Being a contrary son-of-a-gun, I bought a Czech-made PC game this week, but not one of the titles in Steam’s seven-day Czech and Slovak Games sale. Viewed through the crazed perspex of a vandalised bus shelter, Simt Simulator looks a lot like the dream OMSI sequel LOTUS-Simulator was meant to be. A combi tram, trolleybus, and bus sim, it rivals HROT and Rychle Sipy for the title of Most Czech Game Ever, and could well have ended up as one of my favourite Czech games of all time had it not been for a couple of serious shortcomings.
Before I drizzle on its parade and take a leak on its hranolky, some heartfelt praise…
I can’t think of any game that, out-of-the-box, captures the feeling of driving around Czech towns and cities better that Simt Sim.
Although ‘Simtov’, the city visible in the accompanying screenshots, is a figment of developer Tomáš Faina’s imagination, it’s so extensive, thoughtfully constructed, and (with the odd exception) lovingly detailed, it’s awfully easy to persuade yourself you’re navigating an unfamiliar district of Prague, Brno, Plzen, etc.
Like Marcel Kuhnt and Rüdiger Hülsmann of M-R-Software, Tomáš has tramped the streets of his homeland photographing hundreds of real facades. His labours mean we get conveyance canyons that are unmistakably Czech and splendidly varied. The building styles, stucco hues, and shop fronts shout ‘CZ!’, and “Not that potraviny again!” and “How many more times will I see that blue graffitied gate before I reach my destination?” moments are rare during runs.
The vehicular audio and physics is just as impressive as the architecture. I love the weighty, planted feel of the dozen or so people movers I’ve tried thus far*, and salute Tomáš for furnishing so many of them with authentic rattles, whines, squeals and beeps.
* There are 18 buses, 16 trolleybuses, and 5 trams in all. Some types are leftovers from previous versions (Simt has been around for years) and come with extremely basic cab models.
While perhaps not quite as talkative or tactile as OMSI’s best omnibuses, driveables such as the CKD Tatra KT8 tram and the ‘bendy’ Skoda 27Tr trolleybus have unusually big personalities and vocabularies. The rocking horse gait and clattering contact shoes of the latter, and restless cab and multi-layered whirring of the former, ensure every journey in their company is a pleasure.
Charismatic rides and beautifully observed environments make overlooking Simt’s dated visuals, relatively easy. However, said rides and environments aren’t beguiling enough to disguise an awkward truth: Simt is inferior to OMSI in several important areas.
Top of my list of the lamentable is the almost non-existent collision detection. When I first realised my radials were surreptitiously penetrating pavement edges and it was impossible to rear-end AI vehicles, I assumed I’d accidentally switched something off in the settings menu. In fact everything was working as intended. Simt simply ignores collisions with kerbs, cars, most street furniture, and trees!
Obviously this matters little when you’re operating a šalina on one of Simtov’s two tram lines, but when you’re behind the wheel of a bus or trolleybus, the lack of carelessness/clumsiness consequences can be a big immersion breaker especially if you’re accustomed to OMSI. I don’t know about you, but when I bus sim I want visible and audible feedback – a metaphorical rap across the knuckles – every time I climb a kerb, graze railings, or brake too late.
Simt’s laissez-faire liberalism seems to extend to speed limits and red traffic lights. I believe the only times I’ve been admonished by the game is when I’ve allowed my invisible*, silent passengers to get cold or attempted to depart with doors agape, and the only occasions when ineptitude has forced me to abandon a run is when I’ve derailed a tram on a tight curve, or parted company with the catenary whilest operating a trolleybus.
* Passengers disappear once they’ve boarded.
Is there a way to manually manhandle trolley poles after disconnections (If you’ve ever travelled by trolleybus, you’ll probably have witnessed a driver quitting their cab to reconnect after a mishap)? Quite possibly, but as Simt’s tutorials are scanty, its manual non-existent, and its key list inaccessible, I’ve yet to work out how it’s done.
Compared to the pachyderm occupying Simt’s wheelchair/pram space, inadequate instruction, limited control customisation, and halfhearted collision detection*, are pretty trivial flaws. Almost certainly more damaging to the game’s appeal and reputation is a subscription-reliant business model that forbids offline play.
* And absent mouse steering, AI buses, rain, and incidental pedestrians.
Tomáš allows the curious and cash-strapped to explore bits of Simtov for free via a demo, but if you want access to all bus lines, and wish to use the game’s most interesting conveyances – its pantographed and poled vehicles – you must stump-up 9€ a quarter, 22€ a year, or 65€ (four years of access) for the Gold version.
As I never know when I’m going to get the urge to drive a pleasingly truthful tram, trolleybus, or bus in an achingly Czech environment, and really struggle with those incorporeal sidewalks and cars, I doubt I’ll extend my sub in February. I do, however, intend to keep an eye on the singular Simt from now on. Who knows, one day I might get to include a “K is for Kloutable kerbs” or a “C is for Czech curio coming to Steam” in an A2Z, and recommend Simt without velky provisos.