Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bus Driver Review

Bus Driver, developed and published by SCS Software.
The Good: Accurate simulation, simple controls, good number of routes, varying weather and traffic conditions, pleasant graphics
The Not So Good: No route editor, some (most?) people will find it extremely boring, axis controller for brakes required
What say you? Although it’s not for everyone, this is as good as a realistic bus driving simulation will get: 6/8

One of the more thankless jobs is that of a bus driver. Carting around screaming kids while navigating through heavy traffic is not an occupation that would appeal to many. However, there have been some moments of glory for bus drivers in the movies (I think it was called The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down). And that brings us to Bus Driver, a game that features all of the hot merging action and intense drama of driving a bus. Will this simulation prove to be a good substitute for the real thing?

Bus Driver features some nice visuals. The city that the game takes place in is detailed with a variety in streets lined with different buildings. The cars in the game are detailed as well; many imitations of popular models can be seen driving around town. There are also some nice weather and time of day effects; driving through rain or snow has both a visual and vehicle performance difference. The city of Bus Driver seems less like a “track” where there happen to be roads and more like a living, breathing community; this goes a long way in creating a believable gaming environment. I must say that I was impressed with the overall quality of the graphics. The sound is typical for the genre: crowd noise at stations, bus engine and braking sounds, turn signals. Everything has a realistic approach to it and it works quite well. The applause heard after completing a mission is a little annoying, though. But overall, the graphics and sounds of Bus Driver serve up an authentic setting for the game, which is really all you can ask for.

Not surprisingly, the goal of Bus Driver is to drive a bus. There are several kinds of buses you can drive (school, tour, double-decker) but they all drive almost identically. There are a total of thirty routes in the game arranged in five tiers of difficulty. Although this is a good number of routes for the game, I would like to see a route editor to extend the life of the title even further; there is a complete city rendered in the game, so why can't you go wild in designing custom routes? The game is also entirely single-player, so there won't be any races or competitions other than going for the high score for a particular route.

Bus Driver is a very accurate simulation, unlike a lot of driving games like this that feature over the top action (Need for Speed, Crazy Taxi). The first thing you'll need is a joystick or pedal axis to control the brakes. There is a penalty for slamming on the brakes, and that's the only thing that digital controllers like a keyboard or button can do. Gameplay consists of stopping at marked stops along your route, opening the door and letting passengers on and off. Then, you close the doors and move on to the next route. Bus Driver emphasizes safe driving, so you'll need to use your turn signals for lane changes, come to complete stops at red lights, and generally drive in a realistic manner. A lot of the difficulty results from piloting very large buses that turn and brake very slowly. The traffic lights in the game change rather quickly, so if you see a green light at the next intersection, prepare to stop. Continually doing reckless maneuvers in your bus will anger your customers, who may leave prematurely (resulting in a lower score). Bus Driver does a good job indicating stops and turns at intersections; you'll never get lost while playing the game. There are a number of nice touches in the game, including automatically displaying side mirrors when your turn signals are active. This makes Bus Driver very easy to control, or as easy as driving a bus can be. There aren't any problems (design or bugs) with the game; I disagree with the high distressed passenger penalty for severe braking, but that's just personal. While the realistic driving of Bus Driver won't appeal to everyone, simulation fans that enjoy titles like Flight Simulator and Virtual Sailor will appreciate the lifelike approach of Bus Driver.

Those people looking for an arcade bus game full of crashes and explosions should look elsewhere: Bus Driver firmly implants itself in the real of realism, and the result is a quality simulation. Bus Driver is a far more convincing simulation than SCS Software’s 18 Wheels of Steel series. This is a very polished game set in a realistic city with interesting and challenging missions; a mission editor would extend the value of the game even further. The controls are easy to pick up and anyone can play the game, assuming that you have an analog controller. Bus Driver isn't for everyone, but if you've ever wanted to drive a bus, this is your game.