Review Reprise: OMSI

I’ve written hundreds of reviews and previews during my twenty-odd years as a games inspector. As many of these appeared in the British version of PC Gamer magazine and nowhere else, and involve titles largely forgotten today, now and again something from my archive may appear as one of THC’s daily posts. Below the jump you’ll find my take on OMSI, the 2011 PSV sim that singlehandedly turned me into a bus enthusiast.

“OMSI isn’t a bus sim; it’s a love-letter to a city.”

“Most simulations fail in one of two ways. They either give us husks – vehicles inadequately or insensitively modelled – or they give us wildernesses – barren, unworthy, environments for our vehicles. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a failure. RailWorks is a failure. DCS: A-10C is a failure. Many of my favourite sims are failures. I realise this now I’ve met OMSI.

In this review I’ll attempt to explain why a bus recreation made in Germany by two amateur devs, is one of the finest sims I’ve ever played. I’ll try to put into words just how wunderbar it feels to sit at the wheel of a rain-battered double-decker in the midst of a Berlin traffic jam.

I warn you, I may not succeed.

First, some facts. OMSI is intensely parochial. It’s not set in Berlin, it’s set in a fragment of Berlin. The main 11km route (there’s also a small fictional tutorial town) runs from Freudstrasse in the north-west of Spandau, to Stadtgrenze in the the south-west. Depots house two bus types. The MAN SD200 and SD202 wear the liveries they wore between the fall of the Wall and Reunification.

By thinking small and specific, Marcel Kuhnt and Rüdiger Hülsmann give themselves licence to obsess over the seemingly trivial. The payoff is intricate vehicles brimming with character, and striking cityscapes capable of sowing the sweetest confusion.

Yesterday I experienced something I’ve experienced only a handful of times in my 30+ years of gaming. I was nosing through sluggish evening traffic on the approach to the Falkenseer roundabout when, just for a moment, I experienced genuine disorientation. For a second or two I wasn’t a British gamer pretending to be a German bus driver, I was a German bus driver. I could smell the rain-dampened textiles, the cough sweets and deodorant. I could see the interior of my flat, the open copy of GameStar on my kitchen table.

We reviewers talk a lot about immersion, but this was different. This was a game pulling off the ultimate magic trick.

OMSI works its magic through a combination of superlative audio, blue-chip physics and strong visuals. The buses are constantly talking to you. Overlapping whines and growls, dovetailing squeaks and rattles, give voice to handling models so sophisticated they change subtly with every passenger picked up or dropped off. Whether you’re driving with mouse, keyboard, or wheel, the vehicles feel alive, hefty… real. Mundane manoeuvres like changing lanes and pulling up at traffic lights somehow manage to be fun.

Fellow drivers are an important ingredient in that fun. The devs have captured the semi-polite stampede that is urban traffic flow, quite superbly. Watching AI motorists navigate the tangle of junctions along the 35-minute, 30-stop route, is utterly mesmerising. Add some inclement weather and low light conditions, and the scrolling street theatre turns from evocative to uncanny.

After an evening or two of hissing through puddles, braving slushy intersections, or peering through fog at blinking brake lights, the vistas that greet you in your favourite train or flight sim may seem sterile. They may seem like wildernesses.

There are chips in OMSI’s crystal-clear windscreen but they are minuscule. A demanding physics engine, blurry mirrors, and passengers that walk like they’re smuggling bratwurst up their back-passages, don’t make this game any less of a landmark. They don’t change the fact that MR-Software have managed to make grime-spattered double-deckers seem every bit as alluring as missile-festooned jet fighters and smoke-belching steam locos.”


  1. I remember reading this in PCG and immediately heading off to find a way to purchase OMSI, the box with its detailed manual and map still sit on my shelves along with other all-time sim greats. The immersion was incredible, at the time I was taking old Trident number 48 to work in London every day and so many similar howls came from that machine.

    OMSI was, well still is, one of those sims that would give me surprises in the detail. I’d be hours in before one day an orange flashing light on the dashboard appeared and disappeared. I had to check, but it related to a specific oil condition in the engine that would only arise in specific circumstances, in this instance a very hot summer day with a run at rush hour. I also remember being remarked when, sitting at a junction, the engine hum would change as I moved the bus from neutral to drive – holding on the brakes anticipating the green – and a curious rattle emerged that I had never heard before from the interior coachwork. It was winter, a rainy evening (I always used real world weather and time of year), I have no idea what specific confluence of events triggered said rattle but it sticks with me to this day.

    I think I need a reinstall.

    On another note – What progress has there been in the busses of LOTUS Simulator? It has been in early access for years and I’ve not indulged yet as I wait for good news. Can it yet match OMSI for sheer atmosphere and verisimilitude?

  2. How does OMSI2 hold up by comparison? I bought OMSI off the back of this very review I think. I’ve had OMSI2 on my wishlist forever, but somehow never took the plunge.

    Had a lot of fun in OMSI, and as you say, it really nails the evocative atmosphere.

    • It’s basically the same, but with an extra route and more time periods. The base sim is the same, the graphics etc the same.

      On Steam there are quite a lot of DLC routes in the workshop too.

      It’s on sale atm of course.

      • Oddly enough, it shows as full price for me? I think I keep thinking if it were half price then I’d grab it, but I don’t ever seem to see it that cheap.

        Maybe one day!

        Oh. And boy has that got a lot of DLC! Makes me wonder if Dovetail games publish it..

  3. There are quite a few nice routes especially for OMSI 2. The WestCountry 3 and London addons I remember being pretty good. Some routes can be taxing performance wise though. Someone made a very faithful recreation of Canterbury to Herne Bay that I loved driving. It was probably my favourite route.

  4. Read your article and fell head over heels for OMNI. I bought OMNI 2 on steam summer sale, fired it up and remembered I had to thank your for the great suggestion. Looking forward to a great time.

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