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Bus Simulator 18
Bus Simulator 18

PC | PlayStation 4 | Xbox One
Genre: Simulator
Developer: Stillalive Studios
Publisher: Astragon Entertainment Classification: PG
Release Date:
October 2019
Bus Simulator 18 Review
Review By @ 02:02pm 15/10/19
Disclaimer: Kosta and I *almost* wrote a one-act play as this review called “bus driver and passenger”. The intention was to have mild discourse between the driver and a passenger. Given it would be a play, intermission meant we’d swap roles. Hilarity would invariably ensue.

I regret this never happened.

Yep, I’ve been playing Bus Simulator 2019 2018. And, to be honest -- I love it. It’s weird, but the monotony of service, in perfect delivery, is the exact distraction I crave as part of my day-to-day. In some ways the production of a good bus service, route to route, makes for tangible rewards through gaming in ways my IRL ‘route to route’ doesn’t. I wake up in the morning -- make my son breakfast while my wife gets ready for work. I make his lunch (which I should really do at night, but don’t), then walk him to school while he busily tells me nothing of note about his latest build in Minecraft, or what happened most recently in his Teen Titans cartoon. Then I walk home while listening to SEN as the sports nut that I am, but hear more ads than conversation within the short walk, making me wonder why I even bother. I then either get coffee or don’t, and sit down to play something I’ll invariably write about that week, but mostly just to pass the time while intermittently checking email, cleaning and considering what I’ll do for lunch.

Day. To. Day.

Some days, however, I’ll get a new game, or an awesome collectible, or a great opportunity over email. I might even beat a boss that has held me out during said weekly day-to-day stretch and feel invigorated (damn you, second-phase Tomassi). I’ll have great banter with my main man Kosta around work and geek culture, and I’ll feel empowered. That “Day. To. Day” will wash away and that night, we’ll have something delicious for dinner, either made by me, or bought from one of the many gourmet places nearby. Everything will feel fresh, new and unexpected. Then tomorrow will come and I won’t have made my son’s lunch the night before, the ads on SEN will continue to eat into the conversation around sport I’m craving, and it’ll all just start to repeat. But I’ll push through with the knowledge that another day will eventually dawn with a new challenge; a new purpose or reward. And I’ll lock this into my brain because it's what we strive for.

Day. To. Day.

This is what Bus Simulator 2019 is -- it’s a grind to growth; a grind to expansive gameplay that doesn’t actually change. It’s a day-to-day repetitive beast that compels you forward. My son asked while I was playing “why don’t you just crash the bus, or drive it faster, or go anywhere other than the stop you’re supposed to?” -- all good questions at the age of seven. The truth is, I just want to be a good bus driver. Games have conditioned us to be the best person we can be (outside of games with a wayward moral compass), but in Bus Simulator, you kind of don’t have a choice. If you run over someone -- the worst possible no-no -- you get fined €20,000. It seems less excessive than it should be, but hey, this isn’t a simul… oh, wait.

Well, the point of the game is to grow your company -- a privately-owned business looking to expand its contracts with the local municipality of Seaside Valley. Apparently the last transport minister had an issue with public transport (arseMAGAhat), and so buses haven’t been seen in the town for a number of years. Your job early on, is to get your first bus, create your first route, and then not run into anyone, less you are less’d €20,000. The goal is to be as precise as possible; tell people to turn their loud headphone music down and clean up the Jormy Starbucks coffee cups left by the game’s myriad twins, triplets, quintuplets, septuplets… yeah, there’s not a lot of NPC/AI variety -- Seaside Valley development cutbacks and all.

"Keep your bus on time, safe and clean, and you’ll get a rating at the closure of each route completed. The better the rating, the more money you earn..."

In truth though, the simplistic, structured nature of Bus Simulator is an odd way to end a stressful day at work or school. Your business grows through monetary gain. When you get more cash, you get more buses -- different models, and then you can hire drivers with Matrix-level personalities. Josephine Schultz likes being able to draw a cat in a single line and has never eaten a banana, while Thomas Radovanovic listens to “speed metal” when he drives, but has also never eaten a banana -- keep an eye on that one. Meanwhile, Vlad Lander does (plug this trait with that trait into the personality algorithm). And so on. You get a handful of objectives per ‘stage’ and completing these gives you bonuses from the Seaside Valley council and opens up new areas for your created routes. Keep your bus on time, safe and clean, and you’ll get a rating at the closure of each route completed. The better the rating, the more money you earn. See, simple.

Problematically, the game doesn’t allow you to just let your business run in the background with your new algorithmic employees at the wheel. You still have to drive a route, and while that’s an oddly fun thing to do, in order to grow your business, routes, drivers and territories, you have to be an active participant. If I had to throw anything negative at the game outside of the weird incestuous NPC population of Seaside Valley, it’s that the game doesn’t let you be a business owner. You also lose value when you, say, drive over a pothole. You lose dollarydoos if you accidentally hit the gutter, and the traffic can often be terrible, delaying your time to your next destination. Hitting a gutter can cost you upwards of €1000s, but beeping incessantly at the vehicles in front of you doesn’t mean shit. You do get a fine for running a red light, but at a Give Way intersection, you can wholly take on the traffic world and just drive aggressively through it and be on your merry way, with naught a siren in sight.

The oddity is that despite the ‘loose’ rules of the game, you kind of just want to play by the rules. When you get a green star for indicating left as you leave a bus bay, it’s like all your Christmases have come at once, and then the monetary and business growth rewards that follow that are beyond appetising. That said, I do challenge anyone over the age of 18 (or 21 in the US), to try and be as precise a driver as they can be while under the influence of numerous red cordials. In fact, it’s a drinking game in and of itself. But beyond the silliness of it all, repetition, precision and ogling at so many sets of twins while they pine about cats somehow makes Bus Simulator a joyous ride; a fareing good time. At least, something worth the ticket price.
What we liked
  • Drive a bus
  • Drive a bus well and grow your business
  • Almost mindlessly hypnotic (in a good way)
  • The benign, yet enjoyable conversations from passengers
  • Fining people without a valid ticket
  • I can't say much more, you drive a bus, but it's oddly fun
What we didn't like
  • Getting a fine for hitting the gutter
  • Terrible traffic
  • Getting a negative star for hitting a pothole
  • Having to clean up people's coffee cups
We gave it:
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