Well. Chances are you’ve already decided whether or not Bus Simulator is for you before even opening this review. For some, simulator titles elicit groans and moans. Others relish the insane detail packed into every aspect. While I tend to fall somewhere in the middle generally, I found my time with Bus Simulator really rather enjoyable – for the most part.
While some titles take the simulator aspect with tongue firmly in cheek, Bus Simulator is having none of that. It’s about as straight laced and dry as you would imagine. There’s no whacky physics or outlandish set-ups; just you, your bus, and the suburban roads full of traffic, road works and pedestrians to ferry about.
That’s not necessarily a knock, though. While I’m sure the real life occupation is a tad more stressful, here there’s something quite soothing about the whole affair. Casually cruising along, making regular stops for more passengers is far too relaxing. It helps that all the customers are impossibly polite – not once did I get threatened or spat at – but even after the last stop, the grace at which this mammoth vehicle glides along the road is great.
Of course, driving about the city is fairly straightforward. Elsewhere is where things get down to the nitty gritty – and some issues start to come to light. After a brief tutorial, you’re free to plan routes, hire and fire drivers, customise your buses and more. There’s a lot to dig in to here, with objectives helping you progress, but you can also free wheel it too. I found the menu system to be a bit too fiddly; designed as I was for mouse and keyboard, it’s all to easy to get buttons wrong and accidently delete a planned route, or unpin your objective. Considering the amount of options presented to you, it’s an unfortunate reality that complications would occur.
Get all that sorted though, and it’s back to the road. Now, as I’ve mentioned, the act of driving about the city is surprisingly effortless. But. Once again, the sheer number of options available to you lead to a huge learning curve, while you get to grips with the cavalcade of shortcuts mapped to every possible button on the pad. In all fairness, Still Alive has done a pretty intuitive job for the main functions, such as indicators mapped to the left and right bumpers, doors to X etc.
It’s when we get to things like the disabled ramp, or lights for various parts of the bus that things get multiple menus deep. A radial menu can be brought up, with each of the half dozen or so base options leading into multiple other options – some even further still. Again, it’s a by product of the style of game, and without a keyboard they’ve really done about as well as I’d expect – but the gamepad is just not suited to something as intricate as this.
And that’s on the simplified mode! Go even more hardcore, and you’ll need to flick switches in the right order to get the bus moving, unlock each door before setting off and more. Aside from the radial menu, every action is also present in the physical world for you to interact with. Sitting in your drivers seat, you can look around the cockpit and flick switches, turn the ignition and operate the ticket machine. It’s a great way to get even more immersed in this sim, but there’s one thing that held me back from doing so more often.
Even at the max speed, the camera turns so… so… slowly. Great for being able to finely point to the tiny buttons on the dash, but so tedious even when moving across the width of the console. At times you are free to walk about too, and tidy your bus or check the tickets of passengers, but I’m pretty sure by the time your avatar makes a full rotation, your bus company will have gone out of business.
Despite the UI downers, I still found myself rather charmed with Bus Simulator. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and for that I admire it. The act of driving about the city is relaxing, planning routes and getting to know them is oddly fun, and managing the back end of the business can get quite deep. Even if you may not think it’s up your street, hop aboard one day and you might just be surprised.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.