Bus Simulator 21, like its PlayStation 4 predecessor, straddles the line between authentic public transport management and tongue-in-cheek entertainment. While this vehicular sim set across two maps – the all-new American-inspired Angel Shores and an updated version of European backdrop Seaside Valley – demands you engage in all of the nitty-gritty of bus driving, like selling tickets and extending wheelchair ramps, it also likes to poke fun at itself by emphasising the inane chatter of the patrons you’ll be hauling. Everyone has an opinion on boy band All Direction, apparently.
While the gags can be a bit cringey and outdated, we appreciate that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, we wish the developer would have taken the title’s user interface a bit more seriously. You’ll spend almost as much time in menus as you do behind the wheel, plotting out routes that link each map’s key destinations. But while the addition of route balancing and peak times adds depth to the strategy, it’s still overwhelming and hard to keep track of – an issue we experienced with the original as well. In fact, despite the gentle introductory missions, we’d argue it’s worse here.
Once you wrap your head around it all, there’s a zen-like appeal to the action. You’re encouraged to drive routes accurately yourself, as this will improve how your AI employees operate them when you’re working elsewhere. This means there’s always a good balance between strategy and gameplay, with more than 30 different licensed buses available at launch and online co-op options for up to four players. The new map, with its mish-mash of districts, is a fun place to explore – although visually this is an ugly game, with even cockpit elements blurry and presented in low resolution.
The appeal here is building up a public transport empire, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the time passes as you begin to expand routes and increase your fleet. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, but impressive how a game designed to replicate a real-life job can be so oddly relaxing when you’re behind the wheel.