Tech by VICE

Farming Simulator’s $300 Controller Is About as Hardcore as Gaming Gets

Farming with keyboards is for noobs.

by Emanuel Maiberg
Nov 28 2015, 2:00pm

Photo: Angela Lashbrook

I've done many challenging things in games recently, from slaying hordes of humanoid rats in Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide, to beating the magic-casting game Magicka 2. But the most hardcore gaming experience I've had this year was was trying to lift a bail of hay in Farming Simulator 2015 while using the $300 Heavy Equipment Precision Control System.

Farming Simulator 2015, in case you've missed the phenomenon, is exactly what it sounds like. It's a game where you manage a farm much like you would manage a city in SimCity, but you can also perform a wider variety of seemingly menial tasks, like hoeing, sowing, harvesting, and transporting crops, all while driving any number of accurately recreated, brand-name tractors, combines, and other heavy duty farming equipment. It might sound silly, but as we've previously reported, the Farming Simulator series is way bigger and more fun than you think. I love it.

The $300 Heavy Equipment Precision Control System from video game accessory maker Saitek is exactly what it sounds like, too. It's complicated input device custom-made for Farming Simulator 15. It Includes:

  • A wheel with a number of buttons, including a power handle and turn signal switches where your fingers rest.
  • A Side Panel Control Deck with more than 20 buttons, including a large joystick for precise crane control and other machinery.
  • Two pedals for your feet.

These devices, which came in one giant box, are surprisingly easy to set up. The wheel and side panel clamp on to the edge of your desk and require a USB connection each, while the pedals simply rest on the floor and connect to the wheel via a phone cable, which I haven't held for what feels like a decade.

Here's what the setup looks like at my computer, with additional commentary from my girlfriend, who was horrified to discover there are far more nerdy eyesores than a Wii U Gamepad I can inflict on our apartment.

And here's a picture of me having the time of my life with it.

Image: Angela Lashbrook

Note that I put the control deck left of the wheel. I'm not used to driving anything these days, and so forgot that it should have gone right of the wheel like a stick shift, but in practice it didn't bother me.

The Heavy Equipment Precision Control System is not as solidly built as it appears in pictures. It's mostly made out of light plastic and certain parts feel like they can come loose or break easily. The rubber-covered surface at the end of the control deck's clamp, for example, came flying off when I tightened it with just a little bit of force. The pedals slid around beneath the table while I was using them, and needed more rubber feet to keep them in place.

That being said, the rubber surface reattached easily, and pushing the pedals against the walls kept them more or less in place. Either way, it wasn't too much of a hassle.

In fact, I had a ton of fun, and if it having a whole tractor control system between me and the boring keyboard I use for work every day was more practical, that's probably the only way I'd play the game. In reality, the only practical way to use the Heavy Equipment Precision Control System without having to set it up every time you want to play is to have a dedicated Farming Simulator 2015 station, which I don't have room for in my apartment. Also, my girlfriend would probably leave me.

Besides watching your agricultural empire grow, what I love about Farming Simulator 2015 is finding zen in tedium, neatly driving my combine back and forth over amber fields of grain. Having to physically turn a wheel, work the pedals, and reach over to the control deck in order to lower the harvester made the game much harder, but also much more satisfying.

Simple maneuvers, like turning my combine around, which I used to easily perform with two fingers on a keyboard, now required the full motion of my arms to turn the wheel, while coordinating with my feet to drive forward and reverse. It was awkward at first, but once I got some muscle memory in place it felt like I was doing something. Not actual, backbreaking farm work, of course, but something more than just twiddling my thumbs.

I'm not exaggerating when I'm I say that it took me the better part of an hour to get those two bales of hay into a mixer wagon so I can feed my cows. Granted, Farming Simulator isn't very good at explaining how to operate its complicated machinery, so not knowing what's supposed to go where was part of the problem, but mostly it was getting that control deck joystick to do my bidding.

I've bested a lot of gaming challenges in my life. I got all 120 stars in Super Mario 64, I've finished the Facility level in Goldeneye 007 in under 2:05. I even beat those ridiculously hard Super Star Wars games. But stabbing that bale with my tractor's front loader, raising it high in the air, and dunking it in that mixer wagon was one of the most hardcore, victorious moments I've experienced in a video game.

Sadly, Saitek's Heavy Equipment Precision Control System had to go back in the big box it came in. It's just too much work to tear down and set back up every time I want to play Farming Simulator 2015. But if you have the room for it and the gall to spend $300 on a farming video game controller, I highly recommend it.