Yes, you read it right. Prepare to enter the exciting world of frequent stops and 40 miles per hour. OK, so it may be a shocker if you are going from Race Driver to Bus Driver, but when you think about it they do have some things in common. Both are quasi-simulators where you need to watch your brakes and speed, and where you strive to do the best time possible while staying within the lines of the road. Yet, Bus Driver has the edge here because there are no other such games one can compare it to, and while some of you may say that this is for a reason, Bus Driver, I think, shows the strength that gaming has, if one can take such a boring idea and make it enjoyable.
Make no mistake: this is not Bus Driver Tycoon. It doesn’t get into a lot of detail of bus driving – only the basics – and it’s centered on a point-based system for each good or bad thing you do, turning it from a bus simulator to a kind of an arcade game. The more lawful and careful you are, the better your high score, and vice versa. However there isn’t much point going on a rampage because the developers were smart and have not glorified law-breaking or made it exciting with police chases or anything of the kind. All you get is negative points, and this keeps Bus Driver on track for what it was made to be, which is getting passengers from A to B, fast and surprise-free. You need to use your blinkers when changing lanes, stop at red lights, brake conservatively, avoid crashes, and do other law-abiding stuff. If you fear this gets monotonous, you should be, because it does, but only if you spend your whole day ferrying people around. Playing in shorter bursts is actually fun and relaxing, because there is a challenge to get the best highscore possible.
"...it doesn’t have that cardboard feeling you get in certain games."
The physics thankfully are well done, as you feel the weight of the bus while you are driving. It makes wide turns, accelerates and brakes relatively slowly, bounces around if you hop the curb and even slides during high-speed cornering. Your passengers certainly let you know what they think of your shenanigans, and you can lose out on customers if you leave them distressed. Controlling the bus is part of the challenge, along with keeping to your timetable and keeping passengers happy. If the driving model were clumsy and not believable, I would have uninstalled the game in a minute; I am not saying it’s a thorough simulation, but it doesn’t have that cardboard feeling you get in certain games.
The developers knew that there would be little variety in the things you do, so they have put variety into the locations themselves. There are curvy and high-speed roads; there is night and day and different weather; there is traffic that gets in your way; and you get to drive a dozen different buses. Each scenario also comes with a short background story that tells you what you will do and why. Some are spread over long distances, others have a lot of stops, and the developers have done their best with the material at hand. Each of these factors affects your performance and they seem to be enough to keep things interesting.
Still, they could have done better. Getting a good score is a reward in itself, but beyond that there is no extra content to unlock. There is traffic on the roads, but it’s only vehicle traffic, with no pedestrians in sight, which would otherwise have added a lot to the immersion level. You only get one camera view behind the bus you’re driving, and even though it works great in this particular game, something else would have been welcome. In fact, there are virtually no customization options available, as the only thing you can do is choose a route and do it. Also because the game uses a Grand Theft Auto model for its city, which is one large area divided into sections, there is some repetition in the routes you travel.
Graphically it’s nothing mind blowing or even eye catching. It’s an okay-looking game as far as the technical side goes, but overall it’s very easy on the eyes and has low system requirements. The buses are nicely modeled, and so is other vehicle traffic, and there are some pretty nice views of the city and the wilderness along the routes. The lack of pedestrians, however, has a big hit against the liveliness of the city, or the lack thereof. There is little activity besides cars going around, except various trains, planes, or ships you get a sight of from time to time.
It is evident this is a simple casual game and not an extensive or complicated simulator. It takes no time to learn, there are few settings or options to fool around with, and you can start busing in a matter of minutes. It seems to me that it’s geared towards younger audiences, but it will be hard to take kids away from the chaos of GTA to making proper lane changes in Bus Driver. Still, the game poses a challenge no matter your age, and it’s actually relaxing making routes around town and trying to keep it clean. It only needs some additions and adjustments to give it lasting appeal, but even as it stands now it is a game that’s worth a look.