Bus Simulator: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Astragon Entertainment
  • Developer: Stillalive Studios
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2-4 (online)
  • Site: https://www.bussimulator-game.com/buscon-en.php 
  • Game code provided by PR

2019 has already proven itself to be a year crammed full of top-quality releases, with several teeming with potential still due before Christmas. Bus Simulator deserves a place alongside the best of the year, and stop laughing right now because we are deadly serious here. As anybody unexpectedly drawn in by Farming Simulator knows, an ostensibly dull sim done well has extremely wide appeal, and that’s the case here.

As some of you may have guessed, this game puts you into the role of a bus driver. To a much lesser extent, it also casts you as the owner of your own bus company. This means that your first port of call is to name your firm, which has surely made several silly and/or rude names immediately leap into your head. You even get to design your company’s uniform! You don’t get an enormous amount of choice, but you can certainly create something either realistically prosaic or amusingly Wonkaesque. You can pimp your buses too (unlocking more colours and patterns as you progress), being as sensible or outlandish as you like.

Indeed, player choice is catered for to a surprising degree here. Core gameplay, you will not be shocked to learn, consists of driving around a fictional city from bus stop to bus stop, letting people on and off along the way. After a fairly brief tutorial drive, you’re pretty much allowed to get on with things however you wish; although it is only by completing the “missions” (make a certain bus route then drive it, make a certain amount of money, employ a driver, etc) that make up a sort of story that you unlock more and more of the map. You make your own bus routes and, while missions will often have specific requirements in this regard, you can make, edit, and delete any you like, whenever you like.

Sometimes it rains. Just like in real life!

You can tweak things to make your badass bus driving less fiddly if you wish. You can ‘quick start’ your route on the road rather than starting in the bus garage, you can disable the need to operate the ticket machine (but why on Earth would you?), and going for ‘simplified’ mode removes the need to worry about things like individual door locks. All this allows the game to be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore bus lovers. Now let’s talk about that sweet, sweet driving of the buses.

Each drive is scored in two ways. You’ll earn a star rating (maximum of five), and you’ll earn some moolah for your company depending on how many passengers you took and how well you performed. It’s part driving test in a way. You’ll get marked down and/or fined for things like speeding violations, running red lights, hitting other vehicles, driving over a pothole or speed bump too fast, or even – can you believe it – hitting a pedestrian. Outrageous! We’ve got places to be, and buses are big things – surely they saw us coming?

Our driver, blending in with the fare-paying plebs. Can you spot them?

You earn bus brownie points for things like using your indicators correctly, and good parking at a bus stop. Reacting correctly to ‘events’ bumps your score up, too. Some idiot listening to music too loudly? Park the bus, get out of your seat, and go tell them to turn it the hell down. A passenger suddenly realises they forgot to get off at their stop? Be a nice person and stop the bus to let ‘em off, why don’t ya? Driving a bus has been gamified impressively well. Somebody with a strong interest in playing the role of a bus driver gets plenty of objectives, feedback, and realistic expectations; others mainly just looking for something fun to play have a leisurely paced, yet constantly demanding, experience that just happens to be framed as a sim.

The idea of hurtling a bus around a city just for fun certainly has its appeal. The developers of Bus Simulator, it seems, are well aware of this. Hence free roam mode, which allows you to drive around with no objectives, no passengers, and – best of all – no consequences for bad behaviour. Shoot down roads at top speed, take corners unreasonably fast, drive across fields, smash into oncoming traffic – whatever you like, go for it! After your cathartic drive, you can quit and get back to proper bus driving, with no penalties applied to your funds. At the end of the day though, this is a sim, and not designed for that kind of thing, so you could find your bus irretrievably stuck. Oh, hello reset to road option in the pause menu!

A gentle humour runs through the game, offering snatches of personality.

We would say that the core Bus Simulator experience is relaxing, but that’s not quite right. It doesn’t express the determination we feel to make each drive better than the last, chasing that ever-elusive five star rating. It doesn’t express our impatience at waiting for our driver to hit level 12, so that we can buy a bendy bus (a bendy bus!). It doesn’t even hint at the explosive glee we feel whenever we catch a fare dodger while checking tickets, a small but oddly powerful part of our enjoyment of the game that we shall never tire of. You don’t have to check tickets, but nobody gets a free ride on our goddamned bus, we work hard for our imaginary money.

There’s an online mode where up to four drivers can play together, though we haven’t been able to give this a test drive (sorry, couldn’t resist) at time of writing. Still, we’re quite happy with the offline experience, and there’s no shortage of things to do. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go, this company won’t run itself. We are bus-y bus-iness people, with um, badges in the shape of a rhom-bus, and… er… oh, never mind.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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