(Developer provided review code. RANCH SIMULATOR is in Early Access now.)

You’re out by the produce stand the other day

I spent a month with RANCH SIMULATOR and lived to tell the tale.

There’s a lot you can do in RANCH SIMULATOR, and even more that you’ll want to do but can’t. In its Early Access form, it’s a compelling mix of hardcore lifestyle simulation, which, for now, doesn’t quite reach the lofty goals it sets for itself. 

Your grandfather has passed away and left you the family ranch. It’s a decrepit old place filled with nostalgia and promise, but little in the way of actual working utilities. But you’ve made a promise to restore it to the glory days and doggone it; that’s what you’ll do. 

The first nights will pass under the stars in a little tent, the grand manor house in such a condition not even roaches will live there. From there, it’s cleaning up garbage, pulling down the old tapestry, fixing the old tractor. In short: chores. 

Back to choring

These kinds of simulators remain something of a mystery to me. I’m what you’d call indoorsy, so the concept of spending my days outside doing yardwork is not particularly appealing. As such, games like STARDEW VALLEY or HARVEST MOON hold little interest to me, except as wish-fulfillment simulators. As in, sure, it would be nice to own a lot of lands and a beautiful ranch, but no, I’m not going to be choring on it. 

But something about the strict dedication to minutiae in RANCH SIMULATOR does appeal to me. Maybe it’s the same gluttony for punishment that drives me to play DARK SOULS. In RANCH SIMULATOR, you wake up every morning bright and early, repeat the same chores that need repeating, and hopefully, you’ll have time to work on one more significant thing before the sun sets. That something at first is the house, and it sets the tone right off the bat. 

Everything needs to be pulled down by hand, and each item is its own clickable object. Want to pull down a wall? You’ll have to remove the nails, the boards, the wallpaper, and every little tiny piece you can find first. After spending some forty-five minutes just tearing down the top two floors, I looked around in bewilderment. Is this really what I was spending my time on? But by then, I was already well into the project, and it felt wrong to leave it unfinished.

Pitter-patter, let’s git at ‘er

There’s a kind of addictive sickness that RANCH SIMULATOR casts on the player. I can’t say it’s fun, but it’s certainly not-not-fun either. It’s one of those things where this stuff needs to get done, and nobody else is going to do it. I don’t know if it’s a kind of psychosis, but RANCH SIMULATOR milks it for all its worth. 

Add to that a surprisingly engaging multiplayer mode, and RANCH SIMULATOR turns infuriatingly fun. Watching your friends work together to craft a working ranch has a zen-like quality to it. Even better are the late-night drunken hunting trips, which are just as asinine as they sound.

The game is in Early Access right now, which means it’s incomplete at the time of writing. I’ve spent on-and-off about a month with it, going through a few smaller updates to see how the project shapes up. So far, RANCH SIMULATOR improves constantly. There’s not exactly a plethora of things to do, but even the most mundane tasks will keep you occupied for a good ten hours or so. 

That’ll do pig, that’ll do

While still a work in progress, many elements remain rough, and even for a niche subject, RANCH SIMULATOR is an acquired taste. Storefronts barely have UI’s, and the physics are wobbly. Driving, in particular, is a pain. Even little things like placing items or building things feel like they could do with a couple of extra days in refinement.  

But that’s what you’d expect from an Early Access game. Part of the fun is seeing how these things take shape, and even over a month, it’s evident that RANCH SIMULATOR knows where it’s going. 

For the dedicated, it’s the kind of lifestyle management that appeals to a certain few, but they, in turn, will love it to bits. The rest of us can admire the dedication to something as strangely appealing as farming and how developer Toxic Dog has picked up the fine details of just what drives people to this sort of thing.

As always, I don’t score Early Access titles, but I will return to RANCH SIMULATOR later in the year when it releases fully for a complete review. Until then, give it a look. It’s certainly unlike anything else out there.