March 15, 2008
Bully is almost a Beatrice Potter/Dr Seuss rendition of Grand Theft Auto; an open-world sandbox deal in which the player is given the freedom to do as they wish. Attend class like a good lad or play truant and run around town egging cars, it’s up to you. You’ll find no guns, blood, serious violence, stolen cars or drug deals in Bully, the worst thing you can do in this game is give a cop a wedgy so don’t assume this is just GTA with a different face - far from it. Bully can happily stand on its own two feet even if it can still be deemed a sibling of sorts.
Your adventures as “The Hopkins Boy” begin with you being dropped off at the Academy by your parents as they shoot off on a year long cruise, happy at the fact they’ve offloaded you on a school for all that time. The Academy, upon first inspection, appears to be a nice place any parent would be happy sending their child to attend... Until you step in the gates, and you notice all is not quite rosy as you almost immediately run into the local bullies and so your quest for “peace through power” begins. Bully’s story-line basically revolves around Jimmy’s life as he tackles his aspirations to gain the admiration of his pupils and eventually run the school his way, eventually becoming “the daddy” - anyone that’s seen a movie called Scum from the seventies may hear an all-too-familiar quote later on in the game.
Bullworth Academy’s pupils are spread out between five cliques, and you’ll need to do various missions for each to progress through the game. From using a mounted spud cannon to fend off some jocks from the geek’s observatory to racing a bunch of greasers to win the hand of one of their girls, Jimmy Hopkins has his hands full trying to win control of each group. As you progress you’ll open up the school gates, and have access to the surrounding islands all of which harbour activities for you to waste hours a day messing around with.
Jimmy’s routine is split up very much like a regular school day; wake at 8, classes at 9:30 and 1:30 with a lunch break in between, and then you’re free to do as you wish until you pass out at 2am. Of course, like previously mentioned there’s nothing stopping you from skipping class all day, minus the fact you’ll have certain authority figures on your case for truancy. Classes themselves are actually fairly well devised mini-games that differ from class to class. English has you working out how many words you can create from a handful of letters, Gym has you battling it out in a boxing or dodgeball match, and Music features a very simple Guitar Hero-esque button sync game. Not to imply that’s all there is - Maths, Art, and Photography amongst others are also on offer. Completing classes successfully is actually a very worthwhile task as you’re rewarded with anything from faster bikes, to better taunts, to extra fight combos, all of which help towards your domination over Bullworth Academy’s inhabitants.
Expect to find quite an assortment of weaponry throughout your adventure in Bully. Whilst none of them will decapitate your enemies or do anything remotely nasty they are still very fun little toys - from stink bombs to slingshots, anything you remember from your school days of old will probably be available. Use of these weapons is very straightforward and to be honest, overly easy as it’s almost impossible to miss if using the lock-on method featured even when riding a bike at speed.
Whilst on the subject of things being overly easy, it’s probably fair to say the whole game is leant on the easy side of things. The most trouble you’ll have during your entire playthrough will probably be some of the classes, as everything else, from main missions to side errands can probably be completed first time without even a hint of body odor. Bully doesn’t feature any of the skin-of-your-teeth missions you may be used to from Crackdown or GTA, although funnily enough it doesn’t detract too much from the game overall. Bully comes across as a playful GTA, it’s only to be expected that the missions are of the same ideals.
Speaking of things to do on the side there’s a fair old bit. Errands can be found dotted around the school campus and all over the neighbouring islands, and feature activities such as finding a fellow student some toilet roll (don’t ask - you’ll see), hitting people with water balloons, or capturing someone tagging a building with your camera. There are also bike and gokart races dotted around which are a good laugh although again nothing remotely taxing your gaming skills. If you’re in need of some cash to put towards some new clothes or a bag of marbles you can work a paper round or try your hand at lawn mowing. There’s a carnival full of rides and games, some of which you’ll only try once but others such as the Shooting Range and Consumo arcade game are good fun and really a step above the bland tripe mini-games you might find in other titles.
Bully may not be the most graphically pleasing game on the 360 (more an obvious PS2 port with some cherries on top), but it’s adequate enough, and coupled with the art style featured actually delivers a pleasing experience. The architecture featured in the Academy will seem very familiar to anyone schooled in the UK and provides quite realistic aesthetics, making the game all that more immersive. You won’t be seeing any super duper textures, high-poly models or even decent shadows, but these are all things you’ll forget about after twenty minutes play time. Where Bully lacks in the graphics department, it more than makes up for it on the audio side of things. Background music is a fitting blend of quality 70s porn music and minimalist funk, and works bloody well, changing depending on your situation. Getting on a bike for example mixes the music from a slow funky tune to a speedy cowbell-filled rendition, whilst starting a fight also changes the background music to something more up tempo - a small but nice touch even if not entirely original.
It seems strange, but for a game centered around education to write its achievements out all in capitals seems quite ironic. Nonetheless, the bulk of the achievements are gained from various stat-based elements such as buying 100 sodas or kissing 25 girls (or boys if that’s your cup of tea). You’ll also gain a few points for completing the bike and gokart races, completing the main chapters as well as the classes, and of course the errands mentioned earlier. A whopping 125 points is awarded to those striving for 100% completion. Bully only features 38 achievements, something you’d think quite odd after browsing through the insanely large amount of stats the game takes note of. Surely another 12 could’ve been made, but as they stand they’re fairly divided up although hardly taxing at all.
Bully's developers are obviously well schooled in creating masterpieces and thus are awarded an A for effort. Bully features a fitting assortment of music and although it doesn't push any boundaries visually it is still adequate enough to steal 20 hours or more of your life without blinking an eye, not to mention being priced lower than most games makes it a steal.
Interesting voice acting and dialogue, decent background music, everything fits and works well.
Little more than a slice of PS2 port with a little sugar coating, nothing particularly amazing nor awful.
Whilst the camera controls can be an annoyance, from climbing trees to hurtling eggs at your opponents in a bike race, controlling Jimmy is easy to get the hang of and works well. Anyone that’s played Crackdown or GTA will feel right at home, although it’s generally a very relaxed experience with little challenge involved.
Great single player campaign that’ll last you quite a while if you’re going for 100% completion, although multiplayer is a bit of a let down. Locked up once or twice during our 15 hours of gameplay which is apparently being patched soon.
Most of the achievements can be gained in around 10-15 hours and make good use of the things you’ll be spending your time doing whilst you play. For whatever reason the developers didn’t make full use of the 50 achievement limit which is odd considering the mass of other options they had.
Whether it’s worth picking up if you’ve already played the PS2 version is up to you, but as it stands Bully is a seemingly unique experience that’ll last quite a while and is a joy to play throughout.