All’s Fare in Love and Transport…
Simulating the mundane has been a long-standing tradition in video games. From the agricultural thrills of games like Farming Simulator to living the life of a Trucker (sans Lot Lizards) in Euro Truck Simulator to the esoteric umbrella of systems that is Dwarf Fortress; games are able to make these seemingly dull tasks seem like rewarding experiences. You won’t exactly know how to operate an F-14 Tomcat by playing a whole bunch of Digital Combat Simulator, but you sure will feel like you would. These games are often heavy on the instruction side of things and require a great deal of patience in order to really grasp how to play the game. It’s, unfortunately, the antithesis of what I look for when I play a game. I wanna get going right out of the gate! Not be tutorialized to oblivion. So as you can imagine, I might not have been super psyched to jump into Bus Simulator 18. But I might have been pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Unless you yourself are a bus driver, playing as one in a video game might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world. Fortunately, the game only simulates the most base level functions of being one. You don’t have to deal with people not paying a fare or someone puking on the floor in the back (thankfully). But the actual act of driving the bus and dropping folks off can be pretty fun. You start the game meeting the most excessively kind and patient woman in the world, Mira Tannhauser. Mira acts as the game’s tutorial and backstory device.
Becoming a Bus Boy (or Bus Girl)
You have just recently been hired as the first driver in the initiative to revitalize the city’s public transportation line. Mira tells you how to start the bus, turn the lights on, along with the 20+ other things these kinds of games walk you through. Thankfully, playing this game with a controller gives the player a radial menu in which they can access most of the more obscure functions. I would highly recommend playing the game this way as it feels more natural than the mouse or keyboard steering configurations. Along the tutorial route, you will start to pick up customers and Mira greets each and every one of them smiling and asking about some personal aspect of their lives. “Hey, June, how’s your daughter?” type stuff. It makes the game feel a little more personal, if a bit clumsy in the delivery. But players will quickly find out that these first couple hours aren’t very representative of the experience as a whole. For the most part, you’ll be dropping and picking up people with some variations in locale and number of stops.
Bus Simulator is wholly lacking in personality beyond these first couple of hours. Granted, this is a SIMULATOR game. So expecting fleshed out characters or distinction between passengers might be asking a bit much, but the tutorial almost feels like a different game because of this precedent it sets. For the rest of the game you’ll take on a new route every day, or be able to create your own, that takes place on the same map. Other maps are available via Mod support, but that kind of relies on the community being active in creating new areas for the game. (As of this writing, there is one map available on Steam workshop and it’s a test map). You will go to stops, hand out tickets, collect fare, lower the ramp for your wheelchair-bound passengers, and go to different areas on the map. That’s about the encapsulation of Bus Simulator’s gameplay as a whole. The only real sense of progression comes with unlocking new buses, but man it doesn’t feel satisfying enough to make me want to keep going.
“No Yelling On The Bus!”
While that may be a bummer, there’s still that one appeal that these kinds of games offer: fucking up on purpose. Whether it’s flying very low to the ground to the point of losing control in Flight Simulator or running pedestrian vehicles off the road in Truck Simulator games; there’s a lot of fun to be had in trying to break these experiences. You’d think that a game like Bus Simulator 18 would cater to this type of player considering the weight behind driving a bus. But it doesn’t really let you do anything too crazy outside of its stringent parameters. When I first booted up Bus Simulator, I pictured how much fun I’d be having careening downhill at dangerous speed with my freight container on wheels wrecking shit. Like that semi truck chase sequence in Sonic Adventure 2 – I wanna be that truck! But alas the game doesn’t really have the crazy physics engine that its peers in other games do. If you hit a truck with another truck in Truck Simulator it can go absolutely flying over the guardrails. In Bus Simulator 18 you can hit a passenger car at 90+ mph and it’ll just kind of nudge it off the side of the road. Collisions are missing that “oomph” you can find in other games. And with no damage modeling for your bus or the cars on the road, there really doesn’t seem to be a lot here for folks who aren’t super into the idea of a rigid simulation of public transport.
While it is fun to play by the rules, that enjoyment really only lasted during the initial hours of Bus Simulator 18. I was pretty disappointed with this experience, but after all was said and done, I did enjoy some of my time with the game. It’s a shame however that it seems to really only cater to a specific niche, not casting a wider net for players like me. In cliched idioms: Bus Simulator 18 is fun for a little while, but the wheels come off fast!
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC(Reviewed); Publisher: astragon Entertainment GmbH; Developer: stillalive studios; Players: 1 ; Released: June 13, 2018; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Bus Simulator 18 given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.