When we reviewed the Xbox original version of Lawn Mowing Simulator last year it became increasingly apparent that people like tidying up and 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 when they're 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 Codemaster's 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.
After a lengthy closed beta for Xbox insiders, a successful launch and several DLCs, Lawn Mowing Simulator is an established hit on Xbox Series X/S and latterly also on Xbox One. Now the core game also gets an outing on PlayStation, but will it "make the cut?"
Lawn Mowing Simulator features three game modes; Career Mode, Challenge Mode and Free Mow Mode (or should that be 'Mowed'?)
Career Mode is obviously the main meat of the game and here you can build a business, take on contracts, expand to larger premises, buy more/better equipment, advertise, take on employees and bigger contracts. You're given a small headquarters to operate from but basically build a business from the ground up (or should that be from grass roots? – OK, no more grassy puns), 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 HQ garage to allow for a second mower 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 (which you'll need if you want to expand your business at a decent rate) and have to maintain your mowers (refuel, empty grass collector, sharpen blades, repair the engine and any damage.)
To be brutally honest, due to the limited number of locations initially it can soon become a bit of a grind and might all be a bit too much like real life for some. The fact that some contracts will be offered again the very next day after you've mowed the grass is also a bit silly. The addition of grass trimmers/strimmers (which weren't in the original Xbox version) to do edges and fiddly bits with, does help vary the gameplay a little though. Weirdly, because the set of locations included in this core game were made before grass trimmers had been added to the original game, you don't actually need to do any trimming to complete a job! Either pride in our work or the OCD in most of us will see us trimming the edges regardless though. A bonus for being conscientious would have been nice as you can reach the required cut percentage and leave a dirty great patch of uncut grass on some jobs. A nice touch here is the ProView ability (hold R3) which highlights any missed bits in white, which comes in very handy.
Challenge Mode puts you in a selection of tricky situations with limited fuel, racing against the clock. You unlock more challenges as you rank up in the career mode. Some challenges seem easy, others completely impossible, and as some can take a long time to complete, what should have been a fun competitive addition can become a frustration.
The main career mode isn't exactly high-stress, but Free Mow is a real chill out mode which allows you to mow any location with the mower, cut height, and weather of your choice, but once again further locations are unlocked by advancing your career.
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, Law & Norder and Depeche Mowed—the name of our Xbox company) I ended up naming my PlayStation company Mucho GrassyAss and imaginatively called my avatar "Me". Then, unsurprisingly you'll be needing a mower. There are only three to choose from initially; a classic ride-on tractor-style (front wheel steering/rear wheel drive) Stiga (a real manufacturer), the Patterson RO-A (a ride-on that wasn't in the original game) and a Knight OFS1 rear-wheel-steer/front wheel drive model, the latter two designed by Skyhook themselves (the Knight 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 it's wise to get into the habit of checking the required height every time you start your mower.
The mowers handle in a believable fashion and the steering is accurate, if a tad twitchy on some mowers. I'd hoped it'd be less so on the PS5 after beginning to believe all the hype about the controller's adaptive feedback and haptic triggers, but it handles and feels exactly like the Xbox version. Slopes, humps and hollows 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 longer than I should 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.
As I mentioned, 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 and expand your HQ 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. 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 on the Xbox original he did a couple more contracts and then went on holiday, never to be seen again... Thankfully this glitch seems to have been fixed now.
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. 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. You tend to get what you pay for and the large £38,490 Toro is a pleasure to drive and allows even the biggest jobs to be done in a reasonable time, while the cheaper, smaller mowers mean some jobs take ages.
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 caster wheels move as they should. This won't come as a surprise if you know that Skyhook Games also do the modelling for some of the amazing looking trains in Train Sim World 2.
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 unforgiveable 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 an update, or in the inevitable sequel.
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. Also, 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 look of the game is really nice, but to my eyes on cloudy or rainy days some of the lighting seems a bit weird, with deep shadows that sometimes make it so hard to see where you're going that you'd like headlights on your mower! This lack of subtlety in lighting would appear to be a limitation of Unreal Engine 4, as I've seen it in other games that use Epic's engine. I also can't help thinking that, as impressive as the grass is with its hundreds of thousands of individual blades of grass, sometimes the lawn looked better before I mowed it!—as some mowers seem to leave big fugly wheel tracks, and these aren't skidmarks either. Only having two mowers that have rollers and can leave "stripes'' seems odd too. The grass trimmers work reasonably well but has anyone at Skyhook ever used even a small grass trimmer, let alone a big 2-stroke petrol one? The way they sound (more like a model aeroplane than a powerful garden tool) and handle is unconvincing to say the least.
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 'Karen' or "Greta" out there ready to complain that although two of the grass trimmers are electric, the entire selection of mowers are petrol-powered and there are no electric mowers or ones that run on biofuel, solar power, dilithium crystals or magic moonbeams or something.
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 for full immersiveness?