OmniBus: the bus that couldn't slow down


My co-worker, let’s call him Paul, hates OmniBus. Every time I played the preview build in the office, he would come sit at my desk and talk about how silly it is. He would sit there and watch me crash my bus into buildings, pinball bumpers, trains and cars. “This game is dumb as hell,” he would say repeatedly, shaking his head, while continuing to watch me play “the stupid bus game”.

OmniBus is not a smart game. The nominal bus is the protagonist, and the objective is to make it to the end of a level, make enough trick points, smash into certain objects (coffins, for example) or to avoid crashing for a set period of time. Thing is, not crashing is very difficult, especially when there are speed boosts, jump pads and pinball bumpers spread throughout each world. It might be sensible not to drive at all under these circumstances, but alas: OmniBus is the bus that couldn’t slow down, nor stop, unless forever.

When I first started playing OmniBus, I hated it. The graphics recall the PS1-era, and the destruction is woefully (or hilariously) weightless. The bus can gather huge speed thanks to boost pads strewn throughout the maps, but when it catches air it soars sluggishly. Adjusting your landing position and trajectory is like running a Matchbox car through a bucket of wet cement. Perhaps because I’m really bad at this game, I spent most of the time watching my bus glide through the air, rather than careering gracefully between obstacles.

In the preview build I played there’s a story mode, freeplay and split screen competitive. The story mode is a conveyor belt of absurd tasks that should never be asked of a bus: in one level, Omnibus must drive straight up the side of a skyscraper while cars fall from heaven, while in another it’s unaccountably speeding through space, hurtling through asteroids and struggling to avoid pinball bumper planets. There were four worlds in the build I played, each with at least six levels, and all, frankly, were stupid. But they were often fun, too.

As you can see in the gif above, OmniBus is sometimes tasked with driving up the side of buildings. That's not very remarkable in the wide scheme of things (not in OmniBus lore, anyway) but it serves to demonstrate how each story mode level tinkers with the game's formula in unique ways. Most of the time you're encouraged to bounce around and gain air for the sake of pulling off lucrative tricks, but in a rare show of respect for realism, this level requires the OmniBus to never leave the ground. Some of these levels are better than others: OmniBus is most fun when it's a gauntlet of obstacles, because gaining a certain amount of points for tricks is tedious, because doing tricks is hard.

Splitscreen is fun but simple. After complaining about the game so much co-worker Paul was inevitably inspired to play it. There is only one mode, and the winner of each round is the one who can keep the bus on its wheels for the longest. I figured out a pretty neat strategy: drive around in circles until your opponent buggers up.

My co-worker Paul didn't last long playing splitscreen, because it was too stupid. He did continue to watch me play the story mode, however, and even some of the free play mode. This latter mode is a sprawling (quite small) cityscape (bunch of textured cereal boxes) peppered with the usual boost and jump pads. I feel like this will only be fun once I'm proficient at driving the OmniBus: as it stands, I am crap at the game and spent more time hurtling towards the skybox than I did pulling off mad tricks.

I think there are ways OmniBus could be more fun. For starters, each spawn could do without the two second delay getting back into the game. When failure is so frequent, that tiny wait to get back into the game feels long. Also, some of the maps are very small, making it hard not to fall off into the abyss of skybox. I feel like sometimes this game doesn't let you enjoy the primal pleasure of going really fast often enough.

Am I eagerly anticipating the official launch of OmniBus? No, not really. I will get it though, to play whenever I am feeling angry about buses. I think it'll end up being a neat game to snack on between other, more serious games, and it sure brings a smile to my face more often than a grimace.

Here’s the thing: there are no other games that let you smash a two-carriage bus through bowling pins arbitrarily situated on top of a building (please comment immediately if there is). Pulling things off deliberately and gracefully is very difficult in OmniBus, but it’s the stupid accidents that seem to matter the most. If you like either QWOP or Surgeon Simulator and feel the bus simulator genre needs to be less simulate-y, OmniBus may be the ticket.

OmniBus releases on Steam this Spring, or Autumn in Australia.