I’m just going to come out and say it – Bus Simulator 16 is absolutely ridiculous.
It’s slow to start, but it is a giggle-inducing title that is definitely worth a few hours of your time. There isn’t much of a storyline – rather, there’s more of just an explanation: you are a simple (seemingly European) man with a simple dream – you want to own and operate your own bus company. Inspired by my last review, I named my bus company BUSSR (I’m not a creative person) and began my new and exciting life as a bus driver/CEO.
The overall objective is to build your bus company up from obscurity into greatness; you can buy a fleet of busses, hire more drivers, and rule the public transportation world. The main objective is broken down into smaller objectives, such as buying a new bus or completing a new line. You have 250,000 Euros at the beginning, and you earn money by picking up passengers and selling them tickets. You lose money by paying employees, servicing your bus, and even by getting into an accident or giving your customers too much change (which I learned the hard way – dishonest passengers!). Your goal is to drive a pre-determined route (which you can customize), make it to each bus stop within the time limit, and pick up as many customers as you can before safely completing your circuit.
Where the controls were simple, the overwhelming amount of things to control was anxiety-inducing. It takes a few tries to get certain things right, such as braking properly and wide turns, but with enough practice comes perfection and perfection = reputation and money.
The developers put a great deal of detail into the environment and NPCs. The town is decently populated with different districts featuring different vibes. The NPCs have a wide variety of skins and voices. You can customize your bus to have different colors, stickers, and even ads. My favorite detail was simultaneously the most annoying aspect – the unpredictability of the NPCs. While the conversations they had with you and each other were amusing (one customer started spewing pseudo-science about eyes changing colors depending on what you eat; this led another customer to exasperatedly question their friendship), there were those few passengers that seemingly had no prior experience with public transportation and would STAND IN THE DOORWAY. OH MY GOD, WHY DO THEY ALWAYS STAND IN THE DOORWAY WHEN I AM TRYING TO LEAVE?! This means you have to get up and prod your customer to sit down, because they just fail at life.
A drunk passenger may get on and ask for a “ticket to the moon” – you have the option to kick them off the bus.
The details continue with odd quirks that a bus driver/CEO may come across on a typical day. The applicants you can hire have some funny bios (police-officer-turned-failed-rock-star-now-bus-driver was my personal favorite). Your bus doors might get jammed, meaning you have to leave your seat and unlock them, manually shut them, and then return to your seat. A drunk passenger may get on and ask for a “ticket to the moon” – you have the option to kick them off the bus or you can let them on and allow them to puke all over your seats. Speeding will result in a ticket. Ambulances sometimes whiz past as you’re loading passengers. You can even drink your coffee before heading out for the day. One customer I had was scaring the other passengers with her hallucinations, wildly asking customers if they could see what she saw. After swiftly dealing with her, she quieted down and promised to see her doctor soon. It was the little details such as these that kept piquing my interest and extending the amount of time I invested in the game – I wanted to see what other humorous stuff I could find.
While most simulators aren’t completely immersive, Bus Simulator 16 featured some slight realism in its mechanics that had me instinctively reacting in ways that I might while driving in real life. For example, whenever I tried to make a left turn, I found myself wanting to turn my head towards the left to look for oncoming traffic. My right foot would press down slightly upon the ground whenever I would brake. And should I crash into a car in front of me? I had the same knee-jerk reaction I might have when suddenly braking for some asshole trying to cut me off on the 405. The graphics weren’t good enough to fool me into thinking the game was real; rather, I believe that driving is so instinctual for experienced drivers that this game tapped into a different part of the brain than other simulators might.
One thing I definitely recommend… or don’t, maybe… Is playing the tutorial mission. It’s a good way to learn how to play, but it’s also worth a few laughs thanks to Ben, your mentor. Better known as “the guy that sold you the bus and whispers weird shit in your ear”, Ben has a script that seems to have been written by a native English speaker but is performed in the same manner as the talent in Heavy Rain – that’s right, it’s that weird “English that doesn’t quite sound like English”. His delivery is so bizarre and, coupled with his odd lines (“there are people, and then there are PEOPLE”), it makes for either an entertaining experience or an ear-gouging one, depending on your sense of humor. My favorite part was when he tried to explain what makes the job so rewarding. He starts out in a sort of inspiring tone and then launches into this crazy story where he ended up losing consciousness while two teenage boys took the wheel, called an ambulance, and performed CPR until emergency services came.
I honestly don’t know what type of gamer the developers had in mind for this title, but it seems to be good for those that enjoy performing mundane, repetitive tasks perfectly. The replay value looks to be pretty high; I find myself wanting to keep coming back to it even though the point is really so...basic. I mean, we have dragon-slaying RPGs and adrenaline-inducing FPSs that are considered the epitome of video game development, and I found hours of amusement in driving a bus. Bus Simulator 16 unintentionally and comically illustrates that an enjoyable title doesn’t need to be revolutionary to be considered good - I just wish I hadn’t spent several hours of my life to come to this conclusion.