Time and time again, simulation games have come into my life and stolen hours upon hours of my time before I even realised it. Games such as Train Sim World, Car Mechanic Simulator, and Construction Simulator 2 have all fully immersed me and captivated me into providing around two to three weeks of free labour within the simulated roles. Now, the ultimate childhood fantasy comes to life as we get to take the reigns on the most reliable and punctual bus service ever, within Bus Simulator on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Technically a port of Bus Simulator 18 on PC, Bus Simulator is more than a simulation game where you drive a bus. Manage an ever-growing fleet of drivers, customise your buses, obtain advertising deals, participate in thousands of missions, and re-introduce the simple bus journey into an unnamed town which has forgotten the true meaning of public transport! However, this isn’t GTA, don’t go knocking over the obnoxious pedestrians who step in front of you, don’t show favouritism by giving out too much change, and don’t put up with noisy old women listening to Cliff Richard at an absurd volume – if you do, you’ll never become the elusive Bus God, a title which is only fit for the best of the best within this industry!
Surprisingly, there is actually a story present within Bus Simulator (yeah, I was surprised too), although it’s more of a set of numerous missions pieced together by a simple narrative. The town of *insert name here* has forgotten what public transport is. Office workers, Famers, Shop Keepers, and even old woman who have nothing better to do for themselves than go out for a nice trip into town, have all decided that cars, trucks and vans are the only way to move from one place to another – if they’re not walking.
So, you’ve been hired to reintroduce the bus to the people, one region at a time. You’ll begin within the Business Zone, offering eco-transport from one side to the other for a low fee and carbon emissions. Soon you’ll branch out and start linking the Agricultural Zone to your bus network, then the Industry Zone, ultimately trying to grab the interest of those in the City Zone so that they opt to use your services for all their needs and pay you for the privilege. Now, I know what you’re thinking – it sounds an awful lot like The Crystal Maze with all those ‘Zones’, well, it isn’t – it’s Bus Simulator, so don’t be silly.
Your objective is easy, create a lot of various bus lines, hire staff to work on them in your absence, rake in the cash, then expand on the network even more. The narrative of you introducing the network zone by zone really helps as it gives you missions which push you to create certain routes and then drive them in a certain way. However, I’ve heard some people say it has a 30-hour campaign, I’m easily beyond that and there’s no end in sight – every time I think I’ve finished, another set of increasingly complex missions become available. So, don’t go in expecting a short ride, this is a very long bus trip which you’ll find very hard to disembark from!
You drive a bus <End of section>
Seriously though, there’s more to it than that. First of all, you have the option of driving in full simulation mode or a more simplified arcade mode. Full simulation sees you in either first or third-person as you press the switches manually via either a radial menu or by using your super-zoom feature all bus drivers have as you press the correct buttons in your cockpit. You can even opt to operate the ticket machine and sell tickets and give out change, should you wish to do so. If this is too much for you, and you just want to drive the damn bus, you can choose to start the mission with the bus already started up and near the first stop – then, if you’re lazy like me, you can go into third-person and use the face buttons on the controller to operate everything instead of pushing the buttons manually. If you also disable the ticket machine, it makes it feel much more like an arcade title – like Crazy Bus (Taxi).
Driving around in the bus is quite satisfying if a little jerky at times, due to the frame pacing and/or framerates which are affected depending on the weather, time of day, number of AI cars and number of buses on the route. As you’d expect with a game about being a bus driver, you must go from stop to stop, allowing people to get on and off your mechanical transportation device, as efficiently and accident-free as you can. Just like Paperboy, a seemingly simple job is made all the more dangerous by a number of uncommon and annoying hazards placed before you!
However, instead of men with glass panes, dogs, old women, and Death himself, the devs have plagued us with potentially perilous potholes, cursed curbs, curious citizens, and aggressive automobiles! You’ll receive a hit to your overall rating (out of five stars) should you go too fast over potholes or speed bumps, you’ll be the one to blame should you ram another person or they ram you, going off the road will negatively impact you, and not only do you get a slap on the wrist, but you also lose 20k Euros should you knock someone over! I may or may not have found that justifiable when they walk out in front of my bus without warning! Check left and right people…
On the flip side, using your indicators to alert other drivers you’re going left or right, being on time to the bus stops, not leaving people behind (even those in wheelchairs which require the extra effort of lowering the ramp for) and strangely enough, letting people off the bus who missed their stop, will all get you positive points for your rating. The final point I don’t agree with as here in the UK, buses can’t stop unless they are at their stops, so letting someone off in the middle of the road is a big no-no! Yet, in the world of Bus Simulator, it’s seen as a good deed!
More than a simulation
As I mentioned above, not only do you get to drive a bus (which is lots of fun), but you also get to manage your own team of drivers and vehicles. Depending on how you play the game (either with bankruptcy mode on or off), this can be very easy or very hard. I personally had this mode turned off and it allowed me to spend, spend, spend, buying new buses and hiring drivers without a care in the world – I imagine the other mode wouldn’t have been so forgiving with me, so be sure to pick your difficulty when creating a new game.
What I love about Bus Simulator is the way it handles hired minions. Basically, you could create the most elaborate route, which covers every single stop in the game, then place 50 drivers on that route and you’ll get the grand total of zero Euros per day. You see, just like in Mario Maker, you need to test the waters and prove a route is profitable (doable). So, you need to first drive the route solo and end with a positive income – something which can get quite tricky depending on how well you can drive and avoid hitting the curb and losing 30-40k in one split second of total stupidity!
Now part two of the really cool thing about this is that the hired drivers will never earn as much as you – making it an incentive to either retry the route and get a better outcome or simply do it yourself. The drivers come in various levels of skill, with the best ones costing 1k a month to hire. The higher the cost, the more money they’ll make (in comparison to the amount you made). So, you may have got 10k on a route yet your drivers will pull in 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9k based upon their level. I thought this was pretty cool as it makes you play the game properly and not just mess around if you wish to become profitable and a God amongst men.
Sit down and Shut up!
There are two types of people I hate when I get on a bus – the really noisy ones and those who stand for the fun of it. Bus Simulator perfectly simulates these – albeit with a bit of an over-exaggeration in my opinion.
First of all, noisy people. As you’re driving, you’ll occasionally get a warning that someone is playing their music loud – if you’re in the first-person mode, you’ll hear it in your ear. Simply stop the bus in the middle of the road – causing a massive backlog behind you – and get out of your seat to tell the person to STFU. You can always tell who it is as they have headphones on and are literally headbanging really hard without a care in the world. What I found quite hilarious is class and age have no say within this random encounter. So, you’ll see not only young kids and teenagers doing this but really old women and men in business suits. There’s just something about a groovy granny going mental over music that makes it rather amusing.
Secondly, those who feel the urge to stand. Now, if they were just standing in the isles then fair enough – it’s strange and annoying but it doesn’t stop the bus from moving. However, Bus Simulator is plagued with people who don’t know how doors work! You’ll try to close your doors and you’ll get a message that the door is blocked – what could it be? Has someone thrown a Starbucks cup in the way (which is another job, cleaning all the Starbucks cups), is the door broke, or maybe a bird has got its head stuck in the mechanism whilst looking for some food? Nope, there’s a passenger with a big fat arse who is stood right in the doorway, even though there are loads of empty seats. Seriously – who does this?!
Whilst you’re dealing with any of these ‘tragic’ events, I’d recommend harassing your passengers for inconveniencing you. Simply tap the Cross button to speak to them all and ask to see their tickets – if they don’t have one then you’ll get an instant 120 Euros as you fine them. I’m not used to these buses, they all have two doors so people can just get on and off at either. As such, you never know who has or hasn’t bought a ticket unless you pester them and demand to see their right of passage. This is something which is enhanced upon within the co-op mode.
Coming from games like Train Sim World and Euro Truck Simulator, planning your journey usually consisted of picking a job and going where you’re told to go. Bus Simulator is more akin to The Sinking City in that it wants you to do all of the work for yourself! You can create as many routes as you wish, as long as they include at least four stops, and make them as complex or simple as you want. The more times you use a stop and then drive through them yourself, the more the level of that stop goes up and more passengers will embark the next time you stop there.
There is one downside to creating a thriving network of hundreds of buses delivering human cargo from one place to the next – performance. I found that on my PS4 Pro, the game would get very laggy and unstable when I had around 40 bus routes and about 80 hired drivers and buses in operation at the same time. Not only within the game itself, as your friendly buses flash their lights at you as you spot them on their routes, but also during the initial map overview – which was strange. So, every time I got a new set of missions in the single-player, I went back and deleted a few of the routes I no longer needed (as they were only made to pass certain missions). This helped keep it under control and kept it working at a decent rate.
One thing I’m not sure on is if I’m on my way to breaking the game… The buses all have a two-digit number system, numbered after what route they are placed upon. However, even after deleting routes, they continue on in sequential order, meaning I’m on 80 at the moment – I have no idea what’ll happen when/if it goes over 99!
What makes or breaks a simulation game like Bus Simulator is the quality of the environment. I’m not talking about the pixel count or the visual fidelity (although Bus Simulator is very pretty at dusk), but more the uniqueness and non-repetitive buildings. I’m happy to say that the world of Bus Simulator is one of the best open worlds I’ve played in a simulator game which is based on vehicles with tired wheels (i.e. Train Sim World and Train Simulator are still my favourites). There’s so much variety in the buildings, unique shops and office buildings which only show up once, a cathedral, parks, and even some landmarks which aren’t repeated. These all help you grab your bearings and know exactly where you are without looking at your GPS.
On top of this, there are a few ‘hidden’ things to find in order to get some trophies. These require you to think outside of the box and literally go off-road in hopes of finding something special. Whenever you see a dirt road go into a forest, go on an adventure as there may be a giant goat or a collectable there. I once saw a load of people coming out of one of these openings, like ants, so I went to take a look. It was a factory which was cut off from the outside world bar this one exit which was quite a long walk from the site. This building would usually never be seen unless you went exploring and looking at what was there. It’s a nice unexpected reason to explore.
The wheels on the bus go Ping Pong and Ping Pong…
There are a few translation issues with Bus Simulator, some which will have you pulling out your hair if you’re not too careful. There’s an instance where it requires you to set a certain route which goes through the ‘Business Park’ yet that doesn’t appear on the map as it’s named slightly differently. My advice – when you’ve selected a mission, look for the purple flashing bus stops – they’re the ones it’s talking about (I didn’t realise this was the case until much later into the game).
The second issue, and one I hope the developers put out a patch for, is the ‘Round trip’ mode. The game regularly gives you missions to drive a certain route in ‘Round Trip’ or ‘Loop’ Modes. Loop is simple, as there is a loop option, but there’s no round trip mode. Even looking at the Bus Simulator 18 manual on PC, it doesn’t mention the option. However, after looking on Reddit for a while, it turns out the mode is called ‘Ping Pong’ mode here in the west… I guess it makes sense, you’re going to the end of a route, ping, then coming back, pong. However, it’s not obvious and should just be a wording change in a patch, hopefully.
Whilst I’m talking about these two modes – they both further enhance your gameplay by offering new ways to play, despite the translation issue. Loop has you completing your route and then having to finally return to your original stop at the end, Ping Pong has you get to the end then perform your full route backwards, making a 10-stop route become 19 stops (as the final stop isn’t doubled).
Can I have two tickets, please…
Co-op, not a phrase usually spoken when talking about simulation games. I’d love to play Train Sim World with another person, but the nature of the game wouldn’t really suit it well unless they introduced the role of a conductor for the second player. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Bus Simulator has done! The following info is based upon what you can do in Bus Simulator 18 on PC and what I’ve read about it on the PS4, I’ve not got an active PS Plus membership so I couldn’t try this out for myself…
There are a few modes when playing Bus Simulator in online Co-op, you can either both operate your own buses, driving the route and bringing in as much money as you can for the hosts’ company, or you can both work upon the same vehicle. If you’re on the same one, one of you will be in control of the bus itself, going from stop to stop and avoiding the suicidal pedestrians who walk in front of you on the zebra crossing without checking to see if you’re driving into them or not. The other person will be along for the ride, literally. You’ll be harassing the passengers to check they have tickets, fining them if they don’t, and you’ll also be picking up the rubbish left behind and giving the fat-arsed people a push when they decided to stand in the doorway.
I don’t care what anyone says, this sounds like a lot of fun and after watching PlayStation Access play the game in co-op the other day (which you can see HERE), I believe anyone with a vague interest in the game will enjoy the co-op aspect. Also, I’m not sure about two human players, but when playing solo, if you jump onto another bus you own everyone is wearing the same clothes as you like it’s a uniform – that was nice to discover.
As I mentioned previously, Bus Simulator isn’t a bad looking game. There are various times of day and weather options (Day, Dusk, Night, Rain, a combination of these), each one offering different effects. The daytime mode is your standard easy-to-see option, the rain makes surfaces shiny and wet (yes, you can turn on windscreen wipers), dusk has the sun project an orange glow over everything, and night time literally ‘shines’ with all the streetlights and neon lights within the city zone. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t photorealistic or Naughty Dog level of quality, but for a simulation game, it’s pretty good!
However, despite the game itself running at around 30fps (there is a bit of framerate issue if you bump up the number of NPC cars and have a lot of buses on the road), certain things ‘seem’ to be running at 15fps or lower. The rearview mirrors and pedestrians stand out as they appear quite robotic in motion at the much lower framerates – it doesn’t impact the gameplay, but it stands out. On top of this, the AI cars are a bit stupid at times. They clearly are only following their programming but you can sometimes be stuck in a queue for about five minutes because the cars in front are waiting for cars in another direction to stop moving before they’ll risk pulling out and moving on.
On a side note to that though, the way the indicators work in Bus Simulator is great. If you’re pulling out, pop on your indicator and the cars will gradually stop so you can pull into traffic like in real life – I don’t think I’ve seen a game use indicators in a realistic way before.
Sound-wise, I was rather impressed. As you’re driving your 10-ton death machine around the small roads of a random German city, you’ll occasionally hear the passengers talk amongst themselves about the weather, what they were watching last night, who they’ve bumped into and other gossip-like chatter. They’ll also be sure to call you out when you use the wrong headlights or drive over potholes! But, if you don’t want to listen to their whining, go into the first-person mode and look around, you’ll see a radio. This isn’t simply a radio to call HQ on, it’s an actual radio with music! Simply turn it on and skip through the stations until you find something you want on, then relax as you listen to music whilst driving your magical bus around the town you now practically own (thanks to your monopoly on the public transport).
**As of the latest patch (today is the 23rd September), the game is prone to crashing when things get a little too ‘busy’. I’ve been fortunate but I’ve known people who have had their saves corrupt – so back them up to USB or the cloud regularly. Also, the latest patch removed some bus stop markers on the mini-map – so hopefully these will be addressed soon**
Despite what you may think of ‘simulation games’, Bus Simulator is incredibly addictive and frustratingly fun. Whether you’re playing the game solo or with a friend via online co-op, there’s so much more to the game than simply driving a bus – you must also deal with annoying passengers and keep an eye out for the pesky potholes of doom! Visually, it’s not the best game out there but the unique nature of the landmarks and buildings helps immerse you within this wonderful world of the bus driver.
If you like simulation, casual, or relaxing games, give Bus Simulator a try – who knows, there could be a bus driver inside of you just waiting to be released?!
- - Tonnes of seemingly endless missions to work through
- - An interesting co-op aspect where you work on your own buses or share a single vehicle
- - A decent amount of customisation (unless you purchase an ad which covers your whole bus)
- - You get to ride standard or bendy buses, but no double deckers
- - The tease of picking a map, but it only having one, may mean we get more maps in future DLC/updates
- - Why do people stand in the doorway like a human doorstop?
- - Won't be everyone's cup of tea as it can get monotonous and repetetive if you're not into games like this
- - The performance and random crashing needs to be looked at, especially on the Pro. A smoother experience would be much more enjoyable and less accident-prone
- - A few translation issues with round (ping pong) which should get updated as they're very confusing at the moment
- - Potholes... Potholes are annoying. I wish I could give my 10m+ Euros I've earnt to the council and get them to fill them in!