Next stop, Zen: my strange life playing Bus Simulator 21

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Keith Stuart

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This peculiar game offers a peaceful escape to a gentle life as a bus driver – if you can avoid mounting the curb and smashing into pagodas, that is

My first day as a bus driver did not go well. Just three stops into my inaugural route I was already running eight minutes late, having caused considerable delay (and $712 of damage) by crashing into an ornamental pagoda. I also got fined for not indicating properly and for running a red light, and then one of my passengers stood in the bus’s open doorway and wouldn’t move until I got out of my seat and went to talk to him. I then tried to drive off with the accessibility ramp still extended.

Bus Simulator 21 is the latest in a series of highly authentic, idiosyncratic simulation games from Austrian developer stillalive Studios. It puts you into a large open city, modelled on the US west coast, and tasks you with setting up a profitable public transport system, while also driving some of the routes yourself. You can choose from a range of difficulty levels depending on how much control you want over every facet of the transit experience – I went for the easiest, “Day Tripper”, because even with all the assists switched on, driving a bus is still like piloting an ocean liner along the Shropshire Union Canal. The turning circle takes a long time to get used to, slow at the start and then wildly fast, sending you careering on to the pavement and people’s driveways and indeed, people. (That’ll cost you $20k in insurance claims.) Other road-users are massively unsympathetic and pedestrians will happily step out on to a crossing right in front of you even when it’s very clear you haven’t managed to get your windscreen wipers working and therefore can’t see anything.

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