Available for: PlayStation 2
Wow. It’s hard to think of the last time a game came out that generated such debate and speculation before its arrival more than Rockstar’s latest product. So many rumors flew around about the game and its content. How it was going to be ultra-violent, just another “Grand Theft Auto” but set in a school rather than a city. That there was going to be torturing and maiming and how we should all keep our children as far away as possible from the game because no one under some unspecified age could handle it. But then what happens? The game comes out, it’s rated “T” and Rockstar winds up pulling a big one over on all its critics. And the best thing about it? It’s not a “GTA” clone at all.
No, “Bully” is for those gamers who know the feeling of dread and drudgery that going to high school day after day brought. What it was like to not be a part of any clique, to be teased by those who always got away with murder and never saw any comeuppance. For those who really were smart and could excel at many different areas of studies, but were overshadowed by the football team’s big win week after week. You know what I mean. “Bully” will give you those knots in your stomach from high school anxiety all over again. Except this time your actions are rewarded, not just for kicking ass, but for actually being a better person than all those popular lunkheads in the end.
You are Jimmy Hopkins, left at the front gate of Bullworth Academy by your mother and new step-dad that you can’t stand (and who also can’t seem to stand you). The academy is the last place for juvenile delinquents, but in all honesty is no better than any regular high school. The head of the school is too quick to turn a blind eye to bullying and his secretary is completely in love with him. Cliques are rampant, and classes are broken down by social structure. But there is hope in the hallways. The library geeks are more than happy to befriend you if you come to help in their time of need, an old homeless bum is willing to teach you hand to hand combat training in exchange from some transistors, and the girls really do like you, even if they have a hard time showing it.
“Bully” is jam packed with content. Players will find themselves having to go to actual classes during the day or else risk a truancy bust. However, these classes are cleverly disguised mini games that increase players’ skills and help them in the long run. For instance, going to art class prompts the player to engage in a “Qix” clone, carving out different areas of a picture until most of it is filled in. In science class, Jimmy has to input a series of button presses to unlock new goodies for his in-dorm chem set. In English class, Jimmy has to come up with as many words as possible from a random group of letters on the blackboard. And so on.
Of course, Jimmy has to balance going to classes with getting missions accomplished. Early in the game, he is befriended by an arrogant kid named Gary who may or may not be a good ally. Gary comes off as the lord of the losers and wants to take over Bullworth Academy for himself, with help from Jimmy. He often has missions for Jimmy, but obviously isn’t as talented as he thinks he is. Eventually, fraternizing with Gary leads to meeting girls who like to make out in exchange for flowers or chocolates. Making out has its advantages as it works as an extra health booster bonus.
Jimmy’s missions run the gamut from picking locks on lockers, to defending library geeks on their way to the auto shop, to picking off football players in training on the field with a slingshot and so forth. The wealth of missions is staggering, and each one of them quite fun. There’s even a cool Halloween segment that involves pulling off a multi-part set of pranks leading up to “the big prank.”
There is so much to do and explore in “Bully” that its scaled-down scope in comparison to the “GTA” series is still staggering. As with “The Warriors,” Rockstar has made yet another impressive and addictive game that takes big steps away from its biggest and most notorious money maker and surprises everyone who thought they knew what it was all about before it even arrived. “Bully” is simply high school revisited, but is a blast and certainly gives players a chance to live out one of those “if you had to do it all over again” scenarios.
So what’s the problem with it? Technically, it’s the game’s camera. It’s great at all times except when Billy gets into fights and then it just gets downright ridiculous, shifting angles so that control becomes a bit ludicrous. But that’s the only bad thing about this game, period. Given that, it’s easily overlooked for the wealth of exploration and gaming programmed in here. “Bully” is everything mentioned in this review and so much more that just can’t be covered here. Is it everything everyone said it was going to be? Not at all, and that’s the best thing about it. It’s nothing everyone speculated it would be, and ten times more. It’s high school. And anyone who’s ever attended will feel right at home here.