The console release of Bus Simulator is a port of last year’s PC release Bus Simulator 18. Developed by Stillalive Studios over in Austria, there is a lot to like in this port, provided you’re willing to accept and/or overlook a bit of jankiness.
The game’s plot has you starting a private bus company that gets a municipal contract for the fictional European town of Seaside Valley, starting off with creating and running routes in the business district and as you fulfill various objectives, expanding into the rest of the city and surrounding countryside.
Gameplay in Bus Simulator consists of two parts. First is a fairly simple menu-based management sim where you name your company, lay out your bus routes among your currently unlocked stops, buy new buses, customize paint jobs in the garage, and hire new drivers and assign them to run your bus lines. Afterwards, you choose one of your bus routes to personally drive that week and it switches to the bus-driving simulator portion of the game where you pick up passengers at the assigned stops for that route, sell them tickets, drop them off, and so forth.
Bus Simulator has a lot of options depending on how simple or intricate you want your drive around Seaside Valley to be. You can set the time of day and weather, if you want to handle giving out ticketing and giving out change to the passengers or not, NPC car spawn rates, and individual event frequency (things like having to stop the bus to let a passenger off early, picking up garbage someone left behind, yelling at a passenger to turn their music down, etc). Before the run begins you also choose between simplified or “realistic” driving simulation, although the “realistic” option seems to just mean “more button pressing”.
For example, before you even start driving the bus, you have to unlock and open the front doors, walk into the bus, go to the back doors and unlock them from the inside, open the driver door, then you can sit down and start turning on lights and the ignition. Extending the wheelchair ramp for customers who need it also involves a few extra steps that felt like they bogged down the flow of gameplay for me, so I preferred sticking to the “simple” mode most of the time, but I appreciated having the option available.
Visually, Bus Simulator is a very mixed bag. The interior of each type of bus is unique and very detailed, and the world is extremely large and varied, but the textures on other vehicles and buildings seems very flat. The frame rate while driving around was very consistent, no matter how many cars, pedestrians, or passengers were riding, but it was consistently not great, and downright bad when looking at the reflections in rear view mirrors (it very much reminded me of stop-motion animation).
Menus also have their own inconsistencies. Sometimes the left stick is used to scroll through options, but sometimes it’s the right stick. I rapidly got used to which times where which, but this was a recurring experience of my time with the game: I would be a little confused by a choice the developers made, I would get used to it, and then move on. Another example of this is the blue “H” that kept lighting up on the bus dashboard. At first I had no idea what it signified, but after some quick googling I found out that the German word for bus-stop is “haltestelle” so it just meant a rider wanted to get off at the next stop. Another moment of confusion was when I had a mission to run a route in “round trip” mode, but I could find no such option anywhere. I finally passed it when I turned on “ping-pong” mode in the route options.
Perhaps the most perplexing part of driving around in Bus Simulator is the traffic signage (or lack thereof). In the initial area, there are no stop lights, no posted speed limit signs, and only a couple of yield signs that I can recall, so in addition to getting used to the controls, I was having to guess if I had the right of way or not. Later areas do add some stop lights, but I don’t remember seeing any stop signs at all in the game, just yield ones which can lead to some very frustrating traffic patterns. There were many times when I found myself trapped behind a line of cars because someone at the front was waiting to turn left onto a busy road, or yielding when they actually had the right of way, or stopped for a line of pedestrians that were jaywalking which felt especially bad when I was already 30 seconds behind schedule to get to the next stop. It’s not like situations like that don’t happen in the real world though so I guess I can’t complain about it too much (though it does happen a bit too frequently in the game for my liking).
Anytime you’re driving you can stop the bus and walk around on foot. Sometimes it’s necessary to pick up garbage that a passenger left behind, or you can check passenger’s tickets for fare jumpers (and get a nice bonus for catching them in the act). You can even leave the bus entirely and walk around the town, there are a handful of trophies and Easter eggs to find. Mutiplayer is also an option with servers for up to four players. There are multiplayer specific missions where you can form a convoy of buses running the same route, or become a co-driver where one person is driving the bus, and the other can handle passenger duty (checking tickets, etc), or you can just join their server in free roam and just jump on their bus and ride around.
The trophy list seems like it will be easy to Platinum, even if it’s a bit of a grind. Most of the trophies involve hitting certain experience milestones, having a certain number of buses in your garage, linking bus stops to your various routes, and finding the small handful of collectibles. The only skill-based one is to have a 5-star rating on a trip, which can be a bit difficult since hitting a pot hole or running late due to traffic can make you ineligible on that run, but with enough time, practice, and a bit of luck, it will come.
Overall, despite the numerous confusing, janky, and messy elements, I enjoyed Bus Simulator quite a bit. I found it extremely relaxing as a whole and a great way to unwind. There’s something about driving a bus through a fictional town with odd civil engineering decisions that just feels good.
Bus Simulator is available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided by the publisher for that purpose.