REVIEW: Bus Simulator 21

A fun and addictive bus simulator, in an impressive environment, with a lot of replay value. There are some noticeable glitches and anomalies but they don’t mar the overall experience.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Simulation
Developer: stillalive studios
Publisher: astragon Entertainment
Release date: 07 Sep, 2021

🎬Intro🎬

When I think of buses it conjures images of old ladies wearing too much perfume and greasy haired men carrying plastic bags. The bus is a cauldron of different characters all going to different places for different reasons.

Now, you can be in charge of the bus and drive them to their destinations, and maybe deal with a few unruly characters along the way!

Bus Simulator 21 is the third PC installment of the franchise developed by Stillalive studios and published by Astragon entertainment.

This version of the simulator builds on Bus Simulator 18 with thirty licensed buses to drive adding Volvo, Alexander Dennis, Scania, BYD, Grande West, and Blue Bird to the list.

You can now drive a double decker bus and e-buses on the two extensive maps located in the US or Europe in either single player or co-operative multiplayer, along with managing your fleet and organizing timetables.

🕹️Gameplay🕹️

You can customize your character with the usual attire and looks, and even wear a proper uniform. There are fifteen thousand different combinations so it adds scope to mess around with your character’s looks to your heart’s content.

There are options to change both body type and clothing, and everything is unlocked from the beginning.

Sandbox Mode

The sandbox mode lets you operate in any area with any bus. Everything is unlocked for you to play with. You can customize your bus with various decals and ride buses which would normally take you hours to unlock.

I was able to drive the Double Decker in Sandbox mode but have yet to unlock it in Campaign mode.

Multiplayer

The multiplayer mode means you can set up with three other friends or players online, and work co-operatively to run your business. Set up some routes and have your friends drive the bus or ride the bus with them acting as conductor. I had no issues with connection or finding a game to join. It was quite fun but I’d imagine it would rely on people being sensible as crashing the bus would cost the owner money in repairs.

Collectibles

Some of the collectibles were extremely hard to find but I had a lot of fun doing so. Collectibles resemble a luminous green bus. There are twenty to find on each map along with a couple of SAM statues and even a haunted house.

Some of the buses are very well hidden down alleyways and at the top of hills for example. Some can be spotted from inside the bus as you drive around whilst others need to be found on foot.

Campaign

The main game is campaign or mission based where you follow a story of sorts which teaches you how to run your business. You will need to learn how to set up routes to meet certain criteria set out for you. For example, you may need to connect three districts in a balanced route, or upgrade a district to level two. Each bus stop has a level and by using that stop you gain experience points. Earn enough experience points and you can upgrade the stop. Upgrade all stops in that district to raise the district level. Each stop either weighs in favor of passengers departing or entering at that stop, denoted by a blue or purple color. To balance the route, you would need to have an equal number of blue and purple stops.

On the left shows the routes you have already set up and their monetary worth.
On the right shows your current missions with the ones completed struck through.
You need to complete all the missions to start the next.

There is some strategy involved in the game. It’s not all about driving buses. The route planning can be quite technical with day and night cycles, peak times, and planning efficient routes. Some of the missions can be quite time consuming and there are thirty or more on each map.

Driving

Positive marks are rewarded for good driving, like using your indicators correctly, and reaching stops on time, and negative marks are given for accidents, improper use of indicators and speeding, for example. Each stops earns you XP until you reach a new level which earns you a pay day. Money can be used to buy new buses, and to help with business costs.

Gradually you will have a few buses running different routes you set up, all collecting money for you to buy more expensive buses i.e., electric or CNG.

A detailed breakdown of your pluses and negatives whilst driving are displayed along with expenditure and profit levels. These appear each time you level up.

The bus can be operated in first or third-person view. The seat can be adjusted and regular controls are mapped to your gamepad and the rest selected by using a wheel. There are various distractions for you to deal with like issuing tickets, waking up sleeping passengers, warning commuters who are listening to loud music, asking them to unblock entrances and asking for their tickets. All these options can be adjusted or turned off however.

Issuing tickets can be fun but there are no card payments. Get with the times!

The driving can be as realistic as you wish and weight and inertia plays a part. Once you get used to it, the driving feels satisfying.

📺 Graphics 📺

I was incredibly impressed by how much detail and variety went into the environments. Just little things like inflatables in the swimming pool or packets of crisps in the news stand all made it feel so real. It was a pleasure to explore.

The buses looked nice and the interiors looked realistic.

There are some noticeable repetitions especially in character’s faces which could be improved.

The only weather condition is rain but there are day and night cycles.

🎵Sound 🎵

I loved the bus sounds. They sounded very realistic and soothing.

I was particularly impressed with environmental sounds like cranes and boats near the docks and birds singing in the parks. It made the area come alive.

🤔Overall Impressions🤔

I really enjoyed Bus Simulator 21. In the end it became quite additive which I wasn’t expecting.

There are four different difficulty levels with various features you can choose such as speeding fines, speed bumps and speed limiters; pot holes; disability ramp access; automatic kneeling and ticket collection, along with various assists to steering, breaking and acceleration. There are a number of ways you can tailor the game to match your wishes. It has a lot of replay value.

The thing that struck me the most was how detailed and lively the environments were. I didn’t really appreciate how intricate they were until I started running around for the collectibles, which were fun and challenging to hunt. The maps are very large but somehow, they have managed to add so much variety to the different locales, each having their own personalities and character. I was forever stopping to admire the view and appreciate the different sounds. The character movements were a little odd at times, some moving slow like they had soiled themselves, and taking an eternity to walk over crossings! There are some comical moments with graphical glitches and bizarre physics, usually involving accidents. These only happened very occasionally however.

The haunted house was quite difficult to find but it looked great and there are some surprises in the garden!

The traffic AI was reasonably good I thought. Automobiles drove around as expected in the main, although there were occasions when cars would take an absolute age to make turns.

Driving the different kinds of buses was fun. I preferred playing in third person view with the bus showing as I drove, although with larger buses it was difficult to see whether your indicators were flashing or not, which resulted in some accidents. I had to turn off the NPC voices as they were amusing at first but then got annoying, especially when trying to concentrate on planning routes. It is quite easy to build up time and if you go over three minutes ahead you need to stop and wait a while or else it is considered “out of hours”.

There is a basic tutorial which provides a quick rundown of how to operate the bus but the management side of things is hardly explained at all. The campaign mode does act as a type of tutorial but often it left me asking questions on the Discord channel to fill in the gaps. The tutorials need a bit of work, and if you are a newcomer to the series, it can leave you frustrated trying to manage your fleet, organize routes and time tables. Once I got the grasp of things though I started to enjoy the game more and it became very enjoyable.

Verdict

Bus Simulator 21 was a lot of fun to play after I got past the initial tutorial issues. Learning the managerial side of things was the greatest pitfall as it can stop progression. The Discord channel was the only reason I didn’t quit the game.

Apart from the odd graphical glitch and anomaly, the game is super fun and addictive to play. If you like driving simulators there is certainly enough variety and replay value to warrant its price.

Written by
Janner
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