Since the dawn of gaming, we have used this medium as a means of escape and wish-fulfillment. Games allow us to do things and go places that are otherwise impossible in the real world. This concept has fueled the simulation genre well into the present and the future.
Whether you want to be a fighter pilot, a commercial airline pilot, a truck driver, or a farmer, games have you covered. Now we can add bus driver to that list with Bus Simulator on the PS4. Now, the idea of driving a bus around like a slower version of Crazy Taxi may not sound like the ideal way to spend hours of your life, but don’t write this one off just yet. Bus Simulator is going places (pun intended).
The Wheels on The Bus (Mostly) Go Round and Round
As someone who relied on public transportation for several years before I could afford a car of my own, I have a lot of respect for the bus drivers out there. They are often subjected to the worst of driving stressors, and they have to deal with less than ideal passengers on a daily basis.
While I’ve never had aspirations to become one myself, I must admit that the idea of driving a bus around a virtual city sounded kind of nice for a change. Once you boost up Bus Simulator, you’re greeted with a cheerful character who is very excited about public transportation.
She walks you through the basics of the game in a well-paced and organic tutorial that I really appreciated. A lot of these simulators fail to really welcome new players into the experience, so the detailed tutorial here was a very good first impression for me.
After all, the game is about more than just using the gas and the brakes. A great number of buttons and interactions are spread across the dashboard when you’re driving. You also need to manage your company and expand with new routes and drivers. You can also unlock and purchase new buses and even utilize a respectable selection of customization options.
When you’re driving, things can get pretty complicated. Thankfully, button shortcuts and a radial menu also allow you to quickly accomplish things like turning on the headlights, activating windshield wipers, and opening or closing the doors for passengers.
The default settings offer a nice variety of challenges, detailed simulation elements, and random events, but the game has a ton of options for increasing the difficulty or switching things over to a more faithful sim if you prefer your games as realistic as possible.
To put things in perspective, let’s discuss a typical drive in Bus Simulator.
You’ll start at the beginning of a route, with stops that you choose on a map of the massive virtual city. You start in one area, but will expand to other areas and locales that offer a nice mixture of scenery.
Switching between first-person and a zoomed out camera is easy with a press of the left stick. Allowing you to see around you vehicle or rely on your rear-view mirrors as needed. Pulling into the first stop is best done using your turn-signal and stopping within the designated area (both things that game will note if you do correctly).
A press of the square button (or buttons on the dash), open the doors for passengers. A separate radial menu also lets you extend a handicap ramp if someone needs it. As customers board, some may need to purchase tickets.
Here you will need to select the options from a terminal beside your driver’s seat and provide the correct change. Once everyone is on board, you can use your turn signal, and miraculously, people will let you back into traffic to continue your route.
Your score (profits) are based on factors like staying on schedule, but also obeying traffic laws. A speed limiter option is nice here to keep you from flooring it. Navigating tight turns and handling heavily traffic keep you on your toes in certain situations.
Hitting the curb, or other cars will obviously fine you at the end of your route, but even little things like taking speed bumps too fast or hitting potholes are counted against you. Depending on your settings, random events can also take you out of the driver’s seat as well.
I had one instance where a passenger just sat there standing in the doorway. I thought it was a glitch until I left the driver’s seat and walked over to them. I had the option to tell them they needed to move. It felt oddly authentic, given some of the things I’ve seen in my time on public transportation.
Other events include cleaning up trash on the bus before you end your route, or returning lost objects to passengers before they get too far away. One instance of this did glitch for me, resulting in a floating phone I couldn’t interact with despite repeated attempts.
Finally, factors like time of day and weather add further variety and challenge to the routes. I drove the same route several times, but I will say that doing it at night during the rain was a lot different than a sunny day.
When your finished with your route, you can take the bus back to a warehouse to park it, or end your route from the menu with no penalty. On the default settings, I felt like there was a really nice balance of challenges and quiet driving through the city in Bus Simulator. The satisfaction of building and running a route yourself with near-perfect accuracy is actually really satisfying.
The attention to detail in the functionality of the bus is great, and while the passengers themselves have plenty of repeating character models (even within the same group), their voice lines while you’re driving can be both self-aware and hilarious in equal measure.
The controls felt good on a DualShock 4, but I think this would be one that’s a lot more immersive if you have a wheel and pedal setup. Beyond the occasional glitch (like the phone I couldn’t pick up), or moments when my bus got stuck on something like a light pole (resulting in multiple fines as I backed up and tried to reorient myself), the majority of the moment-to-moment gameplay was enjoyable.
It’s so odd to think that something as banal as driving a bus could be an engaging experience, but Bus Simulator does a great job of making the world feel alive and unpredictable, even if certain things can break the immersion at times.
Tack on a multiplayer mode that lets you run routes with other players in real-time, and you have a respectable simulator for anyone who wants to try a game unlike anything else in their library.
Presentation Filled With Highs and Lows
Bus Simulator’s presentation is a mixed bag, with elements that I really liked, and things that fall short of what you would expect on PS4. The buses themselves have great detail on the dashboard and interiors.
Passengers are fairly interesting, but the character models repeat far too often. Unless this city is full of twins, I shouldn’t be seeing the same person in a different colored shirt every time I stop the bus.
The city itself does offer a nice variety of scenery, but the quality of textures is all over the place. Buildings and lighting can look great, but things like trees or distance objects can be blurry. None of it directly affects the gameplay, but it does hurt the overall immersion.
For the budget price of $39.99, I think the curious should absolutely check out Bus Simulator. If you’ve been curious about these sim games and want to try your hand at something completely different, it’s a welcoming and surprisingly compelling experience with just a few rough edges.
Despite that, I enjoyed my time as a bus driver, and I’m sure there will be more routes in my future.
Final Score: 7.5/10
A copy of Bus Simulator was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/18/19