By Tim Stone on January 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
Both the OMSI and the OMSI 2 manual begin with the same Goethe quote. In 2011 “Such a work is never actually finished – one must simply declare it to be finished once one has done as much as possible given the time and circumstances.” felt like a dangled promise… a hint of riches yet to come. In 2014, in the light of the NG272-length bug list currently dominating my play notes, it feels like a whispered apology… acknowledgement that the follow-up to one of the finest driving games of recent years was bustled out of the door before it was good and ready.
I can live with the levitating pedestrians at Grundorf Bahnhof, U Ruhleben, and Charlottenstrasse…
…the permeable brickwork on the corner of Breite Strasse…
…the over-eager exiters pushing themselves part-way through doors on moving buses…
…and the huge shark fin protruding from the gutter at Staakener Strasse.
It’s the regular crashes, framerate hiccups, AI bus problems, timetable glitches, and mod compatibility issues that have brought me closest to mutiny during the past week.
If I hadn’t arrived an ardent OMSIist and fairly quickly discovered that many of my CTDs were linked to the sim’s overworked sound engine (reducing the number of wavs played simultaneously seems to stabilize OMSI 2 for many users) then I probably wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to develop a deep and deeply inconvenient affection for the new routes and rides.
While there’s no way I can recommend OMSI 2 in its present frankly rather embarrassing state, I’m dutybound to point out that 90% of the time I’ve spent with it thus far has been thoroughly agreeable. Hearing the NG272′s articulated midriff creak like an ancient barn door while turning into Grunewaldstrasse? Magical. Passing under the broad iron bridge at Stresowplatz while an InterRegio express rattles overhead? Marvellous. Bouncing along Falkensee’s threadbare throroughfares at dusk on my way to the recently opened Wall portal near Freudstrasse? Priceless. OMSI’s painstakingly recreated period venues and conveyances made other sims seem pale and synthetic. In this sequel there’s twice as many evocative Berlin boulevards to barrel along, plus an extra pair of super-talkative, super-tactile omnibus types to do the barrelling in.
The Falkensee appendix represents the franchise’s first official foray into the GDR. It also showcases the sort of clever map morphing system I always hoped to see implemented in MSFS. Set the date to October 1989 or earlier, and Falkenseer Chaussee, the tarmacked north-western tip of the old OMSI map, ends almost as soon as it begins, a monstrous concrete curtain barring further progress westward. Return in December and, miraculously, the barrier sports a breach. Momentous political changes mean you can wiggle your way through an ad-hoc checkpoint as the Falkensee Bahnhof-bound E522, one of the first BVG services to run between West Berlin and the GDR.
That checkpoint is OMSI 2′s looking glass. Passing through it for the first time and finding myself amongst unfamiliar street furniture, comical Trabants (Alas, no Wartburgs yet), and outrageous potholes was genuinely disorientating… properly illuminating. History comes as standard in most military sims. To find it lurking so vividly in a bus sim is as unexpected as it is delightful.
Not that Falkensee is OMSI 2′s main attraction. That would be the 12km ribbon of scenery between Ruhleben’s U-Bahn station and the mental hospital in Falkenhagener Field. Less demanding than the original Stadtgrenze-Freudstrasse run (which features the huge, baby-eating Falkenseer Platz roundabout) but no less interesting thanks to a bevy of bridges and turns at the eastern end and some pleasing suburban stretches at the western, it’s a typically forensic piece of MR-Software civil engineering.
Unique prototypical structures abound. A new elevation system means inclines are subtler and more faithful. Yes, if you put your foot down you could probably drive from one end to the other in 30 minutes, but as with Stadtgrenze-Freudstrasse the length isn’t especially important. Factor in the transformative effects of different timetables, vehicular choices, seasons, times of day, traffic intensities and weather conditions, and the feeling of novelty will probably last for weeks if not months.
Assuming you select an example that’s in full possession of its sound effects (bizarrely, some of the game’s NG272s refuse to creak and groan when articulating) the new bendy bus is as impressive as the extra slab of Spandau. Weighty, vociferous, fault prone (all buses now suffer random technical problems) and – if handled clumsily in icy conditions – endearingly errant, the only thing the trailered newcomers really lack are giggling youngsters using internal turntables as makeshift funfair rides.
The debuting kids are all too busy auditioning for The Midwich Cuckoos to misbehave. Added along with grannies (Berlin’s grandfathers, like grandfathers everywhere, plainly prefer to travel by jetpack or PTT) infants dress more sensibly than their weather-oblivious elders, but stand in the same odd, will-this-nail-varnish-never-dry? poses, and stroll through lampposts and bus shelters with the same idiot nonchalance.
Talking of idiot nonchalance, AI vehicles seem a little less Vauxhall Cavalier this time around. I’ve yet to be rear-ended by a Manta, side-swiped by a Golf, or cut up by one of the fleet of new panel vans, though admittedly that might have something to do with the fact that I drove for a couple of days without realising vehicular collisions are off by default.
There’s been a concerted attempt to improve OMSI’s approachability. Right now the tutorials are rather undermined by some missing translations and the same bugs that blight the rest of the sim, but the overhauled Train Simulator-style menu panel, and the slim selection of ready-made scenarios (in OMSI you usually start a session by choosing a date, placing a bus at a route terminus, then selecting an appropriate timetable) should make transitioning from that ETS2 HGV or TS2014 EMU somewhat easier.
Wisely, Marcel and Rüdiger have resisted the urge to shoehorn needless structure into their creation. You drive what you want, where and when you want from the outset. Though profiles quietly record every prang, ticket sold, and mile driven, and quantify driving skill and passenger comfort levels, there’s no attempt to turn this data into distracting XP or pointless online leaderboard positions. You play OMSI, and now OMSI 2 , because you want to hear the symphony of engine roar and transmission whine. You want to feel chassis and body tussle under heavy braking. You want to see late Eighties and Nineties Berlin brought to life on your desktop. Give it a month or two and I’m sure OMSI 2 will be everything Simulatia hoped it would be. Even now its greatness is glimpseable behind the exasperating error messages and giant guttershark fins.