Lawn Mowing Simulator is a great idea, and occasionally enjoyable to play, but it too often feels like a tribute to the mechanised economy around landscaping rather than a celebration of chopping grass. I love riding around the yard in an over-engineered mower contemplating the idle passage of time. Hauling arse to complete contracts that just barely pay for repairs to my equipment? Not so much.
Out last week on PC and Xbox, Skyhook’s Lawn Mowing Simulator has you embark on a landscaping career, cobbling together a business by mowing increasingly complex lawns and upgrading your equipment in the process. You spend the bulk of your time driving riding mowers through fields and over hills, carefully adjusting speed and cutting height to maximise the efficiency of your machine and preventing it from overheating while still getting the job done on time. Complete a job and you get money. That money buys better mowers to complete bigger jobs faster, unlocking more challenging courses and ambitious tools.
In reality of course, you spend most of the game doing absolutely nothing at all besides driving straight and occasionally turning around to go back the way you came. This is Lawn Mowing Simulator’s core appeal: long stretches of rote repetition without a care in the world outside of the hum of the engine and the steady stream of grass clippings. Fossil fuel-powered household tools are destroying the climate (lawns aren’t too great either), so if anything, it’s an ideal time to transport them to a virtual museum where they can do no harm. Unfortunately, Lawn Mowing Simulator just has a bunch of shortcomings that get in the way of that laudable aspiration.
Contracts are timed and easy to fail. I spent one of my early jobs watching the final seconds tick away as I anxiously hunted for that one square foot of grass I’d somehow missed. Try to push your mower too fast and you’ll damage it, kissing your hard-earned money goodbye. There’s even a timer for scouring the lawn before you begin to get rid of any random objects — gardening tools, kids’ toys — that might damage your blades if you hit them. Boot-strapping idioms like “time is money” seem to be the driving force behind the game’s career mode.
There are other disappointments. No push mowers for one. No edging tools. You can accidentally mutilate the petunias and get docked $US20 ($27) but you can’t use a more precise tool to approach each lawn with more precision. Thought seems to have gone into replicating the cycle of capital accumulation underlying most people’s conceptions of small business management rather than the lowkey experience of trimming plants.
As PC Gamer noted in its roundup, players have been letting loose their own passionate lawn takes on the game’s Steam reviews page. “No push mowers, no weed eaters, no grass juice flying out the mower chute, no grass sticking to the wheels, no mourning doves in the ambience, no even GETTING OFF THE MOWER,” wrote Steam user giv_me_hell. “This is literally the bare minimum of the satisfying lawn mowing experience.” Wrote Járnsíða, “As a landscaper, this game makes me sad.”
There are plenty of positive reviews of the game as well, and it currently has a “mostly positive” rating, but it’s clear people went into Lawn Mowing Simulator with a lot of different expectations born of years of real world experience, like the person who dinged it for grass not being harder to cut in the rain (you can toggle weather options from the settings menu).
Mostly I just wish the game nailed the feeling of tediously concentrating for an hour just so you can finally look back at the lawn you just mowed and bask in how fresh it smells, how tidy it looks, and how delicately spongy it feels between your bare feet. Hyper-specific sims are having a moment right now. American Truck Simulator used to be treated like an oddity. Now it’s the model. Microsoft Flight Simulator was one of last year’s best games. First House Flipper took over Twitch. More recently it was Power Washing Simulator. For now, Lawn Mowing Simulator doesn’t quite feel like it measures up.
Instead of simulating the care, patience, and precision that goes into using hulking pieces of equipment to carefully manicure millions of tiny, slender specks of green, Skyhook has opted to focus on the economic incentives driving the artistry. At every turn you’re reminded that this is not a pleasant pastime but commodifiable work, and unless you complete it to the desired specifications of the marketplace you will run out of business and face economic ruin. I think I’ll go back to weeding my Animal Crossing island.