I go into driving simulators expecting the worst and sometimes I find a game that is, relaxing, enjoyable and challenging, even if its still dull. Bus Driver puts you in the driver’s seat of several different buses on several different routes that you have to chose from. While it would be easy to dismiss a game like this, I will give it credit for having a subtle, deep and nuanced driving system.
Its a game that takes patience that I’m surprised I had when I am so used to playing fast pace arcade style racers. Each route can take around ten minutes, but later routes require more time. Its a real time investment and commitment that some people can muster, but there is always a challenge.
The driving is complex, slamming on the brakes might stop you faster, but it’ll agitate your passengers into anger. Driving through a red light will get points deducted. Even changing lanes without using your turning signal is another infraction. Of course for every punishment there can be a reward. The game will give you points for successful stops at red lights and even lane changes. Cars behind you at red lights will honk for you to go, but your job as a bus driver is just tune it out.
Happy passengers will give you score bonuses. If you drive a full mile with no penalties or if your passengers stay happy, you earn a score. There is always incentive to keep everything running smooth in an environment that without patience can go catastrophic.
Because you’re driving long buses, the mundane becomes the challenge and the focus. Turning a corner can turn into an accident; too wide and you’ll run into the wrong lane if not slam into oncoming traffic. There is no damage for any accident, just a point deduction. If you turn too sharp, you could take out a lamp post, street light or hit a wall.
Your goal is so simple, yet challenging; stop at designated points, pick up passengers and drop them off; that’s it. Oh it sounds simple, but its still difficult. Stopping without slamming on your brakes, having to rush to your next stop without infractions and of course waiting for people to get on or off your bus. You never see them enter or leave, they just disappear from the bus stop.
For what it lacks in human animations, it makes up for details in the city you drive in. There are firetrucks, ambulances, cars and other buses, but there are nice touches everywhere. Broken down semi trailers require you to shift lanes. You’ll find construction here and there and parked cars can litter a road. I never expected the game to go that far to make the world feel real.
Another interesting diversity of the game are the highways and off ramps. Its more than just flat surfaces, you’ll have to deal with the bus and all of its weight and momentum going up or down inclines. When you drive fast enough, the bus begins to rock. I’m not sure if that’s the wind rocking you. It all blends together to make a more believable experience that you need to control these bus beasts.
While this is a believable, almost simulation like experience, the points system makes it still feel like a game. At the end of each route, you’re score is tallies for passengers, delivery time, bonuses and penalties. The score then gets saved and the top six high scores stay with that route. Its good encouragement to keep trying to do better and better.
The game is broken up into six tiers, each of which has six or so routes with different buses. Each of the buses might look different, but they all feel the same. Perhaps there is some subtle nuance between them, but I never felt it. Once you finish a few routes, the next tier is unlocked.
Your routes take place in the same fictional city, but this city has a diverse array of places like downtown streets, snowy mountain roads, an airport roundabout and serine vistas overlooking ponds. While the graphics could be better, they are acceptable and around the good level. There are far worse games graphically, but if you expect to be dazzled, you’ll be disappointed.
To guide you from stop to stop is your GPS that gives you a red dot and you just follow the path. Even better than that is the roads themselves will have flashing arrows indicating your next turn or if you go forward through a five corner crossroad.
On top of the city is the environment that changes from route to route. Downpours, night and fog are all here; as is bright and happy days. The rain never felt like it had an effect on the brakes like coming down a hill does.
There are only two types of cameras, one that follows behind the bus, which can make it difficult to see any cars directly in front of you. The camera seems to be slightly to the side of the bus, which feels off, but it does allow you to see a bit down your nose. The other camera puts you into the grill of your bus. I would say its first person, but in this case, you see what your headlights do. You won’t find any behind the wheel angles here, in fact it makes me feel like I’m less of a bus driver and more of the bus itself.
For a game called Bus Driver, I expected more of a career and the ability to select a driver to be my character. Instead the routes have text blurbs explaining them, but they’re almost always the same. Later tiers offer a few deviations, such as follow a helicopter, ignore the laws and get prisoners to a new penitentiary without injury. Its this sort of ingenuity that surprised me.
In terms of sound and music, Bus Driver is bare bones. The only music is in the menus and while playing the game itself, you’ll hear the hypnotic hum of the engine and other realistic sounds such as air brakes and horns.
Its a game that is still engaging and enjoyable on some level, so why do I say stay away from it? Bus Driver is a very niche game. There are better games out there, but if you prefer driving games to racing games, this may be up your alley. Its a cheap game, but if it goes on sale, take a risk. Just expect the worst and you might end up having a delightful experience, or laughing that you can anger your passengers from braking too hard.