Bus Driver

Bus Driver is halfway between an arcade game like Crazy Taxi and a pure driving simulator. Progressing through five increasingly difficult tiers of missions, you'll drive a number of different buses with varying mission types and driving conditions. It's a game about keeping an eye on the road, always thinking about your next move, keeping your passengers happy, and not causing devastation with your bus.

The game starts out pretty simple with easy routes through quiet suburbs, but you'll eventually deal with heavy city traffic, crazy winding mountain roads, snow and ice, rain, night driving, and more. You can also expect combinations of some of the above conditions.

Simply driving around is very enjoyable. The visuals are impressive for a low budget title with lots of little details like leaves blowing through the air and the beautiful snowflakes in a winter storm.

The controls aren't realistic to the point where you'll be constantly skidding out of control, and I'm fairly sure that real buses would handle quite differently. But there's still an enjoyable feeling of realism in basic acceleration, braking, the behavior of the other drivers, and the actual rules of the road. In the rare situations you get the bus going past 50MPH, you'll be on the edge of your seat. The experience is very immersive and the game never fails to reward you for good driving, proper signaling, and keeping your passengers happy.

I usually felt some pride at the end of the route when my score was being tallied and I was listening to the cheers and applause (pretty sure real drivers don't get an ovation for not killing anybody, though).

The missions usually alternate between making many stops along a route, or moving one bus full of people from the starting point to their destination. There are a couple of odd missions where you do prisoner transportation and have full permission to violate any rules of the road you want as long as you don't cause an accident. That doesn't sound like something the police would allow. I guess these missions are supposed to be stress relief.

All is not rosy in Bus Driver land, however. The developers made some real blunders that hold the game back.

The camera is unfortunately in an unchangeable position right behind your bus, making navigation far more difficult than it has any right to be. With the larger buses, especially the double decker, you can barely see anything that's going on in some situations. The bus becomes somewhat transparent if there's a car immediately in front of you, but it's still almost impossible to tell how close you are. There were times when I'd be driving and unable to even see the road in front of me. I feel like they did this to increase the challenge instead of doing so through more creative and less frustrating ways.

Traffic lights are the biggest annoyance in the game, and it's something that would have taken just minutes for the developers to fix. The lights change at a highly accelerated rate compared to reality, which isn't a major issue, except that they change from yellow to red so quickly that you have virtually no chance of slowing down in time, and no way of speeding up to beat the red light. It's literally about one second warning or less to change from green to red, and so I got into the habit of slowing down and stopping at every intersection even if the light seemed like it might stay green.

The point loss for running a red light is so big that it's worth falling a little behind schedule to avoid. It's hard to believe that the game was released in this state, because you only need to play for about ten minutes for the problem to become obvious.

Control can be somewhat unforgiving if you don't have an appropriate gamepad. The acceleration and breaking seem like they were designed for analog triggers or actual pedal controllers, and to play without those means a lot of very careful tapping and monitoring of the gauges. The acceleration isn't really that big of a deal, but if you over-brake, you get a severe point penalty, and it's all too easy to do that without the precision of analog controls.

Perhaps to compensate for some of these issues, the game is really too easy. There was only one instance in which I didn't receive enough points at the end of a mission to receive a Gold Star for finishing it. You can run a few red lights, upset the passengers, and even damage the bus, but unless you completely skip stops or something, you'll usually come out ahead.

It might have been interesting if the game enforced speed limits... or had them at all. Bus Driver doesn't pretend to be a pure simulation, but this would have given us one more thing to manage and possibly made the game more exciting.

This game also doesn't really have any kind of conclusion. When you clear enough missions in one tier, you'll unlock the next one. But after you've unlocked the last set of missions, all you have left to do is Gold Star all of them. And when you've done so, your reward is... nothing. You just go back to the mission select screen. No credits, no congratulations, just more driving. Forever. Maybe it's a commentary on the hopelessness of a career in bus driving. Or just laziness.

I was also hoping for some kind of editor where you'd be able to create your own routes through the city, but it's a pretty basic package.

If you like driving games or have a thing for buses, there's a free demo of this game available and I suggest taking a look at it. This could have been a lot better, but it's probably the only game of it's kind so some leniency might be justified.