Bus Simulator 21 has finally pulled into the station but the journey to get there has given us mixed results. The previous iteration of Bus Simulator that was released on Xbox a couple years back had a lot of potential but missed the mark in a number of areas. Bus Simulator 21 has fixed some of these problems but unfortunately other ones persist.
When you first start up your career in Bus Simulator 21 you are given the option of two different locations. I appreciated having this choice since I didn’t have one in the previous iteration. I selected Angel Shores because it was a new locale and something different. The premise of the Bus Simulator series is very simple. You are trying to build up your bus empire and connect the whole city to your travel network. You do this by creating new routes, buying buses, advertising for local businesses on the side of your buses and, of course, actually driving the buses on these routes. The missions in the game tend to be something like leveling up a certain area or connecting two specific districts or making sure that you create a balanced route going from point A to point D (a route requires a minimum of four stops). As you progress through your career the missions get a tad more complicated as you need to add more areas and juggle buying more buses to assign to all of the routes that you are creating.
As you are driving your routes and trying to get your passengers safely to their destination you have to deal with a number of different things. Just as if you were driving a bus in real life, you need to watch for traffic, try and obey the traffic signals, watch out for pedestrians, use your turn signal when you can, and more. Unfortunately the A.I. for some of these behaviors is not great and can result in a less than ideal experience. For example, I would be driving down a city street and then all of a sudden a passenger would walk out in the street right in front of my bus. Since I am driving a big giant bus I don’t have enough time to stop to avoid hitting them and get hit with a $20,000 fine. There were other times when I was driving through an intersection and another car would either drive right into me or they would get in my way enough to where I couldn’t avoid them and accrue another penalty. There were also times when I would get penalized for going against the flow of traffic when I wasn’t, having my turn signal on for a second too long or running a red light when I didn’t. This isn’t to say the game isn’t fun. I definitely had my fun moments but these instances helped to bring down the whole experience when the game isn’t behaving the way it should.
Another barrier for entry for some people is going to be the obtuse nature of these games. I will say that Bus Simulator 21 does a much better job in this area than its predecessor but there are still going to be people who struggle because some things in the game just aren’t explained well enough. I was able to figure out what I needed to do but I can see this being a source of frustration if someone is more of a casual gamer and they might not have the same amount of experience that I do with not only this game but games in general. One interesting item that they did simplify that I greatly appreciated was how the employees of your company are handled. In the previous iteration of this franchise you had to hire an employee and then assign him to a bus and route. In Bus Simulator 21 when you buy a bus an employee is automatically hired for that bus and the route. You don’t have to micromanage what role and route that employee will have and I appreciate that.
Actually driving the different buses around can be fun and they have a number of different models in the game. There is the Man Lion’s City City Bus, as well as Electric Buses, a Setra business bus, Mercedes-Benz buses and, yes, even a Double Decker bus that you can buy later on in the game. You can change color schemes and add advertisements to your buses. In fact some of the missions you will come across require you to put an ad on your bus and drive around the city picking up and dropping off passengers so everyone can see it. You can customize your bus at pretty much any point, being able to change both the exterior and the interior, although the options for the interior are more limited.
One cool thing about Bus Simulator 21 is the customization you have as it relates to the settings. You can change your minimap visibility, left and right mirror visibility, the UI indicators, what events might take place (such as a passenger falling asleep on your route), whether or not you will get penalized for driving too fast over a pothole and more. Although some of these options don’t always work as I had the “speed tickets penalty” turned off, but I still got hit with a fine if I was “speeding” through an area.
If driving through the city by yourself seems like it might be a bit boring you can jump into the multiplayer section. The multiplayer will let up to four players join up to plan new routes, buy new buses, customize those buses, and then drive those routes. You can basically do everything you are able to do in the single player campaign, but this time with friends. If you just want to play with your friends you can create your own lobby and keep it private so that nobody else can mess up what you and your friends are working on.
Bus Simulator 21 is a better experience than Bus Simulator 18 which was released a couple years back on Xbox and PlayStation. There are some nice quality of life improvements that have been made but this franchise still hasn’t reached its potential. While I had fun driving around the city, trying to create the best routes I could, and enjoying the new locale, there were still too many instances that were frustrating. My hope is that some of this can be cleared up in a future patch. If you have enjoyed this franchise in the past then there is something to like here and the positives should outweigh the negatives. If you are new to this franchise (and potentially “simulator” titles in general) there is still a fun game to like here but we warned that there is a bit of a learning curve that you might find frustrating at times. Overall this is a pretty good attempt and a step in the right direction but I’m hopeful the next title in the series is more of a complete package with less overall frustration.
Originally posted on Gaming Target
Note: Astragon provided us with a code for Bus Simulator 21 for review purposes.