When Euro Truck Simulator 2 made its debut on PC many moons ago, the idea of taking a monotonous task and building a game around it was considered outlandish. After the game sold like hotcakes and developed a rabid following, the rest of the game development world took notice and a sub-genre of occupational simulation games was born. The latest take on this format comes from Stillalive Studios in Austria. Their newest game, Bus Simulator 18, hopes to grab the hearts and minds of PC gamers who find the idea of driving a bus around for 8 hours exhilarating, even with no explosions, guns, or hookers. The team has delivered a good foundation to build out from, but a lack of content and annoying bugs keep this trip from going cross country.
Living The Bus Driver Dream
Bus Simulator 18 give you the chance to operate your own bus company. While you start with a single bus and a single route, you can build you way up to a large operation with lots of busses and employees. The game begins with the creation of a bus company and your avatar. You are given the choice of a few outfits, hair colors, and other customizations. A small European town is your virtual bus playground. As you progress through the game’s campaign, you will unlock the ability to move into the various districts of the town until you are given permission by the city government to operate your business throughout the town.
The game features licensed buses from a few different manufacturers. The modeling work and interior details are pretty good. While I’ve never played Bus Simulator 16, one of the game’s loading screens proudly boasts that Bus Simulator 18 has over 1100 different bus sounds compared to just 55 in 16. While I’ve never been on a city bus (I live in a swamp and use a fan boat to get to the public library and post news everyday), the game sounds exactly what I’d expect a real bus to sound like. The game offers player two distinct driving modes: simplified and realistic. I only played with realistic and found it to work very well. All the buses had a unique feel, weight, and turning radius. The game even has a few articulated buses to spice up the experience (and raise your maximum occupancy level).
Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round
I used the Xbox One S controller exclusively, though the game supports keyboard and mouse input, as well as dedicated steering wheel setups. The game’s audio, visual, and control feedback did a great job of putting me in the driver’s seat. I’ve played a few European shovelware sim games and Bus Simulator 18 is very much a cut above. The only time I found myself killing pedestrians or causing collisions was due to my own negligence or error, never because of the game’s design (with a couple of exceptions).
While the game has a solid driving feel, the main gameplay loop is very limited. The developers added in some filler to break up the driving sections, though I found most of them to grow annoying after several hours of play. The worst of these diversions is the ticket selling mechanic. Some of your passengers will need to buy tickets and you must correctly enter their order onto your touch screen console and dish out their change. I was never able to find a way to do this with the controller, so I had to constantly swap between mouse and pad operation. You will get loud passengers, idiots who won’t let the doors close, and subhumans who leave cups in the seats. None of these situations is hard to deal with, just tedious busy work to make your route last longer. Thankfully, most of these can be disabled, but then you are left with the simple loop.
The town is fairly detailed and I found myself enjoying trips through it. Bus Simulator 18 runs on Unreal Engine 4 and gains some serious graphical muscle versus competing sim games. The lighting is good and reacts very well to varying surfaces. Roads look like roads, cars finishes look right, etc. Some of the lens flares from brake lights are incredibly aggressive, but it doesn’t harm the experience.
Driving Up Onto The Curb
I had some issues with the campaign design. You are tasked with objectives from city officials that must be completed to expand your operation. All of these objectives are arbitrary routes that connect various bus stops. Most of them make no sense from an efficiency standpoint and do little to enhance the experience other than bring you into new districts. You have to personally drive each route that you assign to your subordinates or the game does not give you credit for completing those routes. If you choose to edit a route later on to enhance efficiency, you must drive it again or your employees and buses will sit around losing your money. I feel that the objectives serve no purpose other than to pad out the single player campaign. You get no reward for carefully planning out routes other than more money.
The game only has one town in which you can operate. It doesn’t take long to unlock all of its stops and you will find yourself wishing for a new environment pretty early during your playthrough. While the game is not priced like a AAA release, it still feels short on content. Thankfully, the game has Steam Workshop support. I was able to download some dank bus skins that really helped give me some street cred. The workshop promises that players will be able to download new cities, but there are none on the Workshop as of the publishing of this review. Players who have the Epic Games Launcher installed will see that the Mods tab has a card for Bus Simulator 18. I suspect this is where players can create new cities, but there’s no way to know when (or if) that will happen.
Bus Simulator 18 also touts multiplayer bus driving. You can invite your Steam friends into a cooperative route or make a public game for randoms to join. Despite multiple tries with coworkers, friends, and pubbies, I was never able to stay in a multiplayer session that lasted longer than 2 minutes. The multiplayer portion of the game always dumps one or more of the players out of the session almost immediately. I’ve opened ports, checked firewalls, and reinstalled the game and was still unable to live my multiplayer bus dreams.
The Last Stop
Bus Simulator 18 is not a game changer and to be honest, it’s not the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in front of my PC. Still, it has solid driving mechanics, some detailed buses, and a gameplay loop that is strangely relaxing. A lack of content, multiplayer bugs, and a boring campaign keep me from recommending the game to all. Bus aficionados and sim game enthusiast will find lots to like in this package. It is possible that the Steam Workshop will be able to breathe life into the game in the future, but without the content available now, the asking price is a little steep. 6/10 drug addicts passed out in the back seats
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game was provided by the publisher. Bus Simulator 18 was made available for Steam on June 13, for $34.99.