddly conspicuous one is the character’s arm clipping through the hoodie clothing option, which isn’t the end of the world, but it feels at odds with the otherwise polished nature of the visuals. But, these tiny imperfections are easy to overlook when considering the gorgeous lighting, rendering, and general finish within the game.
Ranch Simulator starts off on a simple enough premise. The player has been left a dilapidated property and has to use a bit of elbow grease to fix it up. During the tutorial, the mechanics feel fairly engaging if a bit shallow. There’s really only a handful of tools and items to use such as an ax, a crowbar, a lawnmower, and the like. You start the game by fueling up your UTV, heading to the store, grabbing a handful of chickens, and setting up a coop for them. This is followed by tearing down and rebuilding the old house on the property.
But that’s it, and it’s also where the problems with Ranch Simulator become apparent. After the tutorial ends, most of the content has been laid out in front of you, and a sense of purposelessness begins to creep in. It’s odd because at some level a simulator game is always going to be relatively purposeless. By their nature, they put players at the steering wheel and in control of their own experience, but a modicum of guidance would be nice. As it stands, the game doesn’t feel like it’s offering you freedom, but instead just leaving you to flounder.
To make matters worse, the world of Ranch Simulator feels completely empty. There’s maybe a total of 3 NPCs, and a smattering of animals throughout the woods, but in general it doesn’t feel lived in. Here, again, the intended experience diverges wildly from the actual experience. Ranch Simulator doesn’t give the relaxing feel of taking a break from busy city life, it instead feels overwhelmingly isolating and borderline depressing. There’s just nothing there.
The fundamental issue in Ranch Simulator is that there is a marked dearth of content, but the content that is available is relatively well done. It’s hard to condemn the game completely because the developer’s efforts shine through the finished content, but even what is finished struggles simply because it stands alone. Sure, the demolishing mechanics function better than expected. Yes, the visual aesthetics are great. I could list about a hundred successes in Ranch Simulator, but I could also list about a hundred features that need to be included.
Ultimately, Ranch Simulator is refreshingly polished for the genre, and it does genuinely feel like the developer’s care about the state of the game, but there’s not enough to keep your average player interested for long. It’s like an immaculately designed and decorated apartment with no furniture at all. Sure, it’s nice to stand there and take it all in for a minute or two, but there’s nowhere to sit.