Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Release Date: 10/21/2008
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Everyone was bullied at some point in their life during school, so Rockstar took it upon them to help people reflect on that and become a bully themselves or anti-bully. Jimmy Hopkins is sent to Bullworth Academy because he’s a huge jerk and his mom and step-dad hate him. The story really makes you reminisce about high school because of how accurately it portrays it. You walk around and you see jocks beating up nerds and greasers beating up preps. Of course due to the game’s age (about 7 years old) comes problems, glitches, and stiffness due to the PS2’s limited technology, but the overall atmosphere and fun content will keep you hooked.
The game is based on Grand Theft Auto so if you play that series a lot you are right at home here. You get a mini-map with stars marked on them, a combat system, a vehicle system, as well as a shooting system. They all work really well and even better than the GTA games, but don’t forget this is a Teen rated game so you can forget about Jimmy killing hookers and pushing drugs. After you get familiar with the engine you will get introduced to the combat system which works well thanks to a lock-on mode and targets switching with the right analog stick (keyboard controls suck). A health bar is displayed around the target’s feet and the melee combat system is surprisingly deep. You unlock combos and moves by bringing transistors to the bum that lives behind the school.
With grapples, takedowns, and various combos come ranged combat which is fun thanks to the interesting and fun weapons. Instead of rocket launchers and AK-47s we get potato spud launchers, bottle rocket launchers, slingshots, stink bombs, itching powder, spray paint (for tagging), eggs, and various breakable melee weapons that are awesome to use. You can’t jack cars, but you can jack bicycles and you have a skateboard in your inventory. I really wish there were more vehicles to use than just these two things, but it works because the world isn’t big enough to need anything faster.
The days in Bully go by like school and of course, you can get busted, and instead of wasted, knocked out like in GTA games. Prefects are the authority on campus and there are a lot of rules. There are two classes a day and you will see a bell on your map and if you are skipping class you can be busted for truancy, hit kids and get chased for violence, hit girls or adults and the meter goes red and everyone runs after you for this. You can be busted for trespassing (being inside a building after hours), theft, vandalism, and all the hijinks of kids so watch out. Of course, getting busted is actually hard because you can always outrun them and if a prefect gets a hold of you can you rapidly press Y to break free, if a teacher or cop gets you you’re done.
Classes are fun and consist of mini-games like music class uses the triggers to tap out the rhythm, biology has you dissecting animals, math class has you answering simple questions, shop class has you doing button commands to repair bikes, and photography class has you snapping pictures. There are more classes and they help keep you busy between missions and can be fun. When you aren’t doing missions or classes you can do one of the two jobs in town which is a paper route and mowing lawns. I really wish there were more jobs, but more on why later. There are also challenges for each faction as well as random activities like people have you egg things, make delivers, or break into lockers.
Missions are varied and range from throwing snowballs, playing tricks, assaulting faction fortresses, sneaking through an asylum, and helping teachers with adult problems. There’s a lot of variety in the main missions and it will keep you hooked and wanting to do the next one. I just wish there were more side missions that had a good payoff because money is kind of useless in this game. I rarely spent it and didn’t really need to. There is also a lame dating system built in where you can compliment a girl, then give her a gift, then she’ll kiss you. This is as far as it goes and after trying it once you won’t do it again.
All this sounds fun, and is, but it comes with a price of age. Everything feels stiff, stilted, and linear which really detracts from the experience. The same NPCs walk around and sayings repeat constantly, animations are stiff and awkward, the same music repeats constantly, the sound is low quality, and the graphics aged poorly with low poly models, and some ugly textures. The only things that haven’t aged are the excellent voice acting, memorable characters, and charming and witty dialog. This is the best part about Bully because of characters like Gary who are whacked sociopaths who you want to just punch. The world isn’t very big at all, and while you can change your clothes, and hair, and earn money there’s really no reason for it. You can find collectibles in the world, do races, and more, but honestly for what? There’s no payoff and I guess you just do it to be a completionist a best.
I could go on about how stiff the game feels or the multiple glitches that I encountered, but after completing the 10-15 hour campaign I felt no reason to continue on. I couldn’t bear hearing the same saying, listening to the same music, or seeing the same NPC walk by me. Back in the day, it was revolutionary, but now it’s just a wrinkle in the game timeline as something unique and playful because there isn’t a single game out there like it. Enjoy the game for the great dialog, characters, and story, as well as the fun mini-games and varied missions, but if you can’t overlook the many faults then move on.