Review of Bully
Rockstar has had it's share of controversial games, most notably the Grand Theft Auto series. They have done it again with their newest release, Bully for the Playstation 2. This time it's not about criminals or gangsters. This time it's about a school kid. But the basic ideas and gameplay are the same, albeit slightly toned down. Can Rockstar cash in on the immense popularity of Grand Theft Auto with this PG version that is Bully? Let's take a look at what Bully offers and decide for ourselves.
Bully is a single player, third person, mission based action/adventure that takes place at Bullworth Academy, a school set in the fictional town of Bullworth. Playing as the lead character Jimmy Hopkins, the new kid at school, you will have to survive the school year while avoiding trouble as best you can. This won't be easy since Bullworth is teeming with bullies and student cliques, all trying to make your life miserable. Your ultimate goal... defeat the various student factions, become "king" of the school and restore peace and order to Bullworth.
First off, I have to say I did enjoy this game. It has much of the flavor and style of Grand Theft Auto. That being said, this isn't a violent bloodbath of crime and guns. It is similar in the sense that it's a free roaming, mission based, escape from authority type of game. Many of the GTA features that have become staples are incorporated into Bully. These include ability to choose your primary missions, various side tasks, authority pursuit and escape, weapon variety, pedestrian interaction, on screen blip map, graphics style and more.
The recurring theme in Bully is beating up other students and this is where the controversy comes in. Solving problems in the school yard with your fists are not the principles some folks want to follow. Nevertheless, this is what the game is about. Taking on the other bullies around the school is the focus of this game. The only way to do that is to beat them at their own game. That means you must fight. Sometimes it can be avoided by talking your way out it, but really, who wants to do that?
The game is divided into chapters, each focusing on a specific student group. Your level of respect with student groups affects whether or not they will initiate a fight. These levels ebb and flow based on missions and actions so usually you only have one student group fighting you. Each time you defeat the leader of a clique, a new chapter starts and in turn, a new area opens up to explore. This also opens a save location, something you'll need since you must sleep every day.
Fighting can be done in many different ways, but mostly you'll use your fists. Different techniques can be learned, each one more effective than the next. Eventually you'll becoming a one man wrecking crew, capable of taking on large groups of students. There are also plenty of weapons at your disposal, including stink bombs, firecrackers, eggs, potato cannons and your trusty slingshot. Most weapons are projectile in nature and of the prank variety.
The missions are rather easy at first and I expected them to become progressively harder over time. In some instances the missions were more complex, but never really changed much in difficulty. Not until near the very end did I actually find any challenge. This doesn't mean the missions weren't entertaining, they just seemed to fall short on length and the level of challenge. Often the only factor making it a challenge at all was being on the clock.
The side tasks were also fairly easy with little reward value other than completing the task. An example of doing "favors" for people consisted of throwing three eggs at a dorm building. Not much challenge there. By design, they usually introduced you to aspects of the game to which you might not be aware. So for that reason, they do serve a purpose and provide some distraction to the main events. Unfortunately, once you complete them they are not offered again, making it a one trick pony.
Attending class is another necessary task if you want to succeed. The classes themselves are mini games of a very simple nature. These games are very familiar such as a Qix game in Art class or a word scramble game in English. Nothing groundbreaking here but sufficiently entertaining. Complete all classes to earn upgrades in your skills. For example, Art class unlocks the ability to kiss girls which restores and increases your overall health. Each class level increases slightly in difficulty and also increases in reward.
One of the great features of Bully are the pranks. Everything from stuffing students into lockers or trash cans to giving wedgies and swirlies. There is even a special prank that can only be perfomed on Halloween. Besides these pranks there are also weapons that double as pranks including itching powder, sacks of marbles, bottle rocket launchers and Roman candles.
The controls are easy and efficient when walking around, running or skate boarding/cycling. Analog sticks control movement and camera angle and X button controls speed of movement. Repeated tapping of X will give a burst of speed with no limit. Access to the skateboard is especially handy when trying to flee a situation or just getting around. However, control on the skateboard is not as precise as they are on foot or on bicycles. They do change depending on the surface beneath you so there are some realistic physics there.
Fighting controls are very simple. Variations on the square button will do most of the fist work. This means button mashing will do the trick in most cases. But with the variety of fighting techniques available, mixing up your attacks is not difficult to do. The take down moves are also effective including the vicious ground move of a knee to the groin.
Individuals can be locked on for targeting of weapons. Projectile weapons can be thrown or used without lock on, although accuracy improves while locked on. There is also a manual aiming mode but this is difficult to use in a rush. It is more effective when used from a distance where accuracy is a factor.
Social interaction options are displayed on screen once you've locked on to a person. Greeting students, taunting, offering gifts, apologizing and initiating kissing are all controlled in this manner. This is also how some side tasks are engaged as random pedestrians come to you asking favors.
The graphics are adequate for this game. There is nothing here that will make you say "Wow" but they are not sub-par either. The environments and character models are fairly detailed. The animation during action sequences work well while fighting, riding or running and the draw distance offers a good feeling of depth. Camera angles are sometimes awkward when on wheels because the camera will not always follow the action unless adjusted manually.
The change in seasons provides a nice opportunity for the graphics and physics to change along with it. During winter, everything is covered with a layer of snow and even skateboard/bicycle control is affected. Things seem dreary and hazy during winter as they should be. You can even make snowballs to use as a weapon.
On occasion there are areas of the game where seams show or where you can actually get stuck in the modeling. It happened once while riding a bicycle where I got stuck between a fence and a tree. The only course of action was to wait for nightfall and pass out or reset the game and lose all unsaved progress.
One thing I would have liked to see more done with is the rides at the amusement park. The lack of options on camera angles during rides (especially the roller coaster) is a golden opportunity missed. Also missing are some opportunities for unique stunts and the specialized camera shots that usually come with them.
Voice acting of the cast is exceptional especially the lead character Jimmy done by Gerry Rosenthal. The soundtrack is an original score by Shawn Lee. It compliments the action including appropriate changes in tempo and style for dramatic effect. Special effects are nicely delivered and voice acting is matched well to animated cut scenes. One notable feature is the reactions of pedestrians relative to your actions. For instance, running around town during school hours wearing a school uniform will draw comments with regards to why you are not in school. This makes interaction seem less than random while mingling with the public.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Bully' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Chris Strang © Absolute PlayStation
Click here to view our 33 Bully in-game screenshot slideshow
Parents Guide to Bully
During the reviewing process Chris Strang made the following notes that we think parents of younger children may be interested in hearing before they deciding if they should allow them to play the PS2 version of Bully.
This game has some violence, including acts of bullying, fist fights and projectile prank weaponry.
There are no acts of killing, blood or gore. The language is sometimes crude or foul, but not excessively used.
There is some toilet humor but nothing overtly offensive. Sexual content is limited to kissing, including girls and boys.
There are verbal references to pornographic material, but no explicit content is shown.
This game has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB (USA), 16+ by PEGI (Europe) and 15 by the BBFC (UK).
Please note that these points are not a complete guide to every mature element contained within Bully, only those that we found. They are not provided as facts, only information.
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