As a concept, Bee Simulator is immediately intriguing. When it got announced it was clear this wasn't going to be like one of those zillion different simulator games which are riffs on the same core theme. Bee Simulator, appropriately enough, is about the life of the humble bee. The insect through which life as we know it is able to exist today
Being a huge fan of simulation, especially Euro Truck Simulator and American Truck simulator, I was naturally intrigued to see a microscopic take on simulation. But this looked completely different and quite interesting, a nice change of pace from the major games coming out lately and repetition this can cause.
Graphically, Bee Simulator is charming. It's the first thing which hooks you in. It's no Red Dead Redemption 2 but it looks charming and cute, and there's always something to be said for the feeling of wonder which comes from being a tiny thing in an otherwise mundane environment. It's like Honey I Shrunk The Kids, where seemingly everyday objects are given new importance through their relatively gargantuan size.
Audio wise, there are a few normal settings that every game has, except for one, buzz volume. You can adjust how loud or how quiet you want the buzzing to be. I actually found it a great addition as, no matter how much you may love the humble bumblebee, it can be quite annoying listening to the buzzing if it's at too high a volume. Giving users fine control is a perfect idea and helps make the game more enjoyable.
It's not all about the buzz though. The relaxing soundtrack for Bee Simulator has been composed by the wonderful Mikolai Stroinski who has composed music for the Witcher 3 among other games. It reminds me very much of the Cities Skyline soundtrack, and rightfully so as we are in downtown New York City. It's very well put together and once getting to free roam it's nice turning the music on and just enjoying the scenery flying around as a bee. I found the game very easily playable on mouse and keyboard as well as my xbox one controller, was no issue playing with each. I would probably recommend playing with a controller as it makes things a bit easier but either works just fine.
Now one thing which didn't quite align with my expectations was both the gameplay and the structure of the game itself. You have three different profiles for the straightforward story mode, with each having either an easy or hard difficulty. There's no free-roam option available until you work through the introduction and the story mode in its entirety. This only took me about two and a half hours although I was playing through on easy for that fully relaxing bee life I crave.
Needless to say, I would have much preferred an actual option to free roam either before or during the story. this could've been the perfect way to integrate some more simulation elements, such as actively trying to keep a thriving bee colony. The story's quite enjoyable though, in truth. It feels odd to say but I won't spoil anything here, as there is a genuine narrative to life as a bee. The basis thrust of it is about showing the impact of humans on bees and bees on humans, although to be honest it's just quite fun being a flying arsehole and stinging adults and kids.
There are also little facts about bees in between on loading screen and an entire encyclopedia of knowledge about various insects, animals and fauna that relates to bees. This seems more of a family game and almost a teaching tool to be honest. The statistics are pretty fun as well. In about 2.5 hours of playing through the story mode I ended up only collecting enough pollen to make 0.7 grams of honey. It really puts things into perspective on why some honey can be quite expensive, and why they get a bit angry when a bear tries to poke around.
Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, free-roam after story mode seems to be broken, you can gather pollen but have no way of depositing it anywhere, real shame and hopefully it's a future fix. There are still challenges to complete and things to collect but, well, the core goal of being a bee doesn't seem to be working at this point.
Bee Simulator is undeniably aimed at a younger audience but that's not to say people interested in bees and the environment won't be interested. We all know what would happen if bees started disappearing on a massive scale, as it has already happened in some states and countries. It's become a dirty term but this absolutely edutainment, so if you place as much value is learning as you do entertainment, there's a potentially worthwhile product here for you.
When it comes to performance I did find the game uses 100% GPU usage (Vega 64) when running the game on ultra and flying around outside the hive. It's definitely taxing on the GPU but it's capped at 60fps and runs very smoothly. The fact that it takes place in Central Park in New York City is a fantastic idea and offers great scenery.
Despite the markedly average score attached at the end of this review, overall I quite enjoyed my brief time with Bee Simulator and will be going back to find more facts and challenges. This is an incredible teaching tool in my eyes and I hope everyone at least gets a chance to try it, it could change things in the world.
As a game though, Bee Simulator needs a little more meat on its bones. It's not a full on simulator like other simulators; it's an open-world arcade-like experience. It would be nice if we could actually land on a flower to collect pollen, for instance, rather than flying through a gamified light ring.