After roughly 22 years, one of the worst video games of all time, Desert Bus, finally has a sequel. In very good news for anybody who hears “notorious game’s sequel” and flinches, this new take, dubbed 사막 버스 VR, is now completely free to own for PC gamers, whether they own a virtual reality headset or not.
My “quick” test of the bizarre game, which launched on November 27, reveals something totally worth playing, if only to marvel at the fact that this weird, VR-minded sequel actually exists.
원래 Desert Bus would have launched in the mid-’90s as a mini-game tucked into Penn & Teller: Smoke & Mirrors, a comedy-minded Sega CD game that never saw an official commercial launch. Years later, the finished game leaked as a download, which meant fans could finally see its many weird mini-games, including this dreadfully boring bus simulator. The latter has since been popularized by the Canadian comedy troupe Loading Ready Run, whose annual “Desert Bus For Hope” campaign raises charitable donations by live-streaming actual Desert Bus gameplay for hours on end.
Comedian Penn Jillette appears in this VR version via narration, where he describes the original ’90s game as a reaction to former US Attorney General Janet Reno’s claim that video games were “murder simulators.” To mock her claim, he and the original game’s design team simulated the monotony and boredom of driving a giant, empty bus down a straight road for hours at a time. The game is tuned so that it requires playing the same amount of time it would take to drive from Las Vegas to Tucson, Arizona, at roughly 40mph. (If you’re wondering, that’s about eight hours.)
Funniest use of an EULA ever
Developer Dinosaur Entertainment and publisher Gearbox were given the keys to the “franchise” this year, and the result is, well, true to the original game’s vision. You wake up in a bus depot in Tucson with three options: fill out a name tag; punch a time card to start driving; or grab a ticket to start riding.
Should you become a VR bus driver, you take the driver’s seat of an empty, rickety bus that has, for whatever reason, been fully modeled with detailed textures and geometry for the bus’s luggage racks, chairs, handrails, and more. By default, nobody’s back there to appreciate it. You can look at the back of the bus by either turning your head or glancing up at a giant rearview mirror. Otherwise, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the road.
That’s because, like the ’90s original, this bus’s alignment is slightly off, always guiding the bus toward the right side of a straight road. You’ll have to use hand-tracked controllers on the HTC Vive or Oculus Touch (or, outside of VR, WASD keys) to even the steering wheel out. The alignment is always the tiniest bit off, so even holding your hand in a “perfect” spot will still result in the bus slightly heading to one side. Since neither VR system comes with a foot pedal, you’ll have to press a trigger to accelerate; sadly, the game doesn’t include a menu to remap controls to, say, a fancy-pants car-simulation rig.
And… that’s it. You drive forward for quite some time, with nothing in the way of turns or oncoming traffic to deal with. If you wanna add some “pizzazz” to the gameplay, you can reach with your hands for a latch that opens the bus’s door, or you can drive long enough to see things like the sun go up, the sun go down, and the occasional bug colliding with your windshield.
Unlike the mostly quiet original, 사막 버스 VR helps you pass its many, many, many hours of expected monotony with myriad weird audio clips. I only tested for 40 minutes before giving up, but in that time, I heard an interview with Jillette about the history of Desert Bus that is hilariously and intentionally boring, along with the sounds of someone coloring in a coloring book while remarking on her progress. Based on the game’s credits, this VR version appears to ship with over a dozen lengthy, bizarro audio clips, Their titles include “Ready Set Puzzles,” “English Street Names,” and “Gearbox EULA.” (That last one is a pretty good gag, Gearbox.)
My favorite thing about 사막 버스 VR is its newest feature: online game invasion. You can now pick the “ride bus” option to land in a random online player’s bus, no matter how far along they are in their drive, and… just sit there. The driver can see your head and hands, but they can’t hear you talk, and you can’t actually move beyond the bounds of your assigned seat, so the harassment potential is minimal. The fact that Dinosaur bothered adding passengers and online sessions to this monotonous game (and still managed to make the passenger experience totally boring and monotonous) is impressive.
Think of the children (no, seriously)
Seeing as how this VR game is totally free, there’s little reason not to give it a go if you already have a VR headset. The 2D version works the same, only you’ll use a computer mouse to aim your vision, and it’s fine, though a little clunkier than in VR.
More importantly, 사막 버스 VR includes a giant Desert Bus For Hope sticker on the virtual bus’s dashboard, and its free release is all because of that charitable effort (which I wrote a feature about for Polygon many years ago). Whether you get a good laugh out of 사막 버스 VR or actually enjoy how it trains you for a life of driving across American deserts, consider how it launched for free as a way to get the word out about its charity, and, you know, head there to chip a few bucks toward its primary sponsor, Child’s Play.