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PLATFORM Playstation 2

Bully Review

publisher: Rockstar Games
developer: Rockstar Games
genre: Action Adventure

ESRB rating: T

release date: Oct 17, 06
» All About Bully on ActionTrip

Rockstar has with Grand Theft Auto, essentially perfected what people want to see in an RPG, and has pretty much set the bar for any game that tries to satirize the modern day. Plenty of minigames, a good story, lots of places to explore, interesting characters and great dialog. Taking what they've learned in the past five GTA games, and swapping out all the thugs for children, and most of the cops for prefects, they've managed to take typical teenage problems and apply them to their tried and true formula to create Bully.

Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto will feel right at home in Bully. Everything you have come to expect from those games has been created again, only this time, the game is about kids. While I'm not trying to say that Bully is for children, I certainly don't see what Jack Thompson's problem with the game is. You can be violent, certainly, but you can't kill anyone and there's no blood. You can't pick up hookers, but you might get to first base if you're lucky. The easiest way for me to describe this game is simply a child's version of GTA.

The striking thing is that instead of alienating the adult audience, it is still quite easy to relate to what is going on in Bully. Everyone remembers "the best years of your life" when algebra and English class where the biggest problems you had to deal with. Rockstar has managed to capture the sense of teenage angst, only made it more tangible and realistic than most kids can express it.

It does this not only with the gameplay, but certainly with the story. You play a young man, James Hopkins, recently dropped off at boarding school for a year by your mother and step-father, so that they can go on a year long cruise while you suffer. The school, Bullworth, isn't the educational paradise that it imagines itself to be. Replacing the gangs are various cliques, each with their own members with their own problems. Jimmy, as the new kid, has to make a name for himself and defeat the people that hate him just because he's new. And Jimmy, unlike most of the other people of this school, can actually solve problems for people, and as a result, has people coming to him for help.

Early on, you meet a budding young sociopath named Gary, who decides that he wants to take over the school. While he tries to get your help, eventually he gets jealous and starts turning people against you. Between all of the cliques whose respect you have to earn, and the classes you have to go to, you also have to deal with Gary telling people you've said things you haven't, and the aftermath of that. Thus the story is set. You've got a lot of enemies in a bad place, and you need to rectify the situation.

The dialog and writing in the story, apart from just the plot, is pretty well done. Rockstar knows how voice acting is supposed to be, and knows how to say or show horribly hilarious inappropriate things, and manages to do it all from the perspective of a child. Essentially the game is satire; it pokes fun at life, and life in schools in particular. You run into preps who speak in fake British accents because they're admittedly insecure, nerds who pee their pants when nervous, and a bully named Russell who is dumb enough to talk in the third person. You've met these people in real life, and Bully does a good job of animating them in the virtual world. If there's anything that Bully does better than most games, it's that it creates a comedy of errors with plenty of well done characters to fill it.

The gameplay itself, while certainly borrowing from GTA, isn't an exact clone. While C.J. can spend his days shooting gangsters, Jimmy has to go to class in between beating up bullies, stealing bicycles, and performing various missions. The game takes what it needs to, by giving you a town to run around in and areas to unlock, but it also provides its own special something with its environment. You're in a small town, not a city, so you get to know most of your classmates. Where as in GTA, you have a large area with plenty of anonymous sprites; Bully is populated by "real" people. You will see the same classmates over and over, each with their own back-story and problems. This makes the game plenty more human in a lot of ways, in the sense that you aren't just beating the crap out of some random nerds and stuffing him into a trashcan, you're picking on a real character that you're going to have to see later.

This game is full of minigames, in fact, each of the six classes you have to take are just minigames, each with progressing levels of difficulty. The minigames are fairly well thought out, and generally a lot of fun. Each relates in at least some way to the class at hand, English class in particular stands out as you get a series of letters and have to build so many words out of them in a certain time frame. Art class is probably my favorite mini-game, not only in that passing Art allows you to get better health bonuses from kissing girls, but also in that the game, where you have to fill in selections of canvas while avoiding enemies, is a lot of fun. Every picture you draw is some increasingly sexually suggestive portrait of your art teacher, which is pretty funny in its own right, like a lot of the things that happen in this game.

Like most Role-Playing Games, there is a certain level of combat, however, in Bully, you don't get to attack people with guns or run them over with a car. Instead, you can punch them, or use items like stink bombs, slingshots, firecrackers and bags full of marbles to deal with them. And because you're a kid, you can't drive either, although you can ride around on a skateboard or a bike if you want to get to places faster. The fist fighting feels real enough that each blow does an appropriate amount of damage. However, it isn't gratuitously violent. Sure you've just given an uppercut to some preppie sweater vest wearing asshole, and you might be kicking him while he's down, but he's not coughing up blood or anything. It feels satisfying without being shocking.

The violence is also well contained with the rules set up. You can't hit adults or authority figures without getting in serious trouble, the same goes for punching girls or little kids. The game is fairly noble in what it will allow a player to do without serious repercussions. While the bullies and jocks will punch back, and are therefore pretty much fair game, it isn't right for Jimmy to pick on people weaker than him. While the game does certainly have its moments of violence, Bully does a pretty good job of steering in the direction of people who genuinely have it coming, as opposed to having it become wanton blood bath.

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9.4   Excellent

The game accomplishes everything it needs to, very well polished, a funny, enjoyable experience;

Not nearly as controversial as it was made out to be. I don't get what all the hub-bub is/was about.


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