The black roller blind soaks up most of the sun's rays as I tug it down from it's furled position above the cab. Opening my drivers side window, the sounds of everyday rural life drown out the chatting passengers, a welcome break from their shared shock over revelations in the latest soap opera cliffhanger.
I indicate left, check my mirror and wait for the approaching car to take note and allow me to pull away from the penultimate stop on this new bus route.
"Wait! I need to get off!"
Taking a left turn, I pull up in the first safe spot I find, allowing the distracted passenger to alight - another positive for the Peanut Express bus company ratings.
A little further along I see my final stop approaching. I'm early, so take extra care to avoid the uncomfortable pot holes on the country road as I slow my speed. Pulling up in the perfect spot with perfect timing, I finish the long route satisfied I've done everything I can for my customers.
Later, I'll be sure to send another driver along that route whilst I head out to find where Peanut Express will be needed next.
Welcome, my curious fellows, to Bus Simulator on the Xbox One. A port of Bus Simulator 18, which was released some time ago on the PC, it does exactly what it says on the tin: Simulates the running of a bus company, from vehicle purchases and driver hiring to the nitty gritty of cleaning up after your passengers and checking their tickets. And of course, driving your own custom bus routes in the middle of it all.
Not taking into account the plethora of great driving games, simulation titles such as this have always been a bit of a niche affair. Apart from standouts such as Giant Software's Farming Simulator, Microsoft's own Flight Sim series and the brilliant Euro Truck games on PC, everything else has found a handful of fans and not really progressed beyond that base audience. The Bus Simulator series falls into that category.
It's your job to bring public transport back to the area in which the game takes place - a 5.8 square mile map encompassing docks, commercial, rural, urban, agricultural and industrial zones, with plenty of varied road layouts. You'll navigate slip roads, roundabouts, rail crossings and traffic lights as well as potholed country roads and random events, such as road works or traffic jams.
Initially you only have access to plan routes in one area, but accomplishing missions for the local authority unlocks more stops and stations across the map. You can drive anywhere at any time, but you can only use the bus stops in places you've been given permission to.
Planning routes on the map and saving them allows you to drive the route, picking up and dropping off passengers as you go, as well as dealing with trivialities on the way. Sometimes a passenger will play music, and you can get out of your cab and tell them to turn it down. Other times, a passenger may leave valuables on the bus, and you can chase after them on foot to return them. Completing these random events alongside sticking to traffic laws, driving safely and being punctual will increase the rating of the trip, earning your company XP and leveling up the visited bus stops, meaning more passengers and more money for bigger buses.
Once you've driven a route at least once, you can hire staff to drive the route for you, which they will do every time you go out on a drive, earning you more cash. They really do drive the routes as well - you'll see them on the roads, driving your customised buses, picking up and dropping off passengers. In a neat touch, they'll flash their headlights as you pass, perhaps inferring the unspoken bond of street brothers doing a public service for their town.
The buses themselves are quite detailed, with all the various buttons on the dashboard able to be poked and pressed. A quick hit of the D-Pad will bring up shortcuts to these same buttons, to alleviate the lack of mouse and keyboard control. Should you tire of unlocking bus doors and switching on lights, there's also a quick start option before every route, which places you on the road a few yards from your first pickup, the bus already up and running. Driving is simple and intuitive once you get used to the large turning circles on the vehicles, and there's even an automatic speed limiter if you want to ensure a perfect drive.
The map is pretty big, and the various locations all have their own identity, unique buildings and road signs creating recognisable places during long term play. Ambient sounds are great too, with rattling cowbells and bird song in the countryside, and beeping cars, roadworks and industrial noise in built up areas. There's a lot of atmosphere, and that's a good job, because the one area Bus Simulator lets itself down is graphically.
The game runs in Unreal Engine 4, although you wouldn't know it. Beyond some impressive reflections, the game looks... Bloody awful. Like a bad 360 launch title. It also runs poorly, the game hovering between 20-30 FPS and mirrors at half that refresh rate. Occasionally you'll forget that though, as you're driving down a barren country road at dawn after the rain with some nice lighting and audio creating a relaxing atmosphere, but it's like leaping back a generation - you have to adjust. The developers may as well have saved the money on the engine and just used Unity. It couldn't have looked or performed any worse.
Easy, but time consuming. You'll have to make routes which pass every bus stop on the map, as well as find a handful of collectibles on foot. You'll also need to finish all the in game missions and buy every bus.
On the management side of things, there's not a lot to worry about. You can access a few stats and financial statements, but beyond that this game just wants you to love driving buses. Small buses, city buses, even bendy buses if you can afford them. And driving them is fun and satisfying, a welcome change of pace from tearing up the Forza Motorsport tracks or trashing your car in Dirt Rally. Here it's not about speed, it's about perfection. Timing. It's a logical driving experience, not an adrenaline fueled one. So do I recommend it?
This is where my one caveat comes into play: The cost. For those with a passing interest or a mild curiosity, Bus Simulator is way overpriced at £34.99, especially as it doesn't come with the PC map expansion or any of the modding community stuff. It's just not polished enough to justify it for the average gamer. On the other hand, if this is the type of game you're looking for, you will enjoy it, and it'll give you your money's worth - just. If you're on the fence as a gamer looking for something different, wait for a sale. If this was half the price, it'd be a solid recommendation despite the poor visuals.
For that reason, I see no choice but to split the final score.
Gamer rating: 5/10
Enthusiast rating: 7/10