Published on May 15th, 2019 | by Scott De Lacy
Bus Simulator 18 Review (PC)
Summary: It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy driving a bus for hours. This is as close to the real thing as you can get!
frustratingly enjoyable sim
For those whom have asked, “I wonder what it must be like to drive a bus for a living?” will now have their answer with Bus Simulator. Well, kind of.There is a duality to this game, in that you have the first-person interactive driving as expected, but there is also a component of strategy, in both running your own transport business, but also planning the routes and keeping an eye on finances, employees and assets.
The game offers a traditional tutorial styled campaign with escalating levels of complexity with advancement; the goal being to build up your fleet and hire drivers, whilst slowly expanding your routes. Typically with every new route, you have to drive the route yourself, before it becomes profitable.
There is also the possibility to drive around in more of a sandbox mode, but this would essentially rob you of any real playability. Kind of like a race without a finish line, or a quest without a carrot at the end. But you would have access to all the buses and financial burdens wouldn’t exist, so might be a good training ground, but it’s only available after level 8.
The campaign success conditions ensure that you do drive the routes so that you can progress, so it isn’t just a matter of being a strategist, you actually do have to drive the bus after all, which is great until a certain point. In order to keep the simulation of driving a bus non-mundane, small little challenges are introduced, for example, roads have pot holes that should you drive over them, lower your standard of driving and your passengers become unhappy. Also, some roads simply are not conducive to a large bus and turning corners and zipping around is more challenging, however it is unclear if this is on purpose or an oversight, because when you watch your fellow AI drivers turn corners on a dime you can’t help but question your own skills.
Playing this game with the WASD controls is also challenging. You may need to fine tune the sensitivity settings to be more playable or you will risk constant over steering. Problem is the view and layout of a 3rd person camera or in-cockpit view lends itself to having almost no visibility in certain conditions; meaning you will hit poles, kerb and all other manner of things. Sometimes a crazy pedestrian will jump out in front of you at a bus stop. Seriously. Crazy. The recommendation is to get a game pad or experiment with sensitivity settings until you get it just right.
There are a number of buses available in the game, each one of them rests in a hierarchical list, starting out you have the smallest bus with the tightest turning circle available in the game. No question this is suitable due to the fact that you are in the smallest tightest streets anyway. It is also the cheapest to purchase and maintain. As you progress the buses are unlocked and available to purchase. As you go higher in category of bus, they have more powerful engines, cost more in maintenance, are longer so have even wider turning circles but can carry more passengers. More passengers earns you more money, you get the picture.
The models for the buses are beautiful and you can customise your bus’s colours as a 2-tone gradient with decals and custom license plates. It isn’t much but it does allow you to add a person touch to the game. Although each paint job costs $1000 (equivalent currency), so you kind of cant pimp out all your buses at once. Inside the textures are stunning too, and the cockpit is quite detailed. There is also a sense of uniformity to it, which is good, as you won’t have to re-acquaint yourself with each new bus.
There is also the aspect of the ticket machine, that’s right, when a passenger boards, some will ask to purchase a ticket. Single, daily and weekly tickets are available for Regular, student and seniors. Typically at each stop, around 3-5 passengers may ask for a ticket and you have to give the correct change. This does make you feel like a bus driver, very quickly.
When creating bus routes, you simply click on the bus stops in the map, but the travel path is determined automatically. There is an optimise route button, but using it doesn’t seem to make any adjustments. As the game progresses, route and stop selection and order make a significant impact. As mentioned, you have pot holes, tight and almost impossible turns, where had you of picked a different route, you might be able to avoid.
The NPC’s aka passengers are not that diverse. In fact there are only a few types and they are duplicated and the voices randomised from a very small pool of voices and fixed scripts. This means that you will see the same characters, clothing and voices and several copies of them on your bus. Perhaps the idea is to lull you into the boredom that a real bus driver may experience, perhaps not seeing people but just objects passing you. Nevertheless, it kind of robs you of some of the excitement. Another actionable duty as a bus driver is to pick up rubbish left by these disgusting passengers and to check their ticket to catch fare evaders – and earn extra money. Problem is you can’t tell if you have asked the passenger for their ticket before and they will let you know if you have, often with an abrupt tone.
One hilarious part of the NPC’s dialog is the passengers talking on the bus. You will hear lines like “Oh my god, I can’t find my keys!” to more 3rd and 4th wall breaking like “Sometimes I feel like the world is just a computer simulation” or “it’s like this is just random dialog to fill the empty space”. It’s actually kind of cool, but eventually you will get tired of it.
The traffic has a lot to be desired. You could be forgiven for thinking that the road signs are painted on and just there as background, but they do apply. If you zip through a red light you just might get a fine. But the problem is that some cars respect the road rules and some don’t, which perhaps is just like real life. Problem is, cars in real life go when they have a green light. They also give way when they should, however in this game the dynamics are all over the place. It leaves you guessing whether you can dart out or risk a $2000 penalty for a collision. If the game designers wanted to simulate the frustrations and road rage you would experience as a bus driver, then the example of annoying drivers waiting in your bus stop is the perfect example and mission achieved.
At this point, it may be reasonable after reading this, to determine that this game might not be worthwhile. It is not so simple however, the game is a bit more than its annoyances and it’s precisely those that make this game a great simulator. In real life it isn’t so easy to drive a passenger bus, it does involve annoying passengers who listen to loud music, leave things on the bus and ask you to stop just a few meters away from the bus stop they themselves boarded from. It is actually quite challenging with the easier control options disabled, turn them on and it’s a full blown simulator – as much as it can be anyhow. This is why it’s enjoyable but incredibly frustrating. So yes, you will enjoy it, but you will also only be able to tolerate the game in finite quantities.
The graphics are based on the Unreal game engine and are actually quite hungry. Perhaps too hungry for what you do get. As you open up additional maps, it seems to cause a massive frame drop, but without testing this on multiple video cards, it is difficult to pin this one down. If your FPS drops below 20 you will find it will impact on playability and steering the bus will be affected. Those tree’s may just jump out in front of you!
In terms of textures, well they are average. The bus and textures inside and out are magnificent, whereas the NPC’s don’t have much to look at. Building and road textures are appropriate, plantation and side scenery is very lackluster. What is actually brilliant is the weather, sunlight and shading dynamics. It is an odd combo, but the main focus is the bus and the curves of the road. It’s an apt mix.
Engines, bus movements and that delightful tuft of the hydraulics as the doors open are all perfect. The NPC’s voices are well recorded and come through clearly, its pretty good. There is in game music that works better if you turn it down a bit, or off completely. This is because, if you have played the game for more than 4 hours, you will want to have the radio or TV on next to you.
Bus Simulator 18 is a worthwhile but frustratingly enjoyable sim that requires regular gameplay breaks to enjoy.