Bus Simulator 18‘s main map is already quite expansive. However, that didn’t stop the folks at Still Alive Studios from adding a relatively beefy new road network that connects the existing towns with two new ones: the rural, sleeper town of Sonnstein and the contrasting town of Kerststadt which is far more bustling and modern.
Sonnstein is probably my favorite of the new pack. Its rustic architecture and sprawling farm fields give it a very ‘airy’ feel. There isn’t much traffic at all, which is a far cry from the original areas on the main map. Its road network consists of a lot of elevated sections with very tight, looping corners. This is due to Sonnstein being located further into the mountain range of Seaside Valley. As a result, ascending from the base into the main town can be an interesting challenge.
You can hear the engine of the bus straining as it tries to make its way up the slope. The serpentine turns also provide their own challenge. Trying to successfully swivel the longer buses around these bends can prove especially harrowing. The reward, though, is cruising through the streets of the sleepy little town. The architecture is clearly quite a few decades old, perhaps even more so. But, it really matches the country feel. Bus Simulator 18 can be a little stressful much of the time, but driving through here was far more relaxing than I expected. I couldn’t stop myself from snapping photos.
I think what really sold me on Sonnstein was how it reminds me very much of Cuenca, Ecuador. That’s a real-world mountain city that I lived in from 2016 to 2018, and it’s still my favorite spot on the planet. Like Sonnstein, Cuenca consists primarily of historical architecture. Despite Cuenca being Spanish, the look of its buildings is very similar to Sonnstein, most likely due to both of them having roots in European inspiration. On top of that, Cuenca is also a relatively quiet place, and you don’t have to drive far to get to the countryside, which is just like Sonnstein. So, driving through Sonnstein was almost surreal for me. It was like going through a virtual rendition of Cuenca.
Another real-world parallel I found was with the aforementioned new town of Kerststadt. Unlike Sonnstein, Kerststadt is very modern and has lots of businesses and schools. The architecture is far more modern and minimalist. The traffic here is worse than Sonnstein. That said, due to the small size of the town, it’s still not nearly as congested as areas on the original map.
It’s not really in the mountains like Sonnstein is, so driving through is a little easier. However, the layout of the bus stops are pretty much in one big circle, so prepare yourself for a lot of cornering. Despite my love of Sonnstein, my favorite road in the entire game is in Kerststadt. It has a single road that straddles high above the coastline on a cliff. The view is beautiful, and the houses riding alongside it really make it “picture perfect”. I wish there were more vistas like this in the game; after all, the map is called Seaside Valley.
The real-world parallel I mentioned earlier really clicked when I drove this for the first time. It reminded me of another place I’ve visited: Lima, Peru. Just like Kerststadt, Lima is a modern city that also happens to have a coast on the cliffs. Driving down that road in Kerststadt reminded me of the Miraflores strip in Lima, which is quite similar. Between this and Sonnstein, I’m really impressed with the scenery that the designers and artists of Bus Simulator 18 put together for this expansion. You can tell they constructed these two new areas with care.
The final small addition of new scenery is an airport that’s connected to Sonnstein but basically lies almost exactly between each of the two new towns. It’s a pretty basic addition, but at least there are now plane models flying above the map (with audio). It does add a nice bit of eye-candy to the package, and there is a bus stop there.
I created two main new routes for each new town, and each came to just under 30 minutes. As far as pure driving time goes, then, each of these new towns adds approximately an hour’s worth of new road networks. I made a third which connected one stop of each of the two new towns to the Central Bus Station that’s a part of the original map, and that came to about 35 minutes. So, the distance isn’t huge, but it’s certainly respectable.
Putting in the hours
Judging by all the positive things I’ve been saying about this expansion, you might conclude that I love it. Well, while I’ve enjoyed the scenery itself, the payoff from the gameplay is a bit of a different story.
If you’ve played Bus Simulator 18 before, then you know the game has two single-player modes: Campaign and Sandbox. In Campaign, you play through missions and slowly expand your network of bus routes across the map. These missions are not short, and they increase in length the deeper into the game you get. If you play the game this way, you need to basically be done with the core game, as far as I know. I say that because even after putting 38 hours into the main campaign, I still had more missions to complete, leaving the expanded area totally inaccessible. While I tried to blitz through as much as possible so I could access the nine new missions in this expansion, it wasn’t enough.
To avoid putting this review off even longer, I bit the bullet and simply experienced the two new cities by means of Sandbox Mode. While you can play through all the bus stops in this mode, there aren’t any structured missions since everything is unlocked automatically and money is infinite.
So, if you’re just getting started on your Bus Simulator 18 journey and intended to pick up this expansion alongside the base game, just be prepared to really ease your way into the new content if you plan on playing through the missions. If you’re a returning player, hopefully you’ve already covered the main campaign. Otherwise, you might have a ways to go, mission-wise. With this prerequisite in mind, you really should look at this as a literal expansion. It seems targeted primarily at those who’ve wrapped up all the original content already.
On the road again
I wish the missions for the expansion were sperate from the main game, but as far as I can tell, there’s no way to access them on their own. This is a shame, and a bit different than most other simulators I’ve played. If an update could be implemented to circumvent this, that would probably be nice. Also, the lack of new bus models is another letdown, albeit a smaller one.
Other than these gripes, I did enjoy my time with this pack. There are unfinished roads to the north, south, and west of the map, so perhaps this is the first of a collection of expansions to Bus Simulator 18. If so, I’m excited to see what the designers come up with next. In the meantime, though, there are still bugs and glitches that need to be ironed out of the core game, primarily with improvements to the AI. To me, that’s more important than new content.