In my head, there are two versions of what a bus driving job entails. The first is the vision of my childhood where the driver is a real-life hero who would pick us up from wherever we would be stood, beckoning us on-board his magical bus full of multiple buttons and gadgets. The other though is the one which I’ve begun to understand the older I’ve got, that of a poor local bus driver driving the night bus on a Saturday night, after the pubs have turned out, and the utter joy that obviously brings. With the release of Bus Simulator, I was interested to find out what version I would become.
You start things off in Bus Simulator in a large fictional city – Seaside Valley – which comes with 12 different districts that cover areas such as industrial, commercial, and more. Now for some reason, there has been a problem with the public transport system of Seaside Valley in the past so you’ve been brought in to deliver your bus expertise to try and sort the problem out. You start the game with a tutorial that puts you on a small route of just five stops and from there on out, you’re thrown into the world of Bus Simulator with your first day on the buses.
Thankfully you can choose your level of difficulty depending on the skill set and level of detail you feel most comfortable with; amending exactly how realistic you wish your bus driving job to be. You are also given the first of eight different buses which you can collect and customise to your heart’s desire. More decals, a variety of colours and all manner of other details become available as you level up so you can truly pimp your bus out however you see fit. It has to be said though that the buttons, knobs and levers you need to familiarise yourself with whilst in the bus are pretty tricky and complex to understand initially, but they are not in any way as deep as the likes found in Train Sim World. You soon work out how to start the bus, turn off the parking brake and indicate to others that you are on your way.
The bus handles well and driving it becomes second nature after you’ve spent time completing multiple shifts, as you slowly but surely begin to work out what the bus can or can’t do. At the end of the day though you’ll basically be left to drive as safely as you can along a specific bus route which is displayed on your sat nav, pulling up to the curb, opening the doors and letting passengers on for the ride of their lives.
Half of the passengers will just walk in and sit down because they have a prepaid ticket or travel pass (even though they don’t ever show you these), whilst others will want to buy a ticket there and then. It is here that with a quick touch of a button, you enter into the magical world of ’till mode’. Here you listen to what they want – for example, a one day ticket with a student discount – and you select the right details on the ticket machine screen and print out a ticket. You then give them change according to what is owed by selecting through a number of cash tabs at the bottom of the till. The prices of the tickets are madly varied though and don’t make much sense, which has made me think there must be some kind of high level corruption going on in this city. But hey, who am I to question things, I’m just the bus driver.
When you’ve completed your route, you get money and a star rating. In order to get the very highest rating you need to drive perfectly, avoiding other vehicles, refusing to mow down pedestrians, taking speed bumps carefully, and keeping an eye on a multitude of speed cameras. But the very best bus drivers also have other things to contend with too; sometimes your passengers will be playing loud music and you will have to pull over to tell them off, whilst at other times you’ll need to keep your bus clean from litter, picking up the odd discarded coffee cup and the like.
The money you earn can be used to hire other drivers, getting them to do the work for you, leaving them to drive specific routes that you’ve created. And in regards to that route creation, there is a lovely tool which lets you select and create routes that cover a variety of distances, areas, and bus stops along the way. There is also a pretty decent mission structure that will guide you through the game slowly until you unlock all the features.
It has to be said that no matter what you hope for, Bus Simulator can become very dull and repetitive after a while. However, there is a strange type of relaxing satisfaction to the gameplay; one that maybe only true sim lovers will understand. Later on in the game the routes get longer and you’ll find yourself putting in huge shifts that seem to last an age. Putting on some music and wondering about life choices is the order of the day here.
There are also moments where the conversion from PC to console hasn’t been entirely successful – particularly in the controls department. See, it’s easy to get lost with the instructions as they are a bit unclear at what you need to do next, and when you combine it with a few bugs, frustration arises. One time a passenger just stood in the doorway of my bus and refused to move so I couldn’t close the door. After a standoff of 30 minutes, I reloaded my save.
I do like the way that Bus Simulator on Xbox One looks though and Seaside Valley is a nice city to drive around, with plenty of different features to take in and some nice weather effects bringing it to life. It’s not like this is going to win awards on the visual front, but driving in the rain sees the general public running around looking for shelter, which is a great little touch. The actual bus looks like, well, a bus, and so that is fine and whilst I have found the animations of the passengers fairly good, there are far too many clones living in this city; it’s like some sort of strange Twin Peaks convention.
The soundtrack is inoffensive too, with some lovely easy listening tracks playing on the radio stations of the bus. One word of advice though is to kickback with Spotify playing over the effects of the game; it makes the night shift on a long route go a lot faster.
From just looking at the title of the game you will know whether you’re going to love Bus Simulator on Xbox One or not. The gameplay is a slog at times, but the repetitive nature is also sort of soothing to the soul, with the missions bringing a bit of reason to why you are there and allowing you to continue playing in order to unlock things. Yes there are some bugs in terms of the visuals and gameplay mechanics, but even though I’ve had to reload things more than once, it hasn’t dampened my love for this new bus driving career that I’ve taken in.
If you’ve always wanted to be a bus driver but don’t want to leave the house, then you should be checking out Bus Simulator.