As I mentioned with my Modern Gamer Gas Station Simulator review, I’ve never really understood the concept of playing this particular genre of game. However, Gas Station Simulator ended up being a surprising amount of fun.
I regarded Bus Simulator 21 with a similar kind of skepticism. In this case, Bus Simulator is a far better realized game than Gas Station Simulator and also, as a result, appealed to me slightly less. That said, if your tastes run to a management simulator type of game, then Bus Simulator 21 is a title that should be on your radar.
In Bus Simulator 21, as with presumably the preceding iterations of the game, you set up a transport business. A woman named Mira helps you select your bus and runs you through the tutorial, and then, well, you drive your bus. I’ll admit that I wasn’t anticipating just quite how accurate developer Stillalive has tried to be with respect to the experience of driving. Mira walks you through everything, from turning on the lights to removing the parking brake. The bus itself has been rendered with an astonishing eye to detail, including several advertisements and the same terrible fabric prints seen on public transit the world over. Mira, however, has not received the same attention. You’ll note that her mouth doesn’t move when she speaks. Angel Shore’s scenery also seems to have gotten a touch less attention, though the other cars will show up nicely.
Once you’ve selected your bus and embarked on your maiden voyage, you’ll drive between stops, attempting to keep to an established schedule, wrangling passengers, and remembering that you can make a right on red. There’s even a wheelchair ramp, which I thought was a nice touch. You’ll identify your target stops by the yellow street markings, so you won’t miss them, which I appreciated. Bus Station Simulator also requires that you sell tickets and maintain your buses, so you will definitely get the experience of building a business.
Bus Simulator 21 offers the sorts of obstacles you’d expect. You dodge pedestrians and potholes and try and avoid traffic snarls. The ticketing system is set up so that you have to place change in the appropriate slot, and things can become more challenging when you’re juggling multiple passengers. While in the early stages of the game, you’ll be given a route, designing your routes is one of the major gameplay elements. Bus Simulator 21 takes place in the fictional metropolis of Angel Shores, which has a very California feel to it. As such, the city offers you multiple districts ranging from a thriving downtown to a Chinatown-inspired area, so Bus Simulator offers visually interesting vistas through which to drive.
The game also boasts an offering of several different bus models, including the bendy buses and, at the very late stage of the game, your typical double-decker bus. If you’re playing with a controller, you should be aware that the larger buses will have a more complicated turning radius. Even played on a standard keyboard (which I did), I found the controls to be awkward, particularly where the mouse was involved. At given points, a “payday” screen will pop up, displaying your business’s financials, indicating how much expansion you can do at a given time. You’ll also need to pay attention to the traffic on your various routes as different locations will be busier at different times. Unsurprisingly, downtown is busiest around normal work schedules, for example. When designing your routes, you’ll want to keep these times in mind. On the one hand, you don’t want to drive from busy stop to busy stop because you’ll need the less populated stops to make up time, but on the other, you do actually want to generate revenue.
Scheduling, while important, is actually pretty flexible. You can adjust your scheduling for stops based on your experience with them, and you can also adjust how long you anticipate remaining at a given stop. I found that aspect helpful when navigating my routes. As a player, you’ll want to drive your own routes as well because your employees will be more efficient based on your own efficiency. While you can adjust routes while engaged in driving, the UI is fairly clunky, so I found it easier to wait to make adjustments.
Bus Simulator 21 does offer multiplayer capability, which allows one of you to control the bus while the other is a passenger or works on ticket-taking. There’s also a sandbox mode that opens up all maps automatically, and you can bounce between maps inspired by different locales. Ideally, Bus Simulator 21 seems designed to offer a gameplay balance between doing the driving and managing the minutiae of creating the business, but in the event that one or the other of these aspects doesn’t interest you, the game offers the option to simplify one or the other based on your preferences and desired level of play at the outset. You won’t be able to escape either entirely, but having the option to engage in one style of gameplay over the other is a nice touch. That said, the management aspect offers a greater depth
Overall, Bus Simulator 21 offers a fairly tranquil game experience. Yes, there are passengers who will try and cheat you of the fare. While you should try and avoid violating traffic laws or running over pedestrians, doing so does not incur any immediate consequences though you will have to pay fines that cut into your revenue. Make no mistake, errors you make in the beginning will have consequences you’ll have to face, but overall, the game is fairly forgiving.
The controls for driving the bus remain pretty granular, so driving along routes poses just enough challenge to keep players engaged while also allowing them to enjoy the experience of exploring the maps provided by Stillalive Studios. After Mira, the renderings of other humans do not improve, which definitely detracts from the experience. However, some players will find that the maps and management challenges will more than make up for these issues. While playing, I did run into a few glitches, but the game seems largely stable and solid, especially considering the Septembers 7th release date.
Like most simulator games out there, Bus Simulator 21 focuses largely on juggling a series of tasks as you grow a transportation fleet, but unlike other ones, the flow remains relatively peaceful. The game plays better if you have enough time to delve into your routes, driving them yourself, so admittedly, the initial time investment will be higher than at later stages. You have the option of playing in campaign, sandbox, or multiplayer depending on your preference. Mostly, the game’s issues stem from strangely tetchy controls, some terrifying human renderings, and a wonky route-planning UI. However, Bus Station Simulator makes up for these issues with an absence of loading screens, so most of your time will actually be spent playing the game.
The game’s management aspect comprises the most developed part of Bus Station Simulator 21, so if you’re a fan of games that emphasize that aspect, you’ll like this game very much. That said, it’s not really a game that appealed to me. Your mileage, however, may vary.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- The ticketing prices are shown to you, and while the top price is shown with U.S.-style decimals, the actual coin columns reflect the more European-style comma. U.S. players, don’t worry. You aren’t charging them a ridiculous amount of money.
- Angel Shores has a real California vibe with all of the palm trees, and I really love the fact that the trees don’t all stand perfectly straight. I suspect Angel Shores was modeled after San Francisco given the reference to seals/sea lions at the water-front.
- Angel Shores needs to do some investment in road maintenance.
- There a few motels that have a Route 66 vibe as well as a handful of incredibly retro cars.
- Some folks are wearing masks, which I thought was a nice touch. That said, there’s a fellow that has an unhealthful fondness for plaid, and he matches his mask to his outfit. You’ll know who I mean when you see him, but that’s way too much plaid.
- I’m giving Bus Simulator 21 some extra points in attractiveness because while the people look terrible, they’ve done a great job with water and with the more static visual elements of the game.