When it comes to sim games, to say I enjoy more lowkey titles is a bit of an understatement. Titles like American and Euro Truck Simulators, Mudrunner, and even Pure Farming often catch my eye. So when Stillalive Studios offered me the chance to check out Bus Simulator 18, I couldn’t resist.
It’s important to note that the base Bus Simulator 18 game actually dropped last year. Today however Stillalive Studios is releasing its first major expansion pack. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be taking a look at the game with the expansion installed.
So, how did it feel to be a digital bus driver? Read on to find out.
Content and Value for Money
If you’re looking for a long hauling sim like one of the truck sims, you’ll find yourself disappointed here. Without the new expansion pack, the map is relatively small. Despite this, it still packs a decent amount of content into a small area.
In terms of more traditional bus driving experience, there are two urban environments. However, for those who want something more rural, there’s also plenty of little villages to connect your routes too. In addition, you can explore some speciality districts as well. These include places like a harbor, farming zone, and an industrial area.
Add in the map expansion though and it feels like a whole new game. You stay in the same region, called Seaside, but it opens up a mountainous area and another urban environment. While the urban area does give you access to an airport, it feels largely similar to other zones on the map. But mountain region gives you plenty of twists, turns, and elevation changes to navigate.
Everything is still relatively diminutive though. But there’s a good reason for that. You never really get over 50mph when traveling anywhere, so even though the map is small it doesn’t really feel it. Also, with plenty of action going on the game world it feels pretty alive.
For example, if you come up to a bus stop sometimes a car will block you from getting to where the passengers are. To move them out of the way you’ll need to give them a honk and hope for the best. There are also potholes, speed bumps, bad drivers, and speed cameras to contend with as well.
The real bread and butter of the game is its story. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of writing, but it does at least give you a sense of progression. Essentially it boils down to the region of Seaside needing a public transportation system. Thankfully your company is there to step in and make it a reality.
It’s pretty straightforward, but with the story comes various missions and tasks to complete. None of it is terribly hard, but by completing these tasks you unlock new buses and customizations.
Speaking of buses, the game is a little light on models. Altogether there are eight buses from four different manufacturers to drive. They’re all licensed models as well from Mercedes-Benz, Serta, Man, and Iveco.
All the buses come with a surprising amount of detail as well. Enter the cockpit of the bus and there are several toggles, buttons, and switches to check out. This adds to the overall immersion of the game and makes it feel like a solid simulator.
In order to get the various buses, you’ll need to generate revenue in order to buy them. This comes with playing the game and you won’t need to wait long before the cash rolls in. You’ll grow your company rather quickly and soon command a whole fleet of buses.
Once you get to higher levels, specialty buses are unlocked. These include models with CNG engines, larger coach-style buses, and my personal favorite: the bendy bus.
All in all it’s a good experience and while on the surface content seems lacking, there’s plenty to do. However, it does come at a bit of a cost. The base game is $34.99 and the map expansion will at another $15.99 on top of that. So you’re looking at a little more than $50 for the full package.
While I’m not one for online gaming, Bus Simulator 18 offers a decent multiplayer experience. It’s relatively simple to jump into an online game where you can join up with someone’s company. There you can drive routes, generate income, and be an “employee” of a digital bus company.
It all works rather well too. In the few games I joined, I never experienced any issues. The connection seemed solid and the experience was decently fun.
One thing that rather impressed me though was that most people online are out to play the game as it’s intended. If you play ETS2 online, you know that not everyone is out for realism. Drivers speed around and smash into cars virtually everywhere. This isn’t the case with Bus Simulator 18. The few folks I played with took the game seriously. This made it way more fun than dealing with the dreaded rammers.
In addition to the online game mode, there’s also a thriving mod community too. In the Steam Workshop alone there are hundreds of buses, skins, textures, and even additional maps. There are also a few cheats too if you’re looking for a quick way to make money.
I downloaded a couple of different things to check them out. Like every game with Steam Workshop integration, adding mods to the game is a cinch.
Well, everything handles like a bus. Unlike sim racing games this isn’t actually a bad thing.
Each bus feels different as you drive along. The weight is there, which is often the most important part of the physics when it comes to sim like this. Slam on the brakes and you feel the air brakes work. Turn too sharply and you’ll lose control, or worse, flip the whole thing.
Torque is another big plus for the physics. Some of the lower tier buses are rather weak in the torque department. You feel this when trying to pull away from a light or climb a steep hill. However, upgrade to the more powerful buses and you’ll easily conquer anything the game throws at you.
It does take a bit of getting used to how the buses behave. ETS2 and ATS players will probably pick it up really quick. Just don’t go in expecting Gran Turismo Sport levels of precision. Remember these beasts can weigh upwards of 15 tons, so a little finesse is needed.
To further enhance the feel, a number of wheels work with Bus Simulator 18 as well. I mainly played the game with an Xbox One controller, but I did try out my Thrustmaster T150 too. It worked great and setup was fairly straightforward.
Overall the graphics are good but don’t expect photorealism. Since Bus Simulator 18 uses the Unreal Engine 4, it still looks very much like a video game. But with varied textures, plentiful details in the vehicles, and several unique items in the world it’s not bad by any means.
There are a couple of downfalls with the graphics. The first is the people. While there are several models that range from young students through elderly passengers, they still look pretty generic. They also lack facial expressions and they give a goofy grin while talking to you. I always find it unsettling when an NPC talks without moving their mouth.
The second is some of the road hazards. The standing water from puddles looks great, but things like the potholes and speed bumps could be better. They seem to lack any real depth or height, which detracts slightly from the overall experience.
This only really poses a problem when driving at night. Sometimes the potholes are difficult to see until you’re right on top of them. Obviously, this is similar to real life, but I feel like with some depth they wouldn’t blend into the road.
I rather liked the sounds in Bus Simulator 18 for the most part. Everything on the buses makes a realistic noise, from the diesel engine to airbags that allow the bus to kneel down. There’s also plenty of ambient noise in the game world that varies by time of day as well.
Each of the eight bus models sounds slightly different too. It’s clear that the team at Stillalive Studios did its homework with the buses. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the bus sounds since these particular models aren’t found on American roads. But they’re all different enough to suggest some sort of accuracy.
The only annoying part of the sound comes from the passengers. Yes, they do talk and there are several voice types in the game too. However, the dialog does get a bit repetitive at times. It’s easy enough to ignore, but it still can get on your nerves after a bit.
For example, you’ll know all about the hit TV show Winter of Passion and how bands at the old Sawmill suck.
Still, it’s better than not having any voice acting at all. Or Simlish.
If you’re a fan of games like ETS2 or ATS, Bus Simulator 18 should fit the bill nicely. However, since it’s fairly niche, fans of strictly racing sims might get a little bored with it.
For me, I rather liked it and will continue to play it since it’s exactly the type of game I look for. I liked the ability to manage the company without getting into countless menus. The ample flow of money and mission-driven storyline both helped keep things interesting as well.
I do wish there were more buses available though. While I can appreciate that the ones in the game are real, licensed models, the roster feels a bit light. I’d also like to see various specialty buses too, specifically double-deckers.
In addition to the number of buses, I’d also like some more customization options. Even with several skins, decals, and ads to outfit your buses with, I still come away with wanting more. Thankfully the robust mod community is there to fill in the gaps.
Finally, I think it’s a little on the expensive side. For less money, you get a larger map with potentially more gameplay with ATS and ETS2. But if you can score Bus Simulator 18 during one of the Steam sales, I say it’s worth picking up if you’re a fan of unique sim games.
Bus Simulator 18
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