The transport simulator has become a popular sub-genre of late. Spearheaded by Euro Truck Simulator and American Truck Simulator, the seemingly mundane task of driving a vehicle and performing a job has been surprisingly engaging when done well. With player expectations now raised, Stillalive Studios present Bus Simulator 2018, the follow-up to the 2016 edition, looking to add to the professional driving simulator library. Is it a worthwhile addition?
At the start of the game, you take the role of a newly appointed bus driver at a fledgling bus company. Your boss guides you through the early stages acting as a tutorial at the same time as you learn how to operate the bus. It quickly becomes apparent that you have to operate everything. This is not simply a driving simulator. It is a bus driving simulator and you have control over the doors, ticket machine, and passenger checks along with driver controls and dashboard. You even have to open the driver cockpit door before you can sit down.
After getting to grips with the basics of driving, you are given a series of missions to help build the company and help guide your gameplay. This is a great way to ease new players into the game as you try to remember to operate all the switches and levers to get the bus moving and stopping while sticking to the rules of the road.
Providing your passengers with a safe and efficient service is your goal. Indicating when pulling over and joining the road will earn you positive feedback as will being on time while staying within speed limits. Failure to do the above will have a negative impact on your company’s reputation and possibly earnings as fines get handed out for jumping red lights, speeding, and damaging other vehicles.
The level of detail in simulating the driver’s job is comprehensive. As well as driving the route, making the stops, and issuing the tickets, you will be tasked with catching fare dodgers by making your way up and down the aisle checking tickets (all the while being mindful of sticking to the schedule) and assisting disabled passengers by operating the ramp to mention but a couple of tasks. This helps build an immersive feel to the game.
Bus Simulator offers basic keyboard and mouse controls as well as controller and steering wheel support. There are also simplified and realistic driving modes meaning you can adjust the level of complexity to your own preferences. Using a controller, I did find it something of a challenge to map all the necessary functions and ended up using a combo of controller for driving and keyboard for special commands. This worked well but did seem to confuse the game as it would direct me to continue using the keyboard when I was ready to start driving with the controller again.
Vibration feedback is used when going over speed bumps or clipping the kerb. This is problematic at times, however, as the vibration can continue long after the obstacle has been cleared. Pausing and unpausing the game usually cleared the issue, but it did break the immersion at the same time.
Once used to the controls, I found the driving to be fun and immersive. The city streets you operate in have a functioning AI traffic system with cars, vans, trucks and pedestrians all sharing the roads with you. The AI is responsive, giving way appropriately when you signal to turn (another incentive to follow the rules of the road) and generally avoiding any random scrapes and crashes. There are not many other buses, but this is explained early on when your boss explains that the town has not had a bus service for a long time.
The bus handles fairly well although it does not always feel like you are behind the wheel of a large vehicle with some light steering. The braking also takes a little getting used to and you may well experience a few bumps into the backs of other vehicles when starting out. Once on the road with a few runs under your belt though, the whole cycle of driving through traffic, making your stops and completing your route all feels organic.
A couple of issues I had when driving were the lack of a decent external angle – switch to third person mode and you will literally see the back of the bus – and the positioning of wing mirrors. With a single monitor set up, the mirrors are not visible on-screen when looking straight ahead meaning I always have to change the direction I am facing to check for oncoming traffic when leaving a stop.
There are a number of licensed buses in the game from well-known brands such as Mercedes-Benz, IVECO, MAN, and Setra each with a different look inside and out. The city is fairly well-detailed if nothing spectacular with its streets, buildings, greenery, and road markings. Weather conditions and day/night routes also add to the atmosphere of the city.
Passenger models are somewhat basic and generic. They tend to repeat often to the point that you may think you have twins or even triplets riding with you. The passengers provide snippets of dialogue when on the bus from the functional (the disabled passenger asking for assistance with the ramp for example) to the amusing (such as the panicked cry of ‘I fell asleep!’) along with kind comments about bringing a bus service back to the town.
As you get deeper into the game, you will start to build your business. Your earning can be spent on new buses and hiring new staff. You can also adjust routes or plan new ones to meet demand and expand your reach into new districts. This is where building a good reputation for safe and time efficient driving will be of benefit as you aim to establish and expand a regular customer base. It is possible to go bankrupt should you be over-zealous in your spending, over-ambitious in your routes, or reckless in your driving.
There is also a multiplayer mode allowing up to four people to converge online to drive routes in the same city. This adds an extra dynamic to the game and has the potential to be fun if combined with friends and voice chat.
Potentially crucially for the long-term future of the game, modding support is available along with Steam Workshop integration. As the more community add-ons and features are generated, this has the potential to make for a customised gameplay experience much as the Truck Simulator games provide.
Bus Simulator is a fun and immersive professional driving simulator. The details of a bus driver’s job are accurately recreated and driving from stop to stop, operating the doors and ramps, interacting with the passengers, and observing he rules of the road add up to an enjoyable and relaxing experience. As the community around the game grows mods and multiplayer will add more depth as will the developers with further content and continued support. Fans of driving simulators should seriously consider adding Bus Simulator 2018 to their virtual garage.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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