June 29, 2022

Tourist Bus Simulator – Game Asylum

It turns out that console bus simulators are really like buses – two appeared at once. While last month’s Bus Driver Simulator Countryside was an acclaimed banger, Tourist Bus Simulator offers smooth and easy driving. This is a PS5/Xbox Series only release powered by Unreal Engine 4, allowing for realistic weather effects and lighting. The game world is also impressive in size – developer TML Studios has recreated the sunny holiday destination of Fuerteventura. Yes, we are leaving for the Cannery Islands.

Before even having the decency to offer an introduction or a tutorial, the main menu presents two unnamed modes. Essentially two modes of varying complexity. One offers casual free play – draw a route on the map, select a bus, set a weather type and off you go. At the end of the course, your performance is evaluated and you have the option to play again or return to the menu. Amusingly, and despite being more arcade-like, this mode still offers an optional ten-minute break between trips.

Vehicle controls can be kept simple – being no more complex than something like GTA V – or made more realistic, by adding a control panel that lists hazard lights, wipers, indicators and more toggleable options. And of course, passengers are always grateful for WiFi and air conditioning, the availability of which can impact your final score. Routes are marked on a sat nav device, making navigation easy, and designated parking spots are clearly marked. It’s also surprisingly forgiving, with no penalty for the occasional crash or cornering too wide. To hell with the roundabouts.

The other mode offers a deeper experience, and this is where the tutorial is – which takes around an hour to complete, and is remarkably hands-on, involving a trip to the platforms to catch a new bus. Or rather, a cheap used bus that needs some maintenance.

In this mode, you take control of a newly acquired bus company located near Fuerteventura airport. From the comfort of the office, you can hire staff and negotiate their pay, then assign routes – or get your hands dirty. Some routes are permanent, providing a steady supply of cash, while others are ad hoc. Employees need to be kept happy and vehicles maintained – the complex also houses a garage where repairs can be made.

This mod is surprisingly thorough, going so far as to offer the chosen character an apartment that can be decorated and furnished. Completing orders (routes) grants XP, eventually unlocking a shuttle service and an emergency call vehicle. Skill points unlock fast travel locations, meanwhile. A dirt buggy can also be unlocked, the parts of which are hidden and scattered across the island – a nice bonus quest, and the vehicle itself comes in handy given that Fuerteventura is a rugged place.

Now seems like a good place to mention that this isn’t just a menu thing – you’re free to roam around in first or third person, exploring beaches and town centers. There’s some well-observed detail in the environments, and it feels rather realistic in places. That said, it’s clear that this free-roaming aspect wasn’t the developer’s primary focus. Store interiors are flat backgrounds and some NPCs, such as bathers, are not animated. There are also no wild animals (what, no canaries?), which seems like a missed opportunity to induce some needed personality.

The atmosphere could be richer too; more ambient sounds would have been welcome. Cities can be eerily quiet. There is some unexpected humor here, however, including a nudist beach with pixelated body parts. All the surprise!

Although it is easy to list the flaws, what is here is enough. More or less. The main mode has just enough features to make it appealing, with the fast travel options alleviating the need for continuous back and forth. Set yourself the goal of being able to buy a luxury villa and you will achieve it in the long term. The glitches slow down the experience somewhat, the most damaging being the unstable framerate. The sight of passengers performing a 360 degree spin as they enter the bus is less damaging and more fun.

While I hesitate to call Tourist Bus Simulator an entirely realistic affair, particularly in terms of vehicle driving, I found it both compelling and oddly relaxing. I often stopped and took in the scenery, strolling down to the beach or into town, and the ability to “discover” new places provided a nice RPG slant; one that encouraged exploration. So while the “simulator” part of the game’s name sounded flimsy in places, the “tourist” part certainly rang true.

Tourist Bus Simulator is now available on PS5 and Xbox Series. It was first launched on PC in 2018.