Like its PlayStation 4 predecessor, Bus Simulator 21 moves on the line between authentic public transport management and tongue-in-cheek entertainment. While this vehicle simulation on two maps – the all-new American-inspired Angel Shores and an updated version of the European Seaside Valley setting – prompts you to dig into all the details of bus driving, like selling tickets and extending wheelchair ramps, it does too like to make fun of yourself by emphasizing the silly chatter of the guests you are dragging along. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the boy band All Direction.
While the gags can be a bit crunchy and out of date, we appreciate the fact that the game doesn’t take itself even Serious. Unfortunately, we wish the developer had taken the title’s UI a bit more Serious. You spend almost as much time in menus as you do behind the wheel, planning routes that connect the most important destinations on each map. But while the addition of route balancing and peak times adds depth to the strategy, it’s still overwhelming and difficult to follow – an issue we had with the original as well. Despite the gentle introductory missions, we’d say it’s worse here.
Once you have your head wrapped around everything, there is a zen-like appeal to the action. You are encouraged to be precise in driving routes yourself as this will improve the way your AI staff will operate them when you are working elsewhere. That 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 jumble of districts is fun – although visually this is an ugly game, in which even cockpit elements are blurred and displayed in low resolution.
The allure here is building a public transport empire, and you’ll be surprised how quickly time goes by as you start expanding routes and adding to your fleet. It’s an acquired taste, certainly, but impressive how a game designed to recreate a real job can be so strangely relaxing when you’re behind the wheel.