A Free Game With A Difference ...

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A Free Game With A Difference ...

Post by Calilasseia » Wed Aug 02, 2017 7:28 am

It's time for another game! And while this one is a driving game, it's one with several big differences from the norm, as becomes very apparent when you learn the title - Bus Driver.

Yes, that's right, someone went to the trouble of providing the PC gamer with a bus driving simulator. If you're tempted to abandon the thread at this point, persevere, because this game has a certain weird appeal, especially if you're looking for something that doesn't involve death and destruction, and has some surprisingly redeeming features.

First, we'll take a look at the driving environment. It's another of those weird city setups that tend to find their way into PC games, though this one isn't as surreal as the one in City Racing. For one thing, this city has the sort of amenities that you would expect to see in a city - there's a hospital, an airport, a dockland area, industrial infrastructure, traffic lights (more about these later), and several hotels, plus, wait for it, schools for the kiddies to attend. Oddly enough, there aren't any walking pedestrians visible, but there's people waiting for you at the bus stops you'll be visiting, so at least you get to see something resembling normal pedestrians, and they're not all rendered as Ku Klux Klan caricatures of black people either, which is one of the big sore points of City Racing with many who have downloaded it.

However, like the city in City Racing, it's a weird mix of American and European city features all jumbled together. The part where you find such buildings as the courts of law, and the seat of municipal government, are basically modelled on the likes of Washington D.C., and you'll see at least one large American flag on display in this part of the city. But, many of the other buildings have a manifestly European feel to them, such as the old church that appears along one of the routes, which looks like the sort of church you could expect to find anywhere from Warsaw to Dublin, though it does have one of those American-style signs outside, using those crossword-style letter squares. The shops, again, look European, and indeed the buildings they occupy would be familiar in appearance to anyone who has lived in a large Western European town. Though, weirdly, the schools for the kiddies are very different from each other. Two of them, Western High and Eastern High, have that "flat top" concrete edifice appearance that is a hallmark of American educational architecture, with ancillary decorative features that again exude essence of Americana. The third, Old Town Bells School, on the other hand, occupies a building that looks like a remake of Buckingham Palace, and is presumably the place where all the rich people's kids go.

While on the subject of city landmarks, this city has a statue of Elvis Presley to drive past, and I suspect that the statue outside Old Town Bells School depicts an American Civil War luminary of some sort. Super Sport Stadium, however, is a mixture exuding its own uniqueness, with the appearance of having been modelled simultaneously on a Super Bowl venue and the Colosseum in Rome. That architectural collision works better than it sounds from my description, when you see the edifice in question.

Then there's the bus stations. These too have that curious schizophrenic identity aura about them. The architecture is a curious mix of 19th century New York Subway and Art Deco London Transport. One of which, namely Fulwell Station, has an entrance/exit that is governed by traffic lights (more on the horrors of the traffic lights in due course). Some have nice easy entrance/exit routes (Ewell Central, for example), while others are a bitch to enter and leave (Hounslow, Terminal South).

Amalgams of American and European features don't stop there. In this game, you drive on the right (surprise, surprise), and there are a number of wide, multi-lane roads present in the city, of a sort that are familiar to Americans, but seen rather less often even in really big European cities, other than as motorways/autobahns. By contrast, these are connected to some narrow roads of the sort that would be familiar to anyone who has spent time in really old English towns and cities, such as York or Cambridge, which are of positively mediaeval width. You can imagine at this point, even before I move on to the business of driving in this game, that squeezing a double decker bus through those is a challenge. Then there are the place names: despite the presence of large tracts of this city being based upon somewhere like Washington DC, with added curiosity bits of Cambridge bolted on, the place names you visit are all straight out of the London Transport timetable. There's something surreal about seeing place names like "Lambeth", "Stratford", "Biggin Hill" (I kid you not) and "Westminster" cropping up, in the same city that has Buena Vista Yachting Club and Vista Glacier Ski Resort.

Likewise, the other vehicles you encounter in traffic are a similar mix. Several of the cars look European, as do the smaller trucks, but there's the occasional Mack/Peterbilt style rig to say hello to, and there's a couple of American looking cars to be seen in the traffic too. The ambulances and fire engines are pretty much American in appearance, but oddly enough, one traffic item that is conspicuous by its absence, except in special circumstances, is the police car. More on this later. However, you'll also encounter a helicopter flying around the courts of law, and the city centre is also host to, of all things, an airship.

Meanwhile, one feature that does merit a special mention, is the suspension bridge. It's not as lavishly rendered as the art deco wonder in City Racing, but what it lacks in rococo ornamentation, it makes up for in sheer size. This bridge is huge. It takes you two minutes to drive your bus across it. It also appears to have been constructed so that the road deck is a thousand feet above sea level, because whenever you're called upon to drive over it, you seem to be level with the clouds.

Other slightly humorous features include the manner in which the airport appears to be an air traffic controller's nightmare, with honking big Boeing 767 sized airliners crossing each others' flight path in a manner that would never be allowed at any competently run real airport. Likewise, this city has, just for the fun of it, fuck-off huge mountains big enough to provide enough permanent snow to keep a ski resort going year round, in the form of the Vista Glacier resort, and the weather from this ski resort has a habit of affecting the airport rather more frequently than the incoming pilots would doubtless like. Yet, just a few miles away, you're saying hello to the balmy tropical paradise of Buena Vista Yachting Club, complete with people taking leisurely rides in hot air balloons. Oh, and last but not least, is Backwoods County Jail, which you encounter on some special missions.

Right, now it's time to look at the buses.

These are an eclectic selection too. For example, the school runs are conducted using those big, yellow school buses that are familiar not only to Americans, but to everyone who has ever seen an American movie with at least a few minutes' school footage included. But, these are joined in the company fleet, by a brace of models that appear to have been culled from all over the planet. As well as the "standard" UK single decker that's familiar to anyone who's travelled here via Arriva, and a model that resembles uncannily the ones used by my local (and still municipal) bus company where I live, there's a double decker that looks like the ones Arriva use in Liverpool, a couple of buses that have a distinctly Warsaw Pact appearance to them, and big coaches with those "ear" type mirrors, of the sort that are popular not only in Europe, but, from what I gather talking to lucky travellers, feature on the roads of Japan and Australia as well.

Now comes the fun part. Driving these things.

At this point, I have to tell you, that if you want to get the best out of this game, some form of analogue control input is going to make your task a lot easier. Quite a few of the routes you'll be plying in this game require a fair amount of precision, and trying to drive some of the sections using the keyboard as your input tool, will merely induce varying levels of frustration. The game is, quite literally, transformed the moment you can plug in a joystick or a game steering wheel. Even an XBox gamepad will, if it has analogue axis controls, make a lot of difference to your ability to control your bus in this game.

The reason for this is quite simple. The people who wrote this game, manifestly spent a lot of time snooping around real bus operators and their garages, learning everything they could about the inner workings of buses. As a consequence, the physics replication is damn good, even if the graphics are merely average. Good enough to the point of each bus having its own individual handling characteristics. So, for example, when you're driving the big yellow American school bus, the front wheels are in front of the driver, and you steer it with a different touch than the manner in which you steer those buses whose front wheels are six feet behind the driver. Likewise, buses that have two rear wheels have slightly different handling characteristics to those that have four wheels at the rear, such as the big coaches. Then, there's the double decker, which puts you low to the floor from the first-person vantage point (which I suggest you use always, instead of trying to drive the bus with the camera looking at the back of the bus), and has its own idiosyncrasies. Mastering these differences will, I assure you, be a fairly thorough test of your concentration.

One of those features requiring analogue control to use properly, is the braking system. It's a progressive affair, with a special braking meter provided to determine how much braking force you're applying, and, trust me on this, you do not want to have to keyboard dance on the cursor down key like a maniac to keep that needle at a constant setting for braking. Using an analogue input for this makes life a lot easier, and gives you the ability to stop your bus smoothly, exactly where you want it. Likewise, the steering can be customised to mimic different degrees of realism, and if you choose a realistic setting for the steering (say, about 5% non-linearity), life becomes either hilarious or annoying, depending on your mood, if you try using keys for steering after this adjustment.

If you try this game, and decide to take my advice and fire up an analogue control device, you'll thank me for this suggestion, the moment you discover some of the game's quirks. You're provided with indicators (blinkers if you're American), and you receive bonus points for proper usage thereof in traffic, and penalties for failing to use them to signal, for example, lane changes on a four lane highway. At this point, I have to tell you that the game can be annoyingly anal about this issue. It will drop penalties for failing to maintain lane discipline even if you're doing your best not to stray off line, which on some of the bends, can be a test of skill even with an analogue input to help. That's before we cover such matters as anticipating which lane to get into, in order to make some of your turns easier, especially if you encounter bits of 'street furniture' such as divider kerbs as you're turning (in some cases made even worse by the presence of trees). For some particularly evil examples, Bus Route 49 has two nasty ones that you have to take slowly, if you don't want to rack up a massive collection of driving penalties.

Oh, and as well as the game sometimes exhibiting a truly anal attitude to lane discipline, the traffic lights have their own hilarity built in. They turn green, you think you've enough time to get through, but blat, they turn red within 10 seconds. You soon learn to regard those traffic lights with scorn and derision when they do this, especially if, having narrowly avoided a red light penalty, they then keep you waiting for 30 seconds before turning green again.

In summary, you receive penalties for:

[1] Braking too hard and giving your passengers the vapours (hence the need for analogue control of those brakes);

[2] Failing to observe the timetable (i.e., leaving before you're given the "GO" sign after you've picked up your passengers);

[3] Shutting the doors before all your passengers have embarked on your bus;

[5] Opening the doors away from a designated stop;

[6] Jumping red lights;

[7] Collisions with anything (other vehicles being a particular no-no);

[8] Failing to follow the arrows properly in some instances - some of the bus stations have tricky entrance/exit routes requiring you to cut across the opposing flow of traffic, and if you get these wrong, or should that be WHEN you get these wrong, you'll get the annoying penalty - Sunshine Suburbs Garage is a particularly hateful place for this penalty to strike).

There's possibly some penalties I've missed, but these are the ones you'll see most frequently.

Conversely, there are bonuses to be had, sometimes lots of bonuses. Principally:

[1] Precise positioning of your bus at the bus stop;

[2] Happy passengers;

[3] Driving a mile perfectly (i.e., without incurring any penalties);

[4] Using your indicators/blinkers properly when changing lanes, dodging parked vehicles in the bus lane, turning corners at the traffic lights etc;

[5] Driving for a mile without any accidents after you've done something stupid previously.

Oh, and there's the comedy bus routes. Remember me mentioning earlier that you never see any police cars accompanying the ambulances and fire engines? Well, that's because the police cars are apparently kept in reserve, and put in an appearance, when you, the unfortunate bus driver, choose to take on one of the "special assignments" for the boys in blue. In the form of transporting an assortment of felons to and from the county jail. Which also gives you the joy of having a police helicopter as escort, the same helicopter that's usually seen buzzing around the law courts. Sometimes, you're taking the assorted murderers, rapists and other recidivist villains to court, at other times, you're taking a batch to the hospital, presumably after they've been having razor fights with each other in the jail cells, and then there's the fun assignment, taking a collection of organised crime bosses from the airport to the jail.

Finally, there's the Epic Marathon Drive. This is the one where you are assigned to pick up the company's best and most hard working bus drivers for a special holiday treat. Except that, oops, your being given this assignment means you're not one of the lucky ones going on the paid company holiday. Boo, hiss and all that. What's more to the point, though, is that this is one mission where you will need analogue controls, not least because you'll be spending the best part of an hour (yes, I mean an hour of REAL time) driving a 14 ton coach all over the city to pick people up, before taking them back to the airport whence you started. Because of the level of concentration this game requires to get things right, you will find this mission physically draining to perform. In this respect, the game genuinely gives you some insight into the working lot of real bus drivers, even if it misses out on such things as drunk/abusive/violent passengers, road rage idiots in overpriced German penis extensions cutting you up, and having to help wheelchair users aboard your bus. Perhaps throwing that lot into a free game was asking a bit much, but as free games go, it's surprisingly educational, as well as a pretty vigorous test of your concentration.

Looking for something different? This could be up your street, so to speak. If it isn't, you can always uninstall it, and all you've wasted is some time and some temporary hard drive space. On the other hand, it delivers more for £0.00 than some paid games deliver, if you have the mindset to appreciate what it does.

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Re: A Free Game With A Difference ...

Post by Tyrannical » Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:27 am

Japanese are big on these type of simulators. I used to have Tokyo Bus Driver on my Sega Dreamcast. It was a strict bus simulator where you had to follow all the traffic laws, so it wasn't a crazy taxi.
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Re: A Free Game With A Difference ...

Post by Animavore » Wed Aug 02, 2017 9:21 am

I don't know if I can squeeze it in between Metal Gear Solid V, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Paragon, Odin Sphere, Nier: Automata, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
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