Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a bus driver, driving around a city, picking up dozens of passengers along the way, selling tickets and dealing with the numerous rigors that come with being on the road? It’s a tough ask I’d admit, and the answer is most likely a resounding NO, but regardless of how much you’ve wanted to become a bus driver in your alternative reality, Bus Simulator 16 is one of those games that make you think, who on earth would want to play this? Yet, you find yourself playing that exact game and for some reason, having fun.
I went into Bus Simulator 16 not really sure of what to expect but came out of it feeling rather surprised. I’ll be honest though, my experience with these kind of simulator games is rather limited but I’ve followed them enough to know that OMSI 2 sets the benchmark when it comes to Bus Simulators. It’s only natural that for those hardcore simulator gamers, OMSI 2 is ultimately what Bus Simulator 16 will be compared against however they are two different games targeted at different audiences.
Either way, there is only so many ways you can dress up a Bus Simulator as it does exactly what it says on the tin, you drive buses. That’s what the game revolves around. You pick your route, get the bus ready and away you go. However the game is a bit deeper than that by tasking you with running your own bus company in a similar way to how your company works in Euro Truck Simulator 2. For most people, that’s enough to turn them away but for those who are more open-minded or can appreciate a decent simulator, you’ll find a game which is easy to get into and can be a joy to play.
When you first load-up Bus Simulator 16, developed by Stillalive Studios, you will taken to a rather intuitive tutorial. You start by meeting the previous owner of the company you have just purchased who talks you through what it takes to run a successful bus driver and most importantly, how to drive buses. It’s a tad cheesy, but it’s a different and refreshing approach to teaching you how to play a game. It won’t be winning tutorial of the year but you will leave it feeling like the tutorial did what it was actually supposed to do and it is skippable, if you so wish.
Once completing the tutorial, or skipping it, you are brought to your company screen which allows you to do a number of things such as purchase additional routes and buses, hire drivers as well as customise your buses. The menu is clutter free and easy to navigate and is very easy on the eyes. Purchasing additional routes is essential to increasing your revenue and expanding your business. It allows you to have more stops in your route as well as enabling you to assign buses and drivers to other routes you have created. Your initial route is for a small district suburb, but with additional routes you can claim more of the city for your own company. Overall the system works well and gives extra padding to the game. It’s nice to be able to focus on the company side of things rather than just driving your bus on the same few routes, over and over again. It offers progression which can sometimes be hard to do in a game of this nature. Once you purchase a route, you must drive it before you can unlock it though which after the first few routes can get tedious, especially when you purchase a smaller route for your other drivers and have no interest in driving it yourself.
My main criticism is with the route planner however. While it does allow you to purchase and choose your own routes, you are restricted to selecting the bus stop with the actual route pre-determined by the game. That means that the game decides what roads you have to drive along to get to the next stop and these aren’t always the roads you actually want to drive along. It makes planning routes feel frustrating as you constantly go back and forth between selecting stops to get a route which feels like the one you originally wanted. It’s not a major issue but takes away from the freedom you should have when picking routes.
Now that I’ve talked a bit about the company management side of the game, which is a core part, let’s move on to the actual buses themselves. Buses in Bus Simulator 16 are recreated in great detail, with three types of buses on offer as you progress through the game: 2 door buses, 3 door buses, and articulated buses. There’s a good variety and each alters the way you drive and play each route. When you enter the driving seat, you hold down the right mouse button to bring up the mouse cursor which allows you to turn the key in the ignition as well as turn on or off the various different switches and buttons, including your lights, doors, brakes, air conditioning and there is even a radio although the music leaves a lot to be desired. It’s an easy way to navigate the cockpit as it can be overwhelming at first with all the different controls on offer. They are all mapped to the keyboard so you can use that as a shortcut but if you don’t like having to remember a dozen keys all at once. It’s a feature I really like and whilst at first it feels alien, you quickly get used to it.
Upon starting your bus and ensuring you’re ready to go, your next job will be to pick up passengers. Passengers are what make or break you in Bus Simulator 16, you must keep them happy by driving safely but quickly as well as ensuring that conditions on the bus are just right. If it’s raining outside and you fancy the heating on, they’ll let you know how much they don’t want it on! As soon as you pick up passengers from your first stop, a timer will start, counting down how long you have left to reach the next one. Getting to the next bus stop before the timer runs out is important, although if you find yourself stuck in traffic, which depending on your route can be quite often, you aren’t heavily penalized for being late, thankfully. When you pull up to the bus stop, you’ll also get points for your stopping position. While it does encourage you to take the game seriously, it can feel too arcadey at times with all of the smiley or frowning faces appearing on the screen every time you do something good or bad.
Your passengers though are rather lacklustre, seemingly being devoid of any emotion whatsoever. They walk as if they have rigamortis and the voice acting is below standard. It’s just about bearable to start with and while you will hear passengers chatting on the bus, it soon becomes old and tiresome. There’s only so many times you can hear the same person phone their boss pretending to be ill. At first it’s funny, but after that it grows old, especially when the same guy seems to get on your route every single day. I’m almost sure he never actually works. In Bus Simulator 16 though, you will get passengers who will need to buy a ticket from you which means you have to man the ticket machine. With a tap of a key, you’ll transition to your ticket machine where you will be able to print off the correct ticket and give the passenger their change. This was a feature I really liked a lot as it piles pressure on you to be quick but accurate, especially when you’re running late and have a queue of passengers trying to get onto your bus. What if you give someone too much change though? Well, that will come out of your day’s takings. Oh the joys of being a bus driver.
As for the driving, I found driving the actual buses to be rather enjoyable. They handle relatively well, if a bit floaty, but re-create the challenge of turning and trying to maneuver in tight spaces. It can take a bit of getting used to as you will need to learn to judge distances but it makes the game more challenging. The pace of driving is relatively slow with the roads being rather busy. You’ll find yourself spending lots of time stuck at traffic lights or behind other cars and while it certainly isn’t fun being stuck in traffic, it is at least realistic to some degree. The AI drivers on the other hand are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are good but other times they drive frustratingly slow and cut you up. Indicators are your friend though. Always indicate! Unfortunately, it seems your AI counterparts aren’t fans of indicating. A nice surprise when driving the streets is tFhe addition of emergency vehicles who can appear out of the blue with their sirens on meaning you need to move out of their way. It’s a nice touch even if they do appear a tad too often.
Graphically, Bus Simulator 16 has an arcadey, slightly cartoony appearance but that isn’t a bad thing. The world, environment, passengers and vehicles all like look they are part of the same world which was an issue with OMSI. The graphic style also allows the game to run much smoother than OMSI and therefore include more when it comes to the environment. The city you drive around, Sunny Springs, is actually quite beautiful. It looks like the perfect city to go for a stroll in and certainly doesn’t lack life with pedestrians and other vehicles around every corner. It feels like a living and breathing city at times. Roadworks and construction sites are also dynamically created which means you may get caught in traffic or have to divert your route to reach your destinations. The game tries to throw challenges at you to keep you on your toes which is refreshing, even if they do fall a little flat. The other dynamic events are cool though such as doors jamming, which require you to get out and manually unjam the doors as well as needing to get out of your bus to lower the wheelchair ramp for disabled users. You never quite know what is going to happen next.
There is a multiplayer mode included as well which is always welcomed, allowing you to run your company with friends. While you can’t drive buses together, you can each be driving your own routes and earning money for your company. If one of your friends is a reckless driver however, what they do on the road will negatively impact your reputation and company. It’s a nice bonus feature, even if a little bit weak as ultimately, you still play by yourself while driving around Sunny Springs.
Bus Simulator 16 is a game that does have its problems and is nowhere near perfect. Compared to OMSI though, it is much more accessible and runs a lot better. The problem is, it doesn’t run well enough with long loading times and a stuttering frame-rate, even on newer machines. Stability wise, it feels more like an Early Access title and that needs to be addressed by the developers sooner rather than later. With some tweaking, I was able to get the game to run fairly smoothly on Medium settings, however it still wasn’t the framerate I would expect from a game like this. I haven’t experienced any crashes as of yet, but I have seen a few bugs, especially with passengers clipping into the environment while waiting at the bus stop and therefore becoming stop. As they can’t get on the bus, you have to drive on resulting in you getting a penalty for leaving passengers behind.
The biggest issue with Bus Simulator 16 is that it can get boring after playing for several hours but I feel that is more down to the type of the game it is than the actual game itself. I mean, it’s a Bus Simulator, what do you expect? It’s clear that the developers have put a lot of thought and effort into making Bus Simulator 16 a realistic, yet fun game which can be played by as many people as possible. If you’re a fan of simulators though and are wanting an enjoyable game which does have replayability and offers progress, you’ll find yourself enjoying this game. If on the other hand you hate buses and the idea of having to play a Bus Simulator is worse than the thought of spending a week in Guantanamo Bay (Is that place still open), then you’re best to avoid this title.
*(A review code was provided by Astragon Entertainment for our Bus Simulator 16 review)