Turns out console bus simulators really are like buses – two have turned up at once. Whereas last monthâ€™s Bus Driver Simulator Countryside was a clapped-out banger, Tourist Bus Simulator offers a smooth and easy-going ride. Itâ€™s a PS5/Xbox Series only release powered by Unreal Engine 4, allowing for realistic weather effects and lighting. The game world is impressive in size too â€“ developer TML Studios has recreated the sun-soaked holiday destination of Fuerteventura. Yes, weâ€™re off to the Cannery Islands.
Before even having the decency to provide an introduction or tutorial, the main menu presents two unnamed modes. Essentially, two modes of varying complexity. One offers casual freeplay â€“ plot a route on the map, select a bus, set a weather type, and off you go. At the end of the journey, your performance is rated, and youâ€™re given the option to replay 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 â€“ being no more complex than something like GTA V â€“ or made more realistic, adding a control panel that lists hazard lights, wipers, indicators, and other toggleable options. And of course, passengers are always grateful for WiFi and air-con, the availability of which can impact your final rating. Routes are marked on a sat nav device, making navigation easy, and designated parking bays are marked clearly. Itâ€™s surprisingly forgiving, too, with no penalty for the occasional collision or for taking corners too wide. Roundabouts be damned.
The other mode offers a deeper experience, and itâ€™s here where the tutorial is found â€“ which takes around an hour to complete, and is remarkably hands-on, involving a trip to the docks to pick up a new bus. Or rather, a cheap second-hand bus in need of a little maintenance.
In this mode, you take control of a newly acquired bus company located near Fuerteventuraâ€™s airport. From the comfort of the office, you can hire staff and negotiate their wages and then assign routes â€“ or go hands-on yourself. Some routes are permanent, providing a steady supply of cash, while others are one-offs. Employees must be kept happy, and vehicles maintained â€“ the compound also houses a garage where repairs can be carried out.
This mode is surprisingly in-depth, going as far as to give your chosen character an apartment that can be decorated and furnished. Completing orders (routes) bestows XP, eventually unlocking a shuttle service and an emergency callout vehicle. Skill points unlock fast travel locations, meanwhile. A dirt buggy can be unlocked too, parts for which are hidden and scattered across the isle â€“ a nice bonus quest, and the vehicle itself comes in handy considering Fuerteventura is a rugged place.
Now seems a good place to mention that this isnâ€™t merely a menu-driven affair â€“ youâ€™re free to walk around in either first or third person, exploring the beaches and town centres. There are some well-observed details in the environments, and it does look rather realistic in places. That said, itâ€™s clear this free-roaming aspect wasnâ€™t the developerâ€™s primary focus. Shop interiors are formed of flat backdrops, and some NPCs â€“ such as sunbathers â€“ arenâ€™t animated. Thereâ€™s no wildlife either (what, no canaries?) which seems a missed opportunity to induce some needed personality.
The atmosphere could be richer too; more ambient sounds would have been welcome. Towns can be eerily quiet. There is some unexpected humour here, though, including a nudist beach with pixelated body parts. Quite the surprise!
Although it’s easy to list shortcomings, what’s here is enough. More or less. The main mode has just enough features to make it engaging, with the fast travel options mitigating the need to continuously travel back and forth. Set yourself the goal of being able to purchase a luxury villa and youâ€™ll be in for the long haul. Glitches do drag the experience down somewhat though, with the most damaging being the unstable framerate. The sight of passengers performing a 360 spin as they enter the bus is less damaging, and more amusing.
While Iâ€™d hesitate to call Tourist Bus Simulator a thoroughly realistic affair, especially in terms of vehicle handling, I did find it both compelling and curiously relaxing. I stopped and admired the scenery often, taking a stroll down to the beach or into town, and the ability to â€˜discoverâ€™ new locations provided a pleasing RPG slant; one that encouraged exploration. So even if the â€˜simulatorâ€™ part of the gameâ€™s name felt flimsy in places, the â€˜touristâ€™ part certainly rang true.
Tourist Bus Simulator is out now on PS5 and Xbox Series. It first launched on PC in 2018.