A few weeks ago, when I first fired up Bus Simulator, I called the game “a surprisingly pleasant diversion.” Now that I’ve played it several more hours, I can confidently say that it is a decent niche title, but it will leave most people bored to tears.
The first thing that you should know about Bus Simulator for PS4 and Xbox One is that it is a port of the PC game Bus Simulator 18, which came out last year. I had technical issues getting that game to work on my computer. While it works fine on consoles, there are noticeable performance issues.
The biggest issue right out of the gate is the menu system, which leaves you scratching your head as you clumsily navigate through the various menus, change settings, and create routes. The user interface is frankly god awful and it lags. The game stutters during gameplay, too, so it’s at least consistent in its performance issues.
When you actually get into the driver’s seat of the bus, the interface works on a radial menu. You can also push buttons and turn knobs, but it’s usually just easier to use the menu once you understand what everything does.
Depending on which setting you select, the route either starts from the garage or it will quick start near the first bus stop. You’ll shift the bus into drive, turn on your right turning signal, accelerate, and pull into the stop for your first passengers.
At the stop, you open the door to let on the passengers, who stream in through the front and middle of the bus. At some stops, you may have a passenger with disabilities. This will require you to lower a ramp to let them board and then disembark as requested.
Most passengers already have a ticket. Others will need to purchase tickets from you, so you select between ticket type (regular/student/senior), duration (single/day/week), and the number of tickets. If they need change you’ll give them change.
And then you have the inevitable fare dodgers. Annoyingly, the passengers do not present their tickets to you while entering. They just file in and go right to their seats. You can stop the bus at any time and request to see someone’s ticket. If they don’t have it, they receive a fine. However, this is cumbersome and not really worth your time.
Of course, just like in real life, part of your job is time management. You are rated not only based on how well you drive but also how efficiently you manage your time (after all, time is money) and respond to the needs of customers. Passengers are grateful for punctuality. If you’re late, they begin to grouse and question whether it would be better to just bike.
While the game can either be played through a build-your-own-bus-empire single player, you can also play with other users online. The game has a lobby system, so you can either join someone’s server or start your own. It’s neat to start a route, have users join, and then see other players drive by and flash their lights at you.
Playing alone is not bad, either. The game starts you off with a somewhat clunky tutorial, and then it slowly teaches you how to build out your bus network with new routes, buses, and employees. You’ll earn rewards and unlock new areas of the city as you complete objectives.
I stand by my earlier statement that the lack of excitement is somewhat refreshing. In its own way, Bus Simulator can be enjoyable, even relaxing. But too often the game simply fails to deliver much of a challenge.
The situations necessary to make the game more exciting are not present, at least while you’re in the driver’s seat. Buying new vehicles, modifying your fleet, and creating new routes can be interesting, but it’s ultimately less satisfying than driving.
Bus Simulator would be more interesting if it was less predictable. The computer-controlled drivers tend to follow the rules of the road and don’t really exhibit road rage. In real life, if your bus was stopped on a heavily-trafficked two-lane street for several minutes, backing up traffic, you can bet that there would be a lot of honking and pissed off drivers.
Likewise, the city in this game has a lot of transit riders but not all that many pedestrians. I get that the developers probably didn’t want the game to be stop-and-go with constant distractions, but that’s what a real bus ride is like. The game throws the occasional noisy passenger on the bus playing their music too loud, but that’s nothing. I want to see people darting out in the street, cars weaving through traffic, and other real-life behavior.
Also, where are the bicycles? I see bicycles in the game’s city, but they’re all docked. No one is riding their bike in the street or even on the sidewalk; there are no dedicated bike lanes to speak of. Having to load a bike onto and off of the front of the bus should be an option in this game.
One last thing: I was curious what would happen if you got into car crashes or hit pedestrians. If you hit pedestrians, the game flashes white and resets the bus on the road, basically acting as if nothing had happened. Car crashes can vary from low to high damage, but again, you can finish the route without much penalty.
To be sure, you will incur expenses for damage that you cause to your bus, other vehicles, and pedestrians, but it does not seem to be commensurate with what the cost would be in real life. I’m not suggesting that the game should basically take your digital driver’s license away and ban you from ever playing the game again, but there should definitely be more of a penalty for recklessness.
Anyway, I think you get a sense of what Bus Simulator is all about. The developers did a fairly good job getting the core functions of this niche product right. It would almost function better as a tool for bus driver trainees than as a video game, if only it were less predictable.
That being said, I can see some people getting a kick out of it. I always enjoyed driving around large vehicles in Grand Theft Auto games. And while you’re not going to get in any shootouts in Bus Simulator, you do get to drive a massive vehicle around an open-world environment. It’s too bad that it doesn’t support PlayStation VR!
Is it worth its sticker price? Definitely not for the vast majority of gamers. You should consider it during a PlayStation Store or Xbox Live sale if you would like to try something that’s non-violent, relatively unique, and you at least like the idea of driving large vehicles.