Let me begin this review by stating that Euro Truck Simulator 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, and that 10-year old me used to sit in a friend’s dad’s BMW and pretend to play everything from a long-haul truck driver to Knight Rider, and bus driver. So to say that games like Bus Simulator 18 are aimed at gamers like myself would be accurate.
So, I Drive a Bus Now?
In fact, you do a lot more than just driving a bus in Bus Simulator 18. While yes, the core of the game is about driving a variety of officially licensed buses across an ever-expanding network of routes, you are not just a mere bus driver. You’re the proud owner of your own bus company and you will be ushered through the early stages of the game by various advisors. You’ll learn how to drive the bus, from a physical point of view, utilizing the various controls on your dashboard, all of which can be individually controlled by a mouse or shortcut keys on your keyboard or controller. You’ll learn how to charge passengers for the correct ticket and how to complete a bus route from start to end. After that, it’s time to manage the company, by creating additional routes, hiring drivers, purchasing buses, and completing tasks in order to unlock more parts of the map.
The way that Astragon has structured the management portion of Bus Simulator 18 means that to earn money, something every organization strives to do, you’ll have to perform well as a bus driver. Each aspect of your drive will be scrutinized, from returning too much change to a passenger to hitting potholes and speed bumps at too high a speed. Hit a person in the crosswalk, and you’ll inevitably lose money on that particular trip. You also earn money and valuable experience from driving like an actual bus driver. Use your indicators properly and stop the bus in the proper positions, and little green notices will appear, making you feel good about your performance.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects I first took note of when firing up Bus Simulator 18 is that your character is fully capable of moving around the environment. In fact, the game begins with you standing outside of the bus. This means that during certain situations you’ll have to get out of your driving seat and wander over to a passenger that’s blocking a doorway. It’s one of the reasons I never bothered hooking up my Logitech G27 steering wheel for this game, but more on that later.
Is it Fun?
Driving a bus is, of course, the core mechanic of Bus Simulator 18, and I’m happy to say that getting behind the wheel is extremely easy. There are two sets of driving realism levels, simplistic, the default, and a realistic setting. These control not only whether the bus has an automatic transmission, but also affect how forgiving the physics are, and generally how easy it is to drive the bus. For the most part, I stuck to the simple controls, in part because I played Bus Simulator 18 as a way to have a relaxing few hours after work. Using an Xbox 360 game controller, all functionality was at my fingertips, and I never had to reach for a mouse and keyboard unless I was in the menus or planning my next trip. The controls are straightforward, and force feedback will immediately let you know when you’ve strayed off the road. Granted, using a gamepad to control a vehicle is less than ideal, but it is far better than a mouse and keyboard, and getting out the wheel just seemed like too much effort. Bus Simulator 18 does, however, support the Logitech G27 steering wheel among many other popular variants. Since you’re required to do a fair bit of menu navigation and walking around your bus, however, I found it far more efficient to not tie myself behind the wheel. Your mileage will vary depending on your setup and desire to recreate the authentic bus driving experience.
I was surprised by how entertaining the management portion of Bus Simulator 18 was. As you complete tasks, such as creating routes connecting specific areas of the map using a limited number of stops, for example, you’ll unlock larger areas of the map. You then create bus routes, purchases buses and hire drivers, and drive the routes. Of course, your hired drivers will manage those routes while you’re not looking, but the way their income is determined is based on your best performance on that particular route. So it makes good sense to drive each route yourself a few times, in the best possible manner, so that your drivers will then earn the highest available income for your company.
You’ll also be able to customize your fleet of buses with a variety of decals, colors, and even advertisements that will earn you money. Most of those are unlocked as you gain experience, encouraging you to keep playing. The changes are purely cosmetic but allow you to create a little bit of your brand as a budding bus company empire. So in short, is it fun to drive a bus and manage a bus company? If you’re inclined to enjoy this type of game, Bus Simulator 18 hits all the spots. It’s easy to get into, enjoyable to drive, but don’t forget that you’re a bus driver, not a race car driver. The company management adds enough variety and enticement to keep playing that you’ll get your money’s worth.
Won’t I Get Bored?
Like most simulation games, there is an element of repetitiveness found in Bus Simulator 18. The company management side keeps things new for a while as you unlock larger areas, bigger buses, and more customization options. There will no doubt come a time where you’ve driven every route, seen every passenger, and deal with every problem. Passengers, in fact, are way too repetitive. It’s not uncommon to find triplets line up to buy tickets, or to see several of the same character models on your bus at any given time. Astragon could have spent more time creating additional variations of the character models to keep things fresh.
Passengers also have specific issues with your bus that you have to deal with. Whether it’s leaving garbage behind, old ladies blaring their headphones too loud, or someone plain forgetting to get off at their stop. These are all problems you have to deal with as a bus driver, but again, there aren’t that many variations. Passengers will randomly chat about things, and still, more variety would be useful here. You can choose from random weather settings, but the options deal with only rain, sunshine, day or night, with minor differences.
Having said all of that, the only thing I honestly got tired of was selling tickets to passengers. The choices range from single, day, and week tickets for regular, students, and senior customers. Then you have to give them coin change. I hate change. I often just gave them too much because the process of dishing out $13.80 was just too cumbersome to worry about, especially when you’re trying to keep to a schedule. Graciously, there is an option to turn the ticket machine off entirely, which will result in more fare jumpers, but I found that by asking every passenger for their ticket every few stops, I came out even in the in the financial department, and way ahead in the personal enjoyment area.
What if I have a Lot of Bus Loving Friends?
As I stated earlier, I’m a big fan of Euro Truck Simulator 2, and I’ve always wanted to share my passion for these type of games with my friends. Bus Simulator 18 offers a full multiplayer mode where you make your bus company public. This is an irreversible step that lets players you’ve invited join your organization and act as bus drivers on all the routes you’ve designed. I quite like this idea, even though not many of my friends are as enthusiastic about managing a bus empire as I am. In a stroke of brilliance, the designers behind Bus Simulator 18 created several different ways for friends to join you in game. Your friends can pick and choose a bus route of their own and drive it as they please, in which case you may see them doing their thing as you drive your route. Since that isn’t very cooperative, and also not much different from seeing your hired AI drivers do their job, the coop options are where it’s at.
You have a choice of a convoy coop mode, where you’ll drive one bus and your friend drives another on the same route. You’re basically doing the same thing just as a team. That’s not bad if you’re both bus drivers and enjoy all aspects of what that entails. Perhaps the most diverse mode is the tag-along coop mode. Here, one player is the driver, and in this case, is glued to the seat. You take care of all the driving-related activities, opening doors, ensuring you’re on time, etc. Your friend, on the other hand, deals with all the nonsense that your passengers are up to. In our trials, this turned out to be quite hilarious as our editor in chief Bill used to be a bouncer in real life and spent most of his time harassing passengers about their tickets and other antics. I would have recorded this, but I’m not sure it would have been appropriate for all audiences. The brilliance of this mode is that your friend doesn’t have to enjoy the actual bus driving in order to have some fun with you. Of course, they do need to own the game, and it probably gets old after a few trips, but the point I still appreciate this mode being an option.
Is this Game for Me?
If you’re reading a review about a bus simulator, any bus simulator, you must have at least some inclination to try it. Bus Simulator 18 is by far the best bus simulation game currently on the market. It’s not the most realistic simulator available, but it offers just the right amount of fun, combined with decent looking graphics, enough content to keep it fresh, and just enough realism to make you feel a bit like that bus driver your ten-year-old self dreamed of.
Bus Simulator 18 is by no means a perfect game, however. There are several apparent bugs, such as drive settings not taking effect in multiplayer games, to a mess of spelling and grammatical mistakes. Most of them can be considered lack of polish more than game-breaking, but it would be nice to see those cleaned up in a future patch. Steam Workshop support is also included, and I was able to use my TrackIR out of the box without any issues. So if you’re looking for a relaxed bus simulator with a healthy amount of management and a decent progression system, then I would heartily recommend Bus Simulator 18.