I’ve raced fast cars, driven boats and even flown planes during my time as a gamer but I certainly never expected to be driving a bus through a crowded street with a handful of ungrateful passengers.
This is what I’ve been doing this week, though, in the console edition of Astragon Entertainment and Sillalive Studios’ Bus Simulator. Coming after then 18th edition of the PC game, console owners finally get to feel the thrill of driving their very own bus up to a stop and waiting for Noreen to pay for her ticket in 1p coins. I jest, of course, this game is actually pretty frantic at times, especially when you have timetables to stick to, where it almost turns into Crazy Taxi.
Bus Simulator works because of the open world its set in. Like Truck Simulator and others of its kind, the game allows you to do pretty much anything which, in turn, can hinder or help your progress. If it all gets too much you can even get out and walk, leaving a bunch of stranded passengers wondering where you’ve gone. I had to resist the urge to find a cliff and re-enact The Young Ones though.
After a tutorial gently eases you in to the game, a much needed experience to get used to all the many controls in the cockpit, all hell breaks loose as they see fit to release you on to the open road, complete with your own lovingly modded bus. The district is built up of city streets, factory and residential areas and each provide some slight variation on the challenge. Thankfully, you get a choice of difficulty settings, too, so those who simply want to take it easy or let the kids have a go (because, in my experience, they’ll want to drive a bus as soon as they see it running on your console and won’t shut up about it until you do!) or to really face a challenge are sorted here.
It’s not easy, even when you get the hang of the controls. In my first few days I racked up quite a few penalties from hitting cars and lamp posts, the mirrors are fairly small and it takes a while to get used to pulling back out of a stop. There are also speed cameras and bumps that will fine you for going too fast. At the same time, you have a timer ticking down on your map in the lower left while you rush to get tickets for passengers who are inconsiderate enough to hand you a 30 Euro note for a 5 Euro ticket. It’s all good fun, though, you even get to grill passengers to see if they have a valid ticket, which brought out the worst in me! The main aim, though, is to reach stops on time, make sure you give people the right change and earn enough to keep yourself in work at the end of each month and then hire a band of other drivers to help you out, starting your own bus empire.
While it won’t win any awards for graphics, the game world (a fictionalised town) is solidly built, has a lot of detail and some nice little features like shop signs and some lovely parks and lakes. You can even take your bus off on a cross country cruise to the dismay of your paying guests. There are bugs, as in pretty much every ‘simulator’ game out there. It focuses solely on the job of driving a bus, unsurprisingly, so when you test the limits of the game’s crash physics or send your bus careering off a muddy bank it can throw up some odd glitches. The town is nice enough to drive around in, even in the rain, and the pedestrians are great to just sit and watch, going about their every day lives. so kudos to the developers for creating something of a believable city and mixing things up with the look of the different areas.
Bus Simulator won’t appeal to everyone but it has enough heart to make the game entertaining even if your life’s goal isn’t to drive busses for a living and shout ‘tickets please’ at people.