Simulator games have been around for a long time now. If you’re unaware of the genre, they generally attempt to simulate jobs, or sometimes just general things, that you would not get to do in the real world. There are the big hitters out there that many have probably heard of, such as Truck Simulator, Train Simulator and Flight Simulator. There are also satirical options such as Goat Simulator, Surgeon Simulator and Grass Simulator. Then there are, well, those simulator games we dare not speak of: Skyscraper Simulator, Garbage Truck Simulator and Airport Simulator.
Honestly, I did not know which category Bus Simulator would fall into. Bus Simulator, as you may have guessed, simulates driving a commercial bus. It is also, to an extent, a management game, as you’ll find that Bus Simulator does have some limited management options. The aim of the game at its most basic is to buy a bus, make money, and expand your bus company.
The main part of the game is driving the bus itself. Much like other simulator games, you have total control over the running of the vehicle. Designed to be played in first person, you can look around your cab and start the engine, switch lights and wipers on and off, open the doors and so on.
Bus Simulator feels more accustomed to PC, where keyboard shortcuts can allow us to do all these tasks at the press of a button. The PS4 version does have limited shortcuts, but initially they can be a little confusing. Instead, many functions are assigned to a circular menu which is accessed by pressing left on the D-pad. All bus actions are accessed here, but there are so many that they can be confusing and disorienting at times.
Follow your mini-map and stop at the stops along the way, where you’ll pick up your first passengers. Open the door and let people on, and the ticket mechanic comes into play. Pressing right on the D-pad brings you into ticket mode, after which you’ll zoom in on the ticket machine and the ticket menu screen.
There are three menus to navigate, and you’ll have to match up the ticket that the passenger wants. These are made up of three categories: duration, type and quantity. The duration and type menu has three options, while quantity allows you to select how many tickets a person wants. A passenger will ask for something like: Week, Student, 2, and you’ll have to select these options on your ticket machine. Change also needs to be dished out, but be careful not to give out too much.
At the end of each level, you’ll accumulate money, which you can use to grow your company further, but be warned: various infractions during a level will result in fines. Hitting the curb, speeding, and generally driving without due care and attention could all cost you money, which will impact your end of level total.
You are given a star rating out of five for you performance at the end of each level. This is also based on how carefully you drive, and you’re given bonuses for using the likes of your indicators correctly and parking well. You’ll also receive experience points for your performance which count towards leveling up your character. Higher levels give you access to new buses, as well as bus customisation items.
Progressing through the game will see you completing objectives. Once you’ve completed a round of objectives, you’ll move onto the next one, and so on. These range from driving a particular route under certain circumstances, to painting a bus or hiring staff. Hiring staff is another aspect of the game, albeit a small one. Drivers can be hired and assigned to buses and routes in order to see your company grow further. This aspect feels a little light on the ground, I would’ve loved to have seen a more comprehensive management aspect to Bus Simulator.
This isn’t helped by the fact that the core gameplay of Bus Simulator is a little dull. I’m aware of the core appeal of these sorts of games: they’re often designed to replicate the feel of driving vehicles that one may not be able to do during their life, such as trains, trucks, tractors etc and all the mundanity they bring with them.
However, there is something that brings an extra helping of the mundane to Bus Simulator, and it doesn’t help that the core gameplay loop is rather repetitive. Each level consists of driving to a stop, opening the doors, dishing out tickets, closing doors and repeat. Bus Simulator does try and throw some spanners into the works to mix up the gameplay, adding disabled passengers that need a ramp lowering, having you ask passengers to turn their music down or cars parked in bus bays, but these are just minor distractions.
The graphics aren’t bad at all, but definitely nothing to write home about. Simulator games don’t necessarily have to have AAA graphics, and it’s certainly a step up from Bus Simulator ‘16, but while they look okay in screenshots, they’re hit and miss in motion. There’s a strange framerate drop when looking into your mirrors that’s a little off. Also, if it’s raining, the window droplets look pretty good, but still marred by the overly shiny sheen that they’ve added to make the ground look wet. Instead, it looks like a monochrome mirrorworld.
The world design all feels a little drab, and while I’m not expecting it to have a colourful, GTA V bustling metropolis, all-in-all the game world feels a little generic and miserable. Music and sound is as expected. Menu music has a cheery, formal feel to it, and Bus Simulator proudly boasts over 120 ambient sounds on its loading screen. It’s fine, but just fine. Passengers natter, cars and trucks whizz by. It does the job.
The work that stillalive Studios has put into making Bus Simulator look so much better than its predecessor is commendable. That being said, it still plays pretty much the same. I know Bus Simulator ‘16 is PC only, but I can’t get past not only how similar the two games are, but how similar this latest release is to earlier games in the franchise.
I understand there is limited scope when creating such a game based on real life, but this latest game plays too similarly to The Bus Simulator, which was released at some point prior to 2012. It seems that while the visuals and minor tweaks of Bus Simulator have been changed, the gameplay hasn’t really evolved since the series started nearly 12 years ago.
I have no doubt that there are people out there who will adore Bus Simulator. I’m certain that there is a fanbase out there for this game, and for bus fanatics, this may scratch an itch. For me, while the driving has depth, it felt like it should’ve been a side feature in a larger game about bus management. I must admit, for a time I wasn’t bored as there was a certain satisfaction with helping virtual citizens traverse a virtual city. But it didn’t last, and the dull repetition of the core gameplay ended up feeling too much like work, but maybe that’s the point?
A PS4 code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Bus Simulator is a perfectly adequate way to live out your dreams of being a bus driver, but it all feels a tad samey.