I’ve ridden buses my whole life, but I’ve never had the luxury of actually driving a bus. I did try and start the school bus one time, but that got me nothing other than a month-long ban from the school bus and a slap around the ear from my parents.
Bus Simulator 21 is where dreams are made, so long as you’re not dreaming big. You can run your own bus company, earn fat stacks, and, well, drive buses all day and all night if you want to.
Release Date: September 3rd, 2021
Developer: stillalive studios
Publisher: astragon Entertainment
Availability: PSN (Digital) Retail (Buy on Amazon USA / Amazon UK)
I’m not a stranger to the weird world of German-made simulation games. My local Saturn store has an entire wall dedicated to numerous simulations, and I’ve tried them all. From harvesting crops to hustling hookers (Reeperbahn Simulator…) I’ve done it all, but the only series to keep me coming back with every new release is Bus Simulator. Not because it’s especially great (it ain’t) and not because it’s a looker (it certainly ain’t) but because it’s comforting. It’s easy to pick up and play and it doesn’t tax my meagre brain too heavily.
Bus Simulator 21 is the latest entry to drive me around the bend. I both adore and detest it. I’ll pick up the pad and be ready to settle in for an hour of bussing weirdo-looking creeps around the city, and then I’ll get annoyed.
The biggest annoyance at the moment is a weird bug where the wheel turning on the screen doesn’t match the actual interaction. So if I’m taking these daring passengers for a ride of doom and pull hard to the left – because they’re getting to their Final Destination on time, damn it! – the wheel in my driver’s cabin will show turning to the right. It doesn’t actually affect the gameplay, but it’s very weird and very distracting, and it seems like one of the things you’d work to get right from the beginning.
“Sir, the wheel turns in the opposite direction to the input. Should we fix it?”
“No. Ship it. Fans will understand. They’ll steer us in the right direction.”
We won’t. It’s just bloody weird, and it shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.
It’s not the only curio in Bus Simulator 21 (people can warp through buses and their heads can protrude out of the roofs) but it’s definitely the most noticeable.
The core is good though, even if there are a few rotten spots on the outside of this apple. For one, there’s a brand new way of life for wannabe bus drivers.
For the first time ever in the series, us weird sim-loving folk can now ferry passengers around a make-believe American city, rather than the usual German-inspired locales. There’s still a European city to take fares, though, but it will be familiar as it’s the map from the last game recycled and expanded with the DLC. So you’re getting half a new game, and in the age of endless sequels, remasters, and remakes, that’s actually not bad.
For those wanting to really get into the nitty-gritty, there’s a lot going on away from the comfortable cabin, though we’re still yet to get an office to work from. Is it too much to ask for an office away from the actual office? Like, another simulation inside a simulation? I guess they’re saving that to add to the wall of weird at Saturn. Office Simulator 22, coming next year. Dunder Mifflin DLC as a pre-order bonus. You heard it here first.
While the under-the-hood stuff is daunting at first, I appreciated that the game did hold my hand for a long time and guide me with constant “quests” that levelled me up, got me funded, and taught me the basics of managing my bus empire. It’s not all easy, though.
Creating routes with specific demands can be time-consuming and fiddly with a gamepad, especially with the need to balance peak times and demand, and that’s before you’ve driven the route, scored well, and then added another machine and worker to the fleet to work the route for you.
Driving around is good fun, though, if you find this kind of thing fun. I do. I’m weird, and so are you.
The driving model is good but not perfect and I would often incur lots of fines for silly things like hitting the curbside or twatting a signpost when I was sure I was coming in right on the bend. I even hit a few old ladies with my bus thanks to misjudging how the hefty machine manoeuvres. It takes some getting used to but I adapted quickly enough to not bankrupt my fledgling bus company with an army of crippled victims in my wake. They were more of a platoon. Only a couple dozen. Hardly an army.
Where I felt let down by Bus Simulator 21 is where I always tend to; the tecnicals and presentation.
As always, the inside of the buses are immaculately detailed. I’d notice the familiar stop buttons and seat arrangements of the European models as I’d run up the gangway and tell some muppet to move out of the way of the door, or to question every single passenger who didn’t buy a ticket. Sure, most of them are honest, but there are more than a few fare-dodging scumbags and I sniffed them out… at the cost of timeliness. Whatever. Justice comes first.
The cities and their residents are another thing. If I had to describe the dress sense of the population, it would be muggles. Almost everybody dresses really strange and looks like they’ve fallen through a jumble sale with no clothes and a fiver and come out with whatever was left at the bottom of the box, which, judging by the hair choices, was lots of bright paint.
The locations aren’t too shabby, to be fair, and I took the time to jump off my bus and have a good walk around to see what was going on and to see if there was a secret casino I could bet my earnings on. There wasn’t. They’re quite static but there is a day-night cycle and the small details like the lights going on and off and the shop front illuminations changing were nice touches. They didn’t make the cities feel alive, but they felt far from dead.
Bus Simulator 21, for me, is still a decent game, despite its shortcomings. Nobody goes into any of these sims expecting to be blown away. You go into them expecting a nice time-waster and you get a nice time-waster.
Bus Simulator 21 PS4, PS5 Review
Bus Simulator 21 expands on its predecessor with a new map, new functions, and new ways to play. But at its core, it’s the same OK experience that we’ve been playing since the middle of the decade and it feels even more dated than ever.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4. Reviewed using PS5.