Here's an increasingly apparent fact; people like games that simulate cooking, cleaning and tidying up, people like to play simulations of all sorts of work – often of the job they actually do in real life… And some people actually play job-like sims at work.
Of course, the major appeal of, and much of the satisfaction gained from simulators is the fact that you can "have a go" at something you're unlikely to ever be able to do in real life, like fly a Boeing 747 over central London or New York City in Microsoft Flight Simulator, or race an F1 car around Monaco in Codemasters' F1 series, but there are more mundane tasks that hold just as much appeal to gamers as the glamorous fantasies above, like contract lawn mowing… Yep, lawn mowing.
Lawn Mowing Simulator features three game modes; Career Mode, Challenge Mode and Free Mow(ed?):
In Career Mode you can build a business, you're given a basic headquarters to operate from but basically build it from the ground up, taking on the best-paying contracts as you work through a calendar year. At the same time you'll soon be looking to expand your garage and take on an employee, who can be sent out on the jobs you don't fancy. Later on you can move to better premises, take on up to 4 employees, take out loans and have to maintain your mowers.
Challenge Mode puts you in a selection of tricky situations with limited fuel, racing against the clock or striping a large lawn accurately and neatly.
The main career mode isn't exactly high-stress, but Free Mow is a real chill out mode, which allows you to repeat any completed contract location with the mower, cut height, and weather of your choice.
When starting your career, the first thing you have to do is name your company and make an avatar. After a few bad ideas (Grassholes, Grass Bandits and Law & Norder) and ended up naming my company Depeche Mowed and imaginatively called my avatar "Me". Then, unsurprisingly you'll be needing a mower. There are only two to choose from initially; a classic ride-on tractor-style Stiga (a real manufacturer) and a Knight rear-wheel-steer model designed by Skyhook themselves (which is an excellent first choice – who'd have thought it?)
Once you've accepted the first contract you'll be transported to the job site, and the first thing to do is a ground search for foreign objects, which could be anything from a garden gnome to a (presumably) dog poop. Then you can start the mower and adjust the cutting height as specified in the contract (I'm always forgetting this important part.) Should you cut any of the grass at the wrong height, you'll get a fine, so the in-game tip that it may be quicker to cut grass twice if it's very long (rather than be forced to mow slowly) seems a bit iffy as it guarantees you'll incur a small fine.
The mowers handle in a believable fashion and the steering is accurate, but could definitely have been less twitchy. Slopes can play havoc with your neat and tidy driving and should you collide with any scenery or mow down any plants or flowers you will incur penalty fines, as will leaving skidmarks because you turned too fast (usually on a wet lawn only.) The four different views should cater for everyone, but if you don't use the first person view I reckon you're wussin' out. Playing Lawn Mowing Simulator for weeks has convinced me it's a better test of your driving skills than many racing games, and unlike most of them is highly addictive with clear advancement and objectives, as well as incentives.
Once you've established yourself and added a bay to your HQ, you can buy a second mower and take on an employee. As you complete more contracts, more potential workers will apply for jobs with you and you can choose a rookie or go for someone with more experience - who'll obviously demand a higher wage but will treat the equipment better and accrue fewer fines for damaging customer's property. You can only have four employees so it's worth choosing wisely, although interestingly enough there's an achievement for training an operative all the way from Apprentice to Expert - when I did this, he did a couple more contracts and then went on holiday, never to be seen again…
Lawn Mowing Simulator has a selection of 9 real-world mowers and 3 fictional brand mowers, the real-world licensed lawn mowers coming from well-known manufacturers Toro, Scag and Stiga. There are three types of mower; traditional tractor-style, rear-wheel-steer and zero turn. Some contracts will require your mower to have rollers which create stripes. These attachments are optional extras which are only available for the Scag Patriot and its bigger brother the Turf Tiger II. Why all the mowers are rotary bladed and there are no cylinder mowers (which naturally brush the grass in the direction of the cut to create stripes) I don't know, but it's a shame there are none. I was also a bit surprised to see no 4-wheel steer mowers, as they presumably allow you to get right into those tight corners.
The mowers are intricately detailed and operate as you'd expect, decks lower and raise, grass collectors can be emptied and even little details like levers, pedals and casters move as they should, this won't come as a surprise if you know that Skyhook Games also do the modelling for amazing looking trains in Train Sim World.
OK, enough of the praise, now for some criticism. The game is missing two BIG things; a mid-job game save (which is both inexplicable and unforgivable when jobs can take over an hour to complete) and a co-op multiplayer - which is without doubt a dropped-ball by the developer. It was a much requested option during the beta and would surely have been popular. Maybe employing friends and then firing them because they destroyed too many flowers is something to look forward to in the inevitable sequel.
How about a grass trimmer to tidy up the bits you just can't reach on some lawns with certain mowers? No contract will ever require you mow more than 99.9% of the lawn but being tempted to trim right up to those flowers and getting a fine because the steering is a tad twitchy is annoying.
Just being deposited at a job is also a bit of a shame, being able to actually drive to the various jobs set in a whole little Lawn Mowing Simulator village would have made this game something special. You spend a fortune buying and upgrading your HQ and don't even get to walk around it and check out your collection of mowers?
The game has dynamic weather and the overall is really nice, but on cloudy or rainy days some of the lighting seems a bit weird to my eyes, with deep shadows that sometimes make it so hard to see where you're going that you'd like headlights on your mower. In addition to this, as impressive as the grass is with its hundreds of thousands of individual blades, sometimes I can't help feeling that it looked better before I mowed it! - as some mowers seem to leave big ugly wheel tracks, and these aren't skidmarks either. Only having two mowers that have rollers and can leave 'stripes' seems odd too.
And a final complaint; although there are a total of 31 locations, I've had the same job come up as an option 3 or more days on the trot, and sometimes the grass has grown up to 12cm/4.7 inches overnight!
Lawn Mowing Simulator is an immersive and wholesome game that the entire family can relate to and enjoy – although I'm sure there's a 'Greta' out there ready to complain that the entire selection of mowers are petrol-powered and there are no electric options or ones that run on biofuel, solar power, dilithium crystals or magic moonbeams.
After years of crappy top-down arcade type mowing games it's great to have a proper simulator developed by a team that actually cares about the subject matter and the end product. It's honestly hard to describe how addictive and immersive LMS is. Maybe you could mow your lawn before you play, so you get that freshly cut grass smell - or better yet, get the kids to do it so you don't get interrupted during a particularly tricky mow job?