Bus Simulator Review

Video games might be the finest form of escapism in modern society. Whether you want to be a fighter pilot, a space marine, an elf or a professional footballer, video games have you covered. Heck, if you want to be a……bus driver? Wait, who wants to be a bus driver? There is nothing wrong with it as a profession of course, but you might as well be playing Office Administration Simulator. Who the hell wants to drive a virtual bus by the defined rules of the road? Well, me it turns out. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this at all, I mean, c’mon, it’s driving a bus for heaven’s sake. But yeah, there is something about the unique pace and gentle challenge that make this an oddly compelling experience.

It won’t be for everyone of course, but the solid challenge, engaging sense of progression, mostly decent handling and wry sense of humour combine to make this a wholly unique console gaming experience. There are minor issues throughout, but in terms of its core gameplay and structure, it’s a largely sound experience, one that is only soured by some genuinely budget visuals.

The still images don’t actually look that bad, but in motion, this is a dull, largely lifeless affair, one that, from an artistic perspective, could do with a lot more character (perhaps the bland visuals represent a genuine commitment to recreating the role), and from a technical perspective, one that suffers from horrendously wooden characters and poorly realised surroundings. The buses themselves look great and benefit from a huge amount of what I suspect to be very accurate internal details, but those details often serve to highlight the inconsistency of the game’s visual design.

Still, if you can get past the decidedly dated visuals, StillAlive Studios’ move from PC to console gaming brings with it plenty to like. The pace is invariably leisurely, but with so many minor challenges to keep your mind on, it never feels like a passive experience. Handling the buses themselves is easy enough with the weighty vehicles providing enough challenge without ever feeling genuinely unwieldy, but with troublesome travellers, variable weather conditions, traffic and timing issues to take care of, there is always plenty to do at any given moment, and with success at every level of the role linked to your paid progression, all of your actions feel admirably consequential.

Sure, you can drive like a maniac, miss your stops and avoid taking payment, but you’re not going to make it far in your career if you do so. All of your actions are linked to your overall level at the end of the route with your success at each element of the role linked to how much you are subsequently paid. Once you have enough coin in the bank, you can then expand your routes in the city, purchase and upgrade new buses and hire new staff to drive the additional routes. Progression isn’t incredibly tricky, but the draw provided by the game’s wealth of unlockables does encourage successful and accurate driving during your shift.

The amount of action you are actually required to take while out on the shift is optional, but this really does offer a true simulation of the role. From opening the doors, switching on the windscreen wipers, managing your lights and taking control of the ticket machine, every element of the actual job is present and accounted for….well, beyond the risk of drunken violence and verbal abuse I suppose.

Despite all these additional requirements though, it’s still the actual driving that provides the primary challenge. Again, getting from point A to point B isn’t all that tricky, but doing so without receiving the kind of penalties that will hit your bank balance is a different story altogether. Missed or inaccurate stops will cost you come the end of the shift, while any damage to your bus also comes out of your pay packet. It might appear relatively straight forward during a sunny Sunday morning shift, but when the sun goes down and the rain starts pouring, things soon get much trickier with stops and routes far more difficult to judge. You can still build up your bus driving empire regardless of your skill level, but if you want to do so in decent time, you’re going to have to get the basics right.

The move from PC to console has come with a disappointing drop in graphical fidelity, the dull art design often leaves plenty to be desired, and at the end of the day, this is a bus driving simulator, but if you can look beyond the dated visuals and uninspiring premise, this strangely compelling gaming experience can be surprisingly addictive and oddly enjoyable. It’s an undeniably niche genre of gaming, but if you’re looking for a genuine change of pace, Bus Driving Simulator might well provide an enjoyably pleasant surprise.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Bus Simulator Review
  • Gameplay - 7/10
  • Graphics - 7/10
  • Sound - 7/10
  • Replay Value - 7/10
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If you can look beyond the dated visuals and uninspiring premise, this strangely compelling gaming experience can be surprisingly addictive and oddly enjoyable.