Welcome to Bullworth Academy. You are Jimmy, a rejected youth sent to boarding school by his new stepfather. Here you’ll have the chance to prove yourself in whatever ways you find suitable from academic superiority in class, picking up the ladies, defending your fellow schoolmates, or showing that you’re the toughest guy on campus. But getting to the top isn’t a cakewalk. You’ll have to outwit and outmaneuver roid-pumped jocks, conniving nerds, and corrupt faculty members. Bullworth Academy is your school, show them how.
Rockstar Games’ controversial series “Grand Theft Auto” created the boom in the “sandbox” genre of games in the past few years. Following the release of “Grand Theft Auto III” and its immense sales, countless clones of the series have been pumped out by other companies that dream of creating a sell-out title like “GTA III.” The gaming market since then has become inundated with game after game that’s basically the same old story: you’re a rough ‘n’ tough guy trying to make it in a big city, and the only means of doing so is beating the living crap out of anyone that dares to get in your way. While “Bully” for the Playstation 2 follows many of the aspects of prior games, I think it’s a much needed breath of fresh air for the genre.
The biggest appeal of Bully is its setting: high school. We all remember those days- long boring classes, puppy-love crushes, throwing firecrackers in the faces of the faculty members. Well, maybe not the latter, but this is just what you get with “Bully”: free reign to do whatever you want in high school. And Rockstar did a great job of making the player feel like they’re really in a high school, from hitting on the cute girl in class to egging the school mascot.
Your activities of the day revolve around the school schedule. Each day you have two chances to go to class and play a mini-game to raise your skills, like flirting with girls or making fart bombs. I found myself waiting outside of classes just to play some of the games. However, when it’s time for class or after hours, prefects will scout the premises . You either have to hide from them in trash cans or lockers until they pass, or bolt past them and hope they’ve been supersizing their value meals.
When you’re not in class or following the game’s main story through the missions, you can either build relationships with cliques (such as the preps, the nerds, the jocks, etc.) or completely humiliate them. And this is the part of “Bully” that can provide hours upon hours of fun. Even if we don’t want to admit it, there was some point in most of our high school careers where we just couldn’t stand a certain group of people, whether it was for personal reasons or because of hearsay. In “Bully,” you have the freedom to help whichever clique you feel is deserving, or simply be unbiased and trash them all, from egging a jock in the face to giving an atomic wedgie to a nerd. It’s your call.
But, “Bully” isn’t a perfect game. I was completely dumbfounded that there was a loading screen to load another loading screen. What’s the point of that? Whatever the reason is, you’ll be seeing a lot of them, specifically anytime you enter or exit a building. Grab a book because they’re not exactly short.
Perhaps it’s because I’m color blind, but I had trouble reading a lot of the text and deciphering the map. I’d have to get a friend of mine to tell me where an objective marker was on the mini map, and even they had problems telling me. I think it’s just a bad case of too much on the screen at once and not enough color contrast.
“Bully” is certainly a breath of much needed life in a genre that’s arguably the same games with different characters. However, much of “Bully” is still the same old same old. But, if it’s not broke, why fix it? If you lack a darker sense of humor and are easily offended by stereotypes, you may want to stay away from this game. If not, at least rent it as it kept me laughing the whole way through. The bottom line: 8.5/10
“Bully” is the latest offering from Rockstar Games, a firm best known for a) the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise and b) aggravating conservative old senators and crank attorneys from Miami. Bully, which puts you in control of the exploits of a thuggish teen amidst the cliques of a prestigious (and dangerous) boarding school, is based on the San Andreas engine, used most recently in the “GTA” game of the same name. Like practically everything Rockstar puts out, the game was already creating controversy before it was released.
Unfortunately, in this case, the game doesn’t live up to the hype.
The somewhat cartoony graphics in “Bully” are decent, well-placed for the subject and execution but suffer from the same issues as in other Rockstar titles: you roam around from place to place, often visiting the same areas over and over, and you’ve soon memorized most of the locales and characters. The game continues the phenomenal upturn in voice acting quality that we’ve been seeing in the industry lately, with some parts of the script actually amusing and fun to hear, but the soundtrack is nothing spectacular. The gameplay has a free-roaming and adventurous feel that holds out for a while before you start to feel like you’ve seen it all.
The game’s 15-year-old protagonist, Jimmy Hopkins, has apparently been gifted with a faster running speed than “Grand Theft Auto’s” hardened gangster, Tony Vercetti, and actually fights much better than him, too. Compared to other Rockstar games, the combat system is actually one of the most novel and fun features, including combos and the use of various weapons and hidden moves.
It’s also great to antagonize the various characters, including standard “bully” moves like wedgies and swirlies along with more benign interactions. The various mini-games that make up Jimmy’s classes are entertaining at first, but they get repetitive fast. Still, they are a good way for him to unlock various bonuses.
My major gameplay complaint? For a title that has so much to do with running away, the camera could have used some adjustment. When you’re trying to high-tail it out of the girl’s dormitory after a panty raid, with a half dozen of the schools blood-thirsty “prefects” behind you, this is no time for the camera to suddenly decide to check you out from a completely different angle. The effect is so jarring that you may actually have to look up at your mini-map to figure out which direction you’re facing, by which time you’ve probably been caught. This is also a major problem in “stealth” missions, which are poorly designed and overall more trouble than they’re worth.
While most of the game is “good” – easy, but good – it goes to show that Rockstar needs to come up with more than a rehash of its old engines and ideas if its going to keep up its strong showing. You’ll soon realize that, despite the incredibly long and detailed “stats screen” and the “percent complete” feature that makes it look like there are a hundred million secrets to unlock, you’re essentially still playing “Grand Theft Auto,” with a slightly more warped sensibility.
Tony Vercetti takes over the city, seizing control of rival gangs. Jimmy Hopkins takes over the academy, seizing control of rival cliques. It’s good for what it is, but Rockstar can do better. Nothing revolutionary here, lots of mini-games you’ve already seen and mastered, almost like playing the good parts of a bunch of other titles. The bottom line: 7 / 10.