I live in New York City, where buses take hundreds of thousands of people to their destinations on a daily basis. Whether it be a local route, Limited-Stop or our version of Bus Rapid Transit, +selectbusservice, in big cities, buses are part of the lifeblood of a thriving metropolis. What if you were in charge of building a bus network, though? How would you connect all the people of the city to each other? Would you be able to manage the day-to-day operations of a major bus company, while keeping the residents happy? Can you become the master bus company owner in Bus Simulator 18?

Game Name: Bus Simulator 18
Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Astragon Studios
Developer(s): Still Alive Studios
Release Date: June 13, 2018
Price: $34.99

Bus Simulator 18 is pretty much what it says it is in the title. You’re the owner/operator of a budding bus company in the city of Seaside Valley, whose municipality is looking to connect their constituents and the different parts of the city together. Your task is to expand the bus network as you gain the trust of the city by completing missions in each open district of the city. These missions can range from including certain stops in your route and getting drivers to generate income, linking different stations within different districts with a route time limit or driving routes round-trip or with a certain type of bus. Speaking of…

There are several different buses from bus livery companies Mercedes-Benz, IVECO, Setra, and MAN, typically 2 of each kind. Unlike in Bus Simulator 16, the buses have distinct characteristics unique to each bus. The IVECO Urbanway buses are Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses, not unlike the Orion VIIs being retired by New York City Transit or the new Xcelsior XN40s and XN60s. Those buses, compared to the diesel-powered Citaro K and G from Mercedes-Benz or the Setra S416 LE and S418 LE, start off slower, and you can feel it. The diesel buses kick in immediately and can brake faster, operating CNG buses require more time and space to stop to avoid accidents, those of which will lower your reputation and drive rating/earnings. There are also small differences in how different buses in the same company operate. The Setra S416 LE gives a smoother drive, as it’s a smaller bus, but the S418 LE is slightly bigger and needs more timing and tighter reactions to avoid hitting curbs and striking other vehicles. Bendy buses need a bit of knowledge of your route as well. I like the differences in the motor sounds the most, because in reality, all bus models, even if it’s from the same company all sound different, as well as feel different behind the wheel.

The safer and smarter you drive, the better your ratings and earnings are as you progress through the game. Every route you create in Seaside Valley can be played multiple times to earn more money via the drivers you hire as your network grows bigger. Trust me, having 2 or 3 drivers per route can be helpful when it comes to finishing a mission to unlock another section of the city. Taking those opportunities to drive your bus on a route to generate more revenue helps when you need to complete an objective such as having two drivers on a route and only using CNG buses. In addition, the addition of potholes and speed bumps truly add to the realism of driving a bus in a bustling city. Run over a pothole or speed bump past a certain speed, you’ll lose some reputation on that drive. You can’t just speed through a route either, because the option to get criticized for leaving early is a great option to understand what bus drivers usually go through when keeping to a schedule. Leave too early, you get dinged for it as well. Speeding will get you a financial penalty, as well as crashing into objects or striking a pedestrian (to the tune of €20K,) so those are some things to look to as well while trying to be a safe driver.

You can also set the time of day and weather condition that you wish to drive in. Want to drive during a rainy day? Set it and forget it. How about at dawn, or at night? Just as easy. The different times of day, as well as the conditions, can change how you drive your route. Even random conditions like construction at your bus stop or a national holiday can have unexpected effects on your trip, so look out for those, especially the national holiday events. Those rake in the bank, so take advantage, drive safely and reap the benefits. Just be wary of fare dodgers, because while you lose that fare, catching them nets you a cool €120 fine to add to your weekly profits.

Every bus stop has a level that gets leveled up by the stop being serviced by your bus network. The stops level up faster if you service the stop yourself, which can lead to faster mission completion for the later missions where certain stops need to be leveled up to level five or higher. Your drivers can level them up, but the experience gain will be slower than if you did it yourself, so keep that in mind. Having multiple drivers on a route or multiple routes servicing the stops helps, but it’s still better to service them yourself.

There are two ways to play your drives, Simplified and Realistic. Simplified is the Bus Simulator 16 method, where simply pressing your accel button or pedal will automatically put you into drive with your speed limiter already activated. Realistic makes you do all the work. Shifting, setting your speed limiter, all that good stuff. Want to get your drive on like a real driver, the latter is for you. Casual bus operators can jump right into Simplified.

The controls do need a bit of work, but they’re effective. You can use keyboard and mouse to drive the bus, you can also use just the keyboard, your XInput controller or a steering wheel, such as the Logitech G27 or Thrustmaster TMX racing wheels. I’m not 100 percent sure about how the Logitech G27 and G29 auto-configs, however, the Thrustmaster TMX needs to be adjusted for each action on the bus. Your XInput controller will work right out of the gate, with you using the keyboard for certain actions if driving in Realistic mode.

The move to Unreal Engine for Bus Simulator 18 is a blessing and a curse. The visuals of the city are stunning and quite awesome to look at while free-walking throughout Seaside Valley. The cars move more realistically, and the graphics look leaps and bounds better than the previous iteration. In addition, the addition of over two-thousand unique sounds allows for a further immersion into the universe.

In a middle of sorts, the AI for the people can be described as wonky, at best. Sometimes they easily make their way into the bus with no problem, even blocking entryway doors. They look like people, despite the sprites being pretty much the same ten or so. The voice acting, compared to Bus Simulator 16, is a lot more natural in most places, lending itself to easier to follow conversations and witty banter from the riders. One of my favorites tends to be the self aware “You’re not even in on the fun. At best, you’re just some random NPC.” That had me rolling the first time I heard it. It’s not as funny now, but it still elicits a chuckle out of me every time I hear it. There’s a lot less self promotion, and it feels nice to hear somewhat authentic conversation, especially the ‘hello’s and ‘good-bye’s you receive along the route. The AI for the cars are a bit better, but when there are people walking in the middle of the crosswalk in the slowest fashion while you’re struggling to keep time, you tend to want to bang your head in. Maybe I’ll just see if I can slip in between both lanes of traffic to speed up my service…

As for the curse, unfortunately, optimization is a bit funky in this game. In certain sections of the game, despite having a machine that is more than capable of running this game on the Highest setting at 60+fps, you get frame dips as low as 34 fps mid game and 22 fps during the map menu when you’re selecting a route. While I did receive this game before it officially launched, I initially chalked it up to pre-release issues, however, as I’ve played it a bit post-launch, I’m still largely having these problems. While I did do a few performance tweaks to make sure my game ran as smoothly as possible, that should not have been the case.

I also don’t like the fact that you have to wait for a bus to move out of the stop to service it if you’re behind it. It isn’t the most realistic, as even in New York City, buses alight both behind and in front of buses that are in the bus stop. That’s the only change I’d request in terms of realism.

Review Disclosure Statement: Bus Simulator 18 was provided to us by Astragon Studios for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

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Bus Simulator 18 has a lot going for it, but needs a little more polish.

Summary

Bus Simulator 18 has made a lot of strides to improve upon 2016’s entry. The map is bigger, with room for more cities to be added, but performance needs a bit more work in terms of stability. Everything looks amazing, but without steady performance, it can stave quite a few people off. Nonetheless, simulation fans could consider Bus Simulator 18 an adequate simulation fix that doesn’t ask too much past the initial purchase.

Overall
3.5

About The Author

Clinton Bowman-Christie
Managing Editor, Games & Technology

Teacher's Assistant by day, passionate gamer and wrestling fan by night. This describes Clinton to a T. A Brooklyn, New York resident for all of his life, gaming, Power Rangers, football, basketball and wrestling pretty much comprise a lot of his free time.

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