There’s an intriguing niche in the simulation genre that has really been strutting itself the last couple of years that while allowing players to fit themselves into decidedly blue collar jobs. From farm and forestry simulators to pc building and railway management, there’s a simulator for nearly every walk of life at this point. Bus Simulator just seems like its a natural entry into the genre, but developers StillAlive Studios does have a few tricks up their sleeve to make Bus Simulator stand out from the increasingly competitive pack.
Players begin Bus Simulator by choosing the name of their busing company and customizing their own driver. There’s a surprising amount of customization available for the driver, with players being able to select their driver’s gender, uniform style, and color themes. While it is possible to choose your driver’s skin tone, StillAlive slips up (for some unusual reason) in this regard, as there are nine different shades of Caucasian skin tones and only one that is slightly darker than the other nine, albeit still not nearly dark enough to be considered a black skin tone.
The ability to customize your bus continues beyond just giving a name to your enterprise. As you power through your bus routes, your business expands and you can choose to purchase additional buses with customization options like paint jobs, liveries, and even advertising space for extra revenue. While initially your bus route is quite small, with time and good driving more spots in the sprawling metropolis become available to you, with the game eventually allowing for more route customization that takes you through Bus Simulator’s bustling metropolis and out to its more scenic destinations.
The movement of the NPCs throughout the world of Bus Simulator help make it feel more alive, but their stoic, expressionless faces, copy and paste appearance, and generic movement that often results in people clipping through each other does show that for all of its high gloss, Bus Simulator could still benefit from a little more polish. Since most of your time with Bus Simulator is spent either driving or managing the details of your business, its easy to overlook. However, Bus Simulator seeks to break up the monotony of just driving and micro managing the business by asking you to occasionally leave the drivers seat to face your more unruly passengers. Some for example, will stand in front of the doors of the bus and prevent them from closing (which was surely a bug that became a ‘feature’), others listen to their music too loud. There are also NPCs that are wheelchair bound whom, unfortunately for those hoping for this sort of diversity in gaming, exist only to pose as an extra challenge for the player by requiring a wheelchair ramp.
Bus Simulator’s campaign ties player progression to their completion of a series of objectives that make up each mission. These are typically minor tasks, such as expanding or driving your route. Sometimes these requests might go so far as to ask you to drive under certain circumstances, such as in the rain or at night. These are all nice ways to break up the relative monotony of driving a bus, shelling out tickets, making change, and yelling at passengers to turn their headphones down.
One of the most surprising, and well executed, aspects of Bus Simulator is that it allows players to customize the difficulty of their experience without any punishment for doing so. An opposite to the campaign’s guiding mission structure is Sandbox mode, allowing players to just explore and play the game at their leisure without feeling shoehorned into certain circumstances. Even in the campaign, players choose the settings for each route before they drive it. Whether its day, night, rain or shine, whether passengers stand in front of door ways or leave trash behind at a higher rate than the day before, whether to go it alone or strike out with up to three friends in online multiplayer. Bad at math? Then turn off the cashier option so you don’t have to hand out tickets and change.
Bus Simulator’s development team somehow found a way to make something as mundane as being a bus driver into an enjoyable experience while also allowing for a level of game play customization that is typically missing from the genre. Unfortunately, on the Xbox One S system the game does suffer from frequent crashing, but there is a patch in the works at the time of this review. While the game could benefit from a little more polish, it is still an enjoyable experience that appeals to dedicated fans of management sims while still being approachable enough for those who are just looking to dip their toes into the genre.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher