Picture the scene: you're stuck in city traffic, sitting in a line of people all honking their horns because the guy at the front of the queue wants to turn left. Oh, except you're driving a bus. Your doors have jammed twice on this route, the passengers are complaining about the temperature being too hot, and you have to listen to a couple of robotic-sounding women discuss their dinner plans in halting English.
Welcome to Bus Simulator 16.
Up until now, if you wanted to drive a bus, your options were pretty much limited to OMSI, or actually driving a real bus -- which isn't necessarily practical for most people. But Bus Simulator really seems to want to challenge OMSI's domination of the bus simulator market: sure, Stillalive's new kid on the block is light on content at the moment (a total of six buses and a map that isn't particularly large), but it also still hasn't even reached Version 1 yet. (It stands at Version 0.0.768 as of time of writing.)
So, let's talk about the good things first. One of the main things I've noticed is how stable the game engine is: I haven't had any crashes, experienced any real framerate issues, or run into any problems with objects or A.I. going horribly awry. This is definitely a good starting point on which the developers can continue to build; the game may not be terribly complex at the moment, but I would rather have a fairly simple but stable platform than a very complex game that fails to work.
Secondly, the route system. Unlike certain other competitors (okay, there's really only one, so we know which one I'm talking about), Bus Simulator makes it incredibly easy to plan your own routes: you just click a little button on the home screen, and click which stops you want on your route. The game automatically plans a route (sometimes not the route you'd actually like to take, however) -- and that route appears on your in-game GPS, so you'll never be lost or unsure of where to stop. There are suggestions on the game's Steam discussion page on how this could be improved, but having this control -- even if it is a little limited at the moment -- over your bus company is refreshing.
Third, the developers seem to stand behind their product and interact with the gamers through the game's Steam Community page. The game was released March 2nd, an update was pushed out on March 3rd, another was pushed out on March 10th (the current version of the game, as of writing), and the dev team has promised another update coming out in early April. The next patch will bring some features requested by the community. It's good to see them keep in contact with, and offer features requested by, the community.
Fourth, the game has Steam Workshop integration and promises to fully support community-made add-ons and modifications. There's already one new bus available, a mod that allows custom license plates, and some new textures and decals: the game has been out for less than a month. I hope that the developers will continue to nurture this relationship with the modding community, and promote the exploration and addition of extra content.
Unfortunately, the simulator is not without its shortcomings, although, again, it is important to stress that it's still only Version 0.0.768.
One major problem right now is that the game isn't particularly pretty. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting graphics that rival The Witcher III or Grand Theft Auto V, but at the moment, the whole game looks and feels kind of... lifeless. Every vehicle in the game looks pristine; all of the buses look pristine; the interiors look pristine; the buttons on the dashboard look unused. Building textures look flat; roads are so flat that they look like they're covered in a layer of fondant. A lot of textures in the game are, frankly, just bad. Rain, for example, is particularly atrocious: unlike other simulators, including Bus Simulator 2012, which was also published by Astragon Entertainment, there is no effect of rain hitting the windshield; rain just falls straight to the ground in these massive, hideous, vertical white stripes.
Physics are another major problem. Bumps in the road, potholes, and hills are nonexistent: what is the point of having a game based on simulating driving a wheeled vehicle when it feels like you have no physical contact with the road itself? And these buses somehow go from 0–60kph (roughly 0-40mph) in a little over two-and-a-half seconds: is this bus built by Bugatti?
And let's talk DLC. Yes, the game hasn't even hit Version 1.0 (taking it out of what is essentially beta), and the developers have already announced the first piece of paid DLC, which will add a (yes, that's right, one) new bus. Bear in mind that this is a $25 game about driving buses -- and in which there is a distinct lack of buses. If you're on version 0.0.7, you should be focused on adding more features to your game for the sake of making it a better product, not for the sake of making a few bucks.
Finally, in terms of actual simulation... well, it's pretty lightweight on the simulator aspect. TML's previous entry, Bus Simulator 2012, was really detailed and in-depth; as are some of that company's other simulators, which include City Bus Simulator and the World of Subways series.
Astragon has previously published a lot of other simulator games. Some of them have been good, some have been... not so good, to say the least: Bus Simulator 16 is somewhere in between. There are definitely some good aspects, and this game is definitely more accessible than, say, OMSI. And I like what Stillalive Studios are trying to do by making you the decision-maker of your bus company rather than just a driver.
I've enjoyed the ten hours I've put into Bus Simulator 16, but my big concern is that the game just isn't as good as it could be, or even necessarily as good as similarly-themed simulators that came out four or five years ago. The city is tiny, there isn't that much control over the routes your buses run, it is distinctly lacking in the actual 'simulation' department, the graphics aren't that great, and the A.I. is frustratingly mundane and simplistic. And although I personally haven't experienced any problems with the game, a few users on Steam claim to have lagging input, poor framerates, and crashes to desktop; for most people, however, myself included, the game seems to run just fine. Overall, it just exudes an overall lack of polish and detail, which, unfortunately, detracts from the few new features the game touts over other bus driving games and falls short on its 'simulation' aspect.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.