These days it seems no matter what job you can think of, be it a monotonous chore such as lawnmowing, or a vastly more important role that we couldn’t do without such as Farming or Car Mechanics, there is always going to be a simulator to arrive on Xbox to put us players in that role to see how we would perform. The latest Simulator to arrive on Xbox is that of Bus Simulator 21, and no you’re not expected to take on the role of a solitary bus – which wouldn’t surprise me at this point, but rather that of a business entrepreneur, bus driver and management extraordinaire in what is certainly one of the more in-depth simulators available.
Before you can properly jump into the world of Bus Simulator 21 however, you must first choose from one of two possible starting locations. Do you build the American dream in the suburbs of Angel Shores or look for a more European venture within Seaside Valley? Besides the obvious location difference, there are also a few rule changes to take note of with Angel Shores allowing drivers to turn right even if driving up to a red light, and putting pedestrians first, whilst Seaside Valley will have you yielding to all cars coming from the right, obeying all speed limits, and stopping for every red light seen.
From this point, you choose your experience all the way from simplified driving complete with convenience features for the ‘Day Tripper’ difficulty, all the way to Hardcore which sees you take manual control of every aspect – a demanding experience to say the least.
After naming your company, you’re good to go, and it’s not long before you’re being coaxed into splashing the cash on your first bus.
There are 31 busses to choose from within the game, from standard busses to bendy busses, all the way to the coveted double-decker, however, until you’ve begun making money, you’ll be limited to three choices at first. Each bus comes with official branding and with my first choice being the Citaro K from Mercedes Benz I was ready to turn my newly founded ‘Dealz on Wheelz’ into a vital part of the community.
As things begin, players are guided through a tutorial on how to do each of the tasks you’ll need to master to get things running smoothly, unless of course, you’ve opted out of the tutorial. These tasks include all manner of things from how to run and create an effective bus route by utilising route demand and peak times, how to give out or check tickets, how to utilise all the different functions of the bus such as the disability ramp, lights, parking brake and doors, as well as all manner of other things.
Once you’ve got the basics, you’ll begin working through quests that see you slowly expand your business to cover larger areas and connect different routes together, adding in key stops, removing those that don’t really serve many purposes and generally growing your company to fit demand. Of course, this means you’ll also be buying more busses which will be controlled by capable NPC’s who will run your routes unless you wish to take over.
In terms of progression, Bus Simulator 21 really nails the pacing as you have adequate time to learn how to do each additional task, although things do fall slightly short on the explanations at times. For example, having been told I’d unlocked a new stop, I had no idea of knowing how to get there or where it was until I had scanned every stop on the in-game map to find out which one it was. With no arrow or notification, this can make things a little irritating later on unless you’ve managed to learn the names of locations off by heart.
That is only a minor niggle though and overall, the pacing fits really well as you work through different districts and become accustomed to different routes.
The game works through a day/night system with money earned from all your different routes paid out at the end of the day, and staff wages and bus maintenance taken here too. The more routes you have that meet demand, the more money you’ll earn, and it goes on and on in a seemingly very profitable manner.
Besides paying for new vehicles, paying maintenance for bus stops and paying fines you’ll definitely accrue until you get to grips with things, there are very few ways to actually lose all that much money and even after having spent all my money to push for an extra bus route with its own vehicle, there was never any real danger of being unable to afford anything necessary. Of course, it’s nice to not be stressing about money to progress but it does also take away any potential threat to your business, instead ensuring gameplay is focused purely on the simulation of the bus driving and the routes.
Servicing bus stops is another questionable feature, with bus stops earning experience points the more they are used which in turn allow you to level up each individual stop. Surprisingly there is no overly obvious benefit to this besides the impact on your overall district-level once you’ve upgraded enough of them but whilst I’m sure there must be a positive reason for this somewhere, it wasn’t made overly obvious at any point.
In terms of the gameplay itself, Bus Simulator 21 does a fantastic job of creating a mostly believable and enjoyable experience. Despite never having driven a bus in real life, the actions required to get everything working properly feel believable and the driving itself has the perfect weighted feel you’d expect from a several tonne vehicle.
Sadly, for everything the game gets right, there is always something that causes questions to arise though and whilst the driving is fun, enjoyable, and realistic, other things seem to make little to no sense at all. For example, whilst it’s recommended in the tutorial to check passengers’ tickets frequently, given many get on without purchasing one directly from you, doing so can mean spending large amounts of time at stops, and with expected arrival times to get to your next stop, this can make the rest of your journey a bit of a rush.
To combat this, there is the option to turn your game into a multiplayer experience for up to four players, with joining players able to do everything that you can do from being a ticket inspector on your journey to running your other bus routes for you and buying busses to making new routes, but with incredible connection issues during my time, this seemed almost impossible, as my joining partner was often found forced out of my bus mid-transit and left running along the road to catch up every two minutes thanks to horrible lag at all times.
For players who just want to go about driving busses and enjoying the life of a bus driver, there is Sandbox mode to enjoy, but with money no massive issue anyway, there is never any reason to not just plod through the campaign at your own pace.
Overall, if you want to experience all the highs in the life of a bus company without any real punishments to worry about then Bus Simulator 21 is the game for you. It’s a surprisingly engaging experience when it all runs smoothly and there’s definitely fun to be had here as you begin connecting routes and districts together. It must be said the multiplayer experience isn’t fantastic right now thanks to consistent connection issues, although should they not be present at any point the experience would certainly be enjoyable, but this isn’t a game that requires friends to enjoy and whilst there are some questionable occasions that arise, the general experience brings a believable and enjoyable life in the life of a bus company.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.