There are niche games, and then there are super niche games. One such super niche title is the newly released on console Bus Simulator. I never used to think that anyone would want to play odd games like Farm Simulator, but after reviewing a few, I learned to see the appeal. Bus Simulator is no different, as there’s a crowd and audience for everything, even being a city bus driver.
Bus Simulator is true to its name. Not only are you a bus driver, but part city planner as well, as you’ll be creating the routes, managing staff, efficiency and more. You’ll have access to a handful of different licensed buses from Mercedes, MAN, IVECO and Setra. I can only assume that these are the go-to for names in the bus world, but they appear to be and are said to be authentic. Not only can you simulate your bus career, but you can bring along friends online to join your company and play with them as well.
Your bus career begins in Seaside Valley, a city sorely needing someone to spearhead the transportation infrastructure development. Seaside Valley has many different and unique districts, from residential, commercial and industrial, just like any large city. Your opening tutorial will show you how to create a small route with just a few stops then drive it, but eventually you’ll need to create many varying routes, hiring drivers, purchasing buses and more, adding some long term goals to strive towards, rather than simply driving a bus itself.
As you perform good routes and bring passengers to their destinations, you’ll earn money along the way. This is how you’ll afford to purchase new buses and hire more staff to drive the routes you’ve created, which in turn earns you more money. You’ll also earn a star rating based on the route you’ve driven and how well you drove. You’ll lose rating if you drive recklessly, hit potholes, speed bumps, speed, crash, etc. Drive well, stay the speed limit, arrive on time and use your turn signals and you’ll earn more. Drive better, earn better.
While you can freely drive any routes you create, there is some mission structure given to guide you along the way on how to connect areas and try new things like night driving and return routes as you aim to make your city more connected. There are a ton of other options if you want to boost the difficulty and effort required, like giving passengers change if they need to purchase a ticket, picking up garbage customers leave behind' a more realistic and challenging mode and across the nearly 6 square miles of roads.
You may think that driving is a bus is simply getting from point A to B, but there’s a lot more than goes into it, especially if you want to keep passengers happy by being prompt and drive properly. Sometimes you’ll have to face against freak weather, speed traps, terrible drivers, traffic, construction zones, fare evaders and more.
If you’ve played any of the Farm Simulator games, you’ll feel right at home knowing that your buses have an obscene amount of knobs, levers and buttons, all of which have a specific purpose that you’ll need to utilize. The initial tutorial will teach you the basics, but there’s a handy radial menu to quickly access certain toggles like lights, wheelchair ramp, E-brake and more. If you choose to play with cashier mode on, this is where you’ll need to see what type of fair they want to purchase, then give them the appropriate amount of change. I found this to be WAY too time consuming and tedious, but the option is there for those that want the realism or challenge.
What did surprise me was that you’re actually able to customize your buses with different graphics, colors and vinyls. Not only can you color your bus to nearly anything you like, but you can put different patterns and graphics on it as well. No, you’re not going to have any crazy layering like we’ve come to expect from a Forza obviously, but the fact that it’s there is a really cool touch and was unexpected. If this supported mods, it would have been awesome to have actual ads on the sides of your fleet.
Why drive alone though? Invite your friends to ride alongside you in real time; another feature I didn’t really expect. Up to four players can play together, though I found the most fun when one of my friends came with my on my route and simply pestered passengers to see their ticket. If he found a fare jumper, they actually get fined and we earn more money. Thankfully there wasn’t a happiness meter attached to the riders though, as I'm sure we would have had a harassment suit filed against us.
Visually, Bus Simulator is pretty terrible to look at in general. Yes, the internal bus view is recreated from its real life counterpart and looks decent, but basically everything else is incredibly dated. Buses themselves look plain and uninspired, but the models and animations for the passengers are exceptionally terrible. The same goes for the voice acting overall, though thankfully the bus sounds themselves are somewhat decent, as I've come to know the hydraulics lowering sound all too well. While some parts aren’t as realistic as can be, as passengers are friendly, cars let you merge and there’s no weirdos on the bus, everything else is as authentic as can be in relation to the actual driving itself.
Bus Simulator aims to be just that, the defacto simulation experience for not only driving a bus, but all of the other work that goes into running a transportation company for a large city. Yes, many will find the gameplay quite repetitive and dull, but there’s a certain calmness to it that I enjoyed and found relaxing. Yes, it’s a seriously niche game that will cater to a very specific audience, but if you’re in that demographic, there’s no better options out there, even if it’s not very pretty to look at.
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