In Bus Simulator 18 you find yourself in a new city trying to establish a fledgling bus company from the ground up. You start out the tutorial with a meager little route and an instructor who guides you through your first ride along to get the feel of how to drive a basic bus route. The level of detail in which you can do this is also entirely in your hands. Since this was my first simulation driving game I stuck to the simplified mode that took out some of the more minute details of the game and instead focused on the larger aspects of the game. Getting to your stops on time and loading/unloading passengers. It didn’t take long for this game to get its hooks in me in this process.
Typically, I’m an evening gamer. I have kids and a family, so when everyone else hits the hay I find myself up a little later getting some gaming time in. After a long day at work, I just want to relax and have fun. Bus Simulator redefined a relaxing experience for me. From the friendly chatter of those boarding the bus, to the incredibly detailed sounds of the bus interior as we moved from stop to stop I was quickly enamored by the ability of this game to pull me away to this little city. It’s a picturesque world where the worst you have to deal with is when a road is under construction and your GPS routes in a few extra turns.
Being a newcomer to the Bus Simulator series I’m not sure if I fully appreciate the level of sound and graphical detail that has gone into the experience I’ve been having. The landscape around, from the city to the more rural is pretty to see and the buses themselves are lovingly rendered down to the most minute detail. When I start driving the quiet hum of the tires on the road is such a cathartic experience and I found myself simply getting into the groove of moving from stop to stop becoming more deeply engrossed in just driving. Great as the driving may be Bus Simulator 18 is far more than just a great driving sim game.
Once you’ve finished a route you are brought back, or drive back for those that really want the true experience, to your bus depot in the game. Here you can not only purchase new buses, but can also customize their look with color changes, skin wraps, and decals. You have the tools available to give your buses a unified look and feel to match whatever enterprising company idea you have in mind. You can also create new routes through the available city areas you have access to by simply clicking the bus stops in the order you want them on the route. The interface for this is clean and simple. After creating routes you can also start to hire new drivers to the company to assign to these routes. They generate income for the company on a set schedule once assigned to a route. Eventually, as your company grows, you gain more support from the city and gain access to more routes on the larger map. It never felt like a chore to jump from the driving sim to the business management aspect. There is deep gameplay to be had on both ends that doesn’t sacrifice on ease of use.
I’ve been playing this game on its surface level since I find the simple driving from place to place to be my favorite activity. Given the number of games in this franchise I would have expected this to be pandering primarily to the audience that is really into simulation driving games with all the deep, and hard to learn bells and whistles. I was expecting this game to be a slog to get into, but they have created such a simplified ramp to entry, as well as an incredible amount of customization on how deep you want to get into the simulation.
You can choose to start your day at the bus depot. unlocking the doors on the bus, turning on all the interior lights and powering the vehicle on with the ignition. Or you can choose to have it start with you already right in front of your first stop on the route with everything already taken care of for you. At the end of the route you can drive yourself back to the depot, and power the bus down in the same way as the start of the day, or you can just hit the End key and finish the mission and arrive back at the depot. However you want to play, this game has options for you. As a person who often wants to like deep simulation, but also finds it tedious, this game fits the perfect blending of the two to keep me engaged and not frustrated.
The only minor annoyances that have cropped up with my time playing the game is that the controls with keyboard and mouse just don’t work well. They have tried to adopt a mouse-steering system but as much as I tried I found it to be far more unwieldy than trying to tap the A and D keys to make very jittery turns. Even tapping the keys seems to become a bit of a problem, particularly on right turns, and I often find myself deducting a bit of income for jumping curbs or hitting streetlight poles. Luckily the in-game system is pretty loose with how comfortable your driving is for the passengers on board. If you fully slam on the brakes you will get minor demerits to your performance, but tapping on the S key for brakes didn’t often trigger this. I highly recommend playing this game with a driving wheel. Although I’m sure long-time fans of the series are already well aware of that.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve found such a relaxing experience in a game I never expected to even like, but Bus Simulator 18 reminded me that when you try something new you might just end up finding an appreciation for it.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
Check us out at Opencritic!
Relaxing Driving Experience
Fantastic Sound Design
Easy Entry for Newcomers
Easy to Use Management Sim
Difficult to drive smoothly without driving wheel