On the surface, Bus Simulator 2019 appears to have everything you'd want in a bus simulator. It has an open world, routes to plan, buses to drive, passengers who can be unpredictable, and an absolutely epic trailer. There's just one problem, everything else.
Bus Simulator 2019 has also taught me a very important real-life lesson. I should never, ever attempt to drive a bus.
The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round (Eventually)
No one could accuse Bus Simulator of not doing its job. It's one of those games that does exactly what you'd expect, in this case simulating driving a bus. It also does it mostly pretty well; some might say too well.
Every single aspect of driving a bus is catered to. From the moment you have to press a button to open the bus doors from the outside to the point you park your bus in the station at the end of the day; each and every detail is covered.
The menu offers a range of options to remove the need to manage some of the more mundane aspects of the process, but those who want a truly engaging and realistic experience can manually control everything.
As well as remembering your mirror, signal, and maneuver skills, you'll also need to check the lights, doors, parking brake, and disability ramp, as well as issuing tickets and dealing with passengers' unpredictable behavior.
The checks are so thorough that it took me a while to even move the bus, let alone figure out how to do all the highway code-related things you're rewarded for, like signaling or not hitting pedestrians.
Taking Control (Of The Chaos)
I'm going to be honest here and say that my bus driving experience went about as well as Mike's from OutsideXBox.
The main issue is the control system and clunky, overloaded interface. This, when combined with my apparent lack of natural bus driving ability, led to some interesting times.
I played the PlayStation 4 version and found it difficult to manage the controls, which were overwhelming and confusing in equal measure, with most menus having sub-menus. Controlling everything sounds great, but in reality, it felt overwhelming and offputting.
On console, the buttons also have to do several things and it felt like some of them did two jobs depending on what I was doing. This was too much for my brain and led to quite a lot of shouting at the screen.
It wasn't just me either. My kids also wanted to play and they all struggled as well, despite the fact that they've all been raised with controllers in their hands.
The game itself is not necessarily at fault and may be more manageable on PC, but on the PlayStation 4, it was simply too much.
While the less said about my driving skills the better, I wanted to talk about the depth of the mechanics in this game. Unfortunately, I lack the skills to unlock as much as I'd like, but I did go through all the menus to peruse my options and, wow, I had a lot of options.
Virtually every aspect of the game is fully customizable. As you play through the routes, assuming you have enough skills to not bankrupt yourself with the repair bills, you can unlock new bus stops and customize your journeys. You can also hire staff, including ticket collectors and eventually other drivers.
The management aspect was much more in-depth than I expected and the experience does feel immersive, especially if you use the cockpit camera mode.
As you drive, points are awarded for good bus driving behavior. This includes pulling up in the correct position, using indicators, being on time and giving passengers the correct change.
It's not just the driving you need to worry about, as passengers also need attending to. Not only do you need to sell tickets, but their behavior is also unpredictable and may require intervention.
You can check if passengers have valid tickets and fine those who don't. As you venture along your route, you may also need to deal with incidents such as noisy music, littering, or forgotten items. Solving these issues will keep your passengers happy and your routes profitable. However, taking too long will lead to missing your timeslots and will have a negative impact. The key is balance and striking it takes some skills.
Off The Route
For those who prefer to rebel, the game features an open world, which means plenty of opportunity for off-piste bus driving madness.
You can choose to take your bus pretty much wherever you like - over the fields and down to the river (although I didn't manage to get into the river sadly). Just watch out for the haystacks. Apparently, they're as hard as rocks in this town.
You can also escape from the bus and do a runner. The world is a reasonable size and there's a fair amount to explore. Just don't expect to make a profit from it, or go into any buildings.
The Bus Driving Experience
You can tell that this title has focused on mechanics above all else, and this is where it gets dicey. While the game carefully calculates ticket prices (mostly reasonable), damage (variable), and penalties for hitting pedestrians (high), some of the basics are very much lacking.
The graphics don't look up to the standard I'd expect for the PS4, and both your driver and passengers have a very limited number of skins. This means that by the time your bus is half-full, it will contain an unnatural amount of identical twins and triplets.
It also means that the "open world" is nowhere near on the scale of most open worlds, featuring a large amount of closed up buildings and fenced off areas.
Overall, this game is aimed very squarely at those who want a faithful and sensible bus driving simulation and in this case, it does deliver. If you can overlook the retro-feeling graphics, identical passengers, and clunky, yet complex controls, the simulation experience will likely feel very satisfying. It's every bit as fiddly, complex, and frankly slightly terrifying as I imagine driving a real bus to be.
3.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A PlayStation 4 copy of Bus Simulator 2019 was provided to TheGamer for this review. Bus Simulator 2019 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.