I feel ashamed. I am one of the various people who simply passed up on Rockstar’s Bully when it released back in 2006, for mostly the same reason as everyone else. Now that I have had time to come to terms with my next-gen consoles Rockstar has found it in their hearts to give me a second chance to enjoy this amazingly addictive title that has stirred more controversy than it deserves. Bully is an open-world game much in the same vein as the company’s other series, but with more of a focus on social interactions and of course a lot less violence. With missions ranging from your typical collection marathons to mini-game induced classes Bully takes the genre to a whole new level and surprisingly the gameplay still holds strong nearly two years after its initial release.
In Bully you assume the role of Jimmy Hopkins, the typical punk kid stereotype who has been kicked out of every school imaginable, thus landing him at the last resort on the map Bullworth Academy. Unfortunately for Jimmy this school is chock full of kids much like him making his tough-guy attitude a bit harder to pull off. The idea behind the game is become king of the campus as you increase your notoriety with the different factions scattered around the school. The best part about the game is the obvious choice to do anything you want, but at the same time being rewarded for keeping with a set schedule. Classes for example are at the same time each day and you are rewarded for attending, not to mention you actually end up wanting to go to take on the increasing challenge of the mini-games.
When you first arrive at Bullworth things will seem overwhelming. Much like any other game of this type the beginning is always the hardest transition. When you begin your adventure to higher academics at Bullworth your combat repertoire is pathetic, none of the cliques around the school are behind you, and it constantly feels like everyone is out to get you. While all of this may be realistic to what being the new kid must feel like, it does make for a good gateway drug into a double-digit hour long game. Trust me though, once you get past the first couple of hours all of that will wash away as you slowly discover the brilliance behind the game’s dialogue, characters and addictive mechanics that make this one of Rockstar’s finest achievements.
If you have ever played any of the GTA games (and let’s face it that covers just about everyone) the mechanics here will feel familiar. You still have base story missions that progress the game as well as side missions that can earn you money, notoriety and of course special items. The mini-map in the lower part of the screen keeps track of all your current missions and points of interest and of course you can pause the game to gawk at the massive amount of activities to see and do within the world of Bullworth. It is amazing once you realize just how large this game really is, plus the fact that Rockstar has taken time to go back and add new classes, missions and even some two player (local) mini-games is more than enough to warrant the slick $50 price tag.
Interaction with other characters has also received an upgrade. You can now choose positive or negative replies to any character in the game. Eventually you will also obtain the ability to gift items to characters and establish relationships with both the male and female characters. Pursue this enough and Jimmy will even warrant kisses from the girls (or boys if that is your choice) and you can even earn an achievement on the Xbox 360 version for wooing enough of the same sex. Characters will also treat you differently depending on your attire, which at times is often hilarious. The biggest immersion factor is just how well the game is written. Granted most of the time your acceptance is scripted the game conveys it with excellent dialogue and you constantly feel in control of your own destiny, whether it is true or not.
One of the biggest reasons Bully works on almost every level is that each mission is bite-sized on top of being entertaining. While the majority of them have you collecting items or simply beating up other characters, there is always a reason behind it. This goes back to the excellent writing and storytelling. The core missions are a bit more complex, usually requiring multiple objectives, but still involve much of the same content. The combat is simple, but effective and feels similar to that found in Manhunt. You can lock onto a character and perform specific combos, but the most satisfying aspect is getting a character down to low health and performing a humiliation move such as a noogie or wedgie. You can also earn combat upgrades by completing missions around the world and the list is surprisingly deep.
As I mentioned before Bully is a substantially large game. The world is big enough to keep gamers occupied for 20+ hours if you decide to tackle all of the side missions and fetch quests, not to mention obtain all of the Achievements found in the 360 version. However if you want to simply barrel through the game accomplishing only the story missions you can complete it in a little over ten hours. This is still quite a bit of content and certainly more than enough to warrant the price tag. As for which version to get the answer is simple; do you prefer sharper visuals and Achievements or the idea of using the Wii remote for the mini-games (which work surprisingly well)? Either way you decide to go this game is definitely worth the price of admission.
Visually the game still looks like a PS2 port with some sharper textures. The Xbox 360 version is also prone to some nasty bugs that Rockstar is working on a patch for at the time of this review. Sounds are excellent all around with some truly engaging dialogue and above-average voice work. The music blends into the background, but there are a few catchy tunes to be found and the sound effects are as good as can be for a two year old port. The Xbox 360 version is also full of clever Achievements that will have gamers coming back for more while the motion controls in the Wii version are some of the most intuitive and fitting yet.
If you have never experienced Rockstar’s academic offering there has never been a better time to jump in. This “late-to-the-party” edition is chock full of enough extra content to make the wait worthwhile, and if you have already seen all Bullworth has to offer on the PS2 there is enough here to at least warrant a rental. The game has a charming quality that most other games lack thanks to it’s incredibly well written dialogue and a cast of intriguing characters. If you are a fan of open-world games Bully is among the best the genre has to offer and now with a Wii and 360 version on the market there is no excuse to pass up on this amazing experience.