Review by 47pik
"Little hellions, kids feelin' rebellious..."
You wouldn't think a game, set in a school, would be all that fun. I certainly didn't think so, the setting seemed somewhat restrictive. Thankfully, as it turns out, such first impressions are far from the truth. Indeed, after finishing Bully I have to say that Bullworth Acadamy is probably one of the most brilliant settings I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing through video games.
Bullworth Acadamy, a rather unpleasant private school, is where our protagonist, Jimmy Hopkins finds himself after his mother sets off on a yearlong honeymoon with her fifth husband. Jimmy is not exactly a well behaved child, and neither are the other students at Bullworth Acadamy, which is populated by a large group of ill-mannered youths belonging to different cliques, which are all at odds with each other. Jimmy however, does not belong to one of these cliques, and is somewhat of a mistfit at first. Along with two other misfits, Petey, a very timid boy, and Gary, a total sociopath, Jimmy ends up involved in a plan to overthrow the bullies and take over the school himself. And to do it, Jimmy is going to have to earn the respect of those cliques.
To do so, you must complete missions that you are assigned by the various factions. You may need to escort one of the nerds to the dorms so he doesn't get beat up by bullies, take photos of a cheating girlfriend, or get in schoolyard brawls. These missions are varied, and never really get stale, because of the diversity in not just objectives, but also in setting. You may be in the girls dorm, stealing underwear, or out on the town, egging houses. You are not confined to the school, Bullworth Acadamy is right on the outskirts of the town of Bullowrth, and you'll spend a lot of time there, in the different neighbourhoods and locations. You also have classes to attend, which play out as minigames. The successful completion of these minigames will give you a new skill you can use outside class. Completing an English class will make your apologies more effective for example, and completing chemistry classes allows you to make more items with your personal chemistry set. Bully is a sandbox style game, similar to developer Rockstar's previous games. You're free to explore the vast environments the game has, to accept missions, go to school, do other activities such as bike races, or just to explore. I cannot profess to be familiar with this style of game, in fact, Bully is the first sandbox game I've ever played. I did quite enjoy it though, for this game it really worked well.
Some may object to the time system that is implemented here, you've only got so many hours in the day. You get up at 8:00 AM, and need to be in bed before 2:00 AM or you fall asleep on the spot. Classes start at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM every day. Missions are only available at certain times as well. It's easy to understand how one could grow annoyed, worrying about whether they have enough time for the mission. I found this setup quite compelling however, each game morning I woke up and tried to plan out what I was going to do. Would I attend class, or was I really anxious to get to that next mission done? Perhaps I'd just spend all day out doing the insanely fun bike and go-kart races... Getting more stuff done in a day becomes easier once you begin unlocking more places to sleep than your dorm, such as a beach house, or the basement of the comic book store. If you're going to be spending your day out on the town, no point in having to commute there from school.
All this troublemaking Jimmy gets up doesn't go unnoticed by the authorities. When you break any rules or laws, the trouble meter goes up, and prefects and/or police officers will chase you down. somewhat similar to your wanted level in Grand Theft Auto. You can escape them sometimes, other times not. If you are caught, your mission will be failed, and you will be sent to class or detention depending on the time of day. As a result, all authority figures need to be avoided, since more often than not you'll be breaking some rule or another, most frequently truancy, as you're probably going to be skipping a lot of class to do your missions.
To aid him, Jimmy carries a number of schoolyard weapons with him, such as sink bombs, slingshots, and marbles, which aid him in his troublemaking. Unfortunately, for the most part, they go unused. There are a few missions that put them to great use, such as mission later in the game called "Stronghold Assault". Most of the time however, you'll find that in combat its best to just rely on your fists, since you can't fight as well in close quarters if you're holding on an item, which is too bad. The controls to switch weapons are also pretty awkward in a fight, resulting in accidentally pulling out your skateboard instead of the eggs. Other weapons, such as baseball bats can be picked up and used, but they're also fairly useless as well since they hamper your more advanced combat techniques, and are knocked out of your hands after a single blow is landed by your opponents. Combat itself is pretty simple, but despite the fact that it really only ever uses a couple buttons, is pretty fun, especially when using unlockable moves such as the headbutt or kick to the groin.
The gameplay and controls have a few other flaws as well. Skateboard controls are pretty awkward for precision, sprinting is a pain since it involves mashing X (as does pedaling quickly on a bicycle), though luckily you can run at a slower speed just by holding the button. The camera, controlled with the right stick is alright, provided you aren't moving, in which case you're going to have trouble moving where you want to go at the same time as moving the camera, since movement input with the left stick goes in the direction as it relates to camera placement. Often times trying to adjust the camera while moving results in Jimmy running in circles. It's not a big deal, you just learn not to touch the camera unless you have to. The largest control flaws are in some of the minigames and classes, where the controls just barely work. The biggest problem overall though is that if you fail a mission you have to go all the way back to wherever the starting point was to start it again. A simple "retry" option would have been nice. It's a real pain to backtrack, in addition to having to do the mission over again. If I wanted to nitpick I could also bring up not really having a purpose for the amount of money you'll amass during the game, the pointless nature of graffiti (since it disappears as soon as you leave an area), or the fact that losing or gaining respect among the cliques is totally scripted, and not really under your control at all. But for the most part these are minor issues, and even the major issues aren't really all that bad.
On the technical side of things, the game is a bit glitchy, something I understand is par for the course in this genre. It crashed on me twice in the same day, meaning I had to play the same part again twice more. I found that it was best just to save every time you went to bed to avoid such a travesty. On a less serious note, one cut scene glitched and had sirens though the whole thing, making the dialog difficult to hear. The biggest technical flaw though is load times. They're not the worst I've seen by any means, but it is frustrating to wait up to a minute from turning to game on to finally playing, as well as waiting between ten and thirty seconds to load every time you go through a door. accept a mission, or watch a cutscene. Even changing Jimmy's outfit takes way longer than it should because the game has to load the clothing item on his character model. It didn't hurt my enjoyment too much, but I would have liked them to be faster.
The game really excels in presentation. While it doesn't boast amazing graphics, they look pretty good for a PS2 game, and get the job done. The music is pretty good, boasting a fairly unique soundtrack made up of very infectious instrumentals. Several tracks that play during fights are the standouts, though no track will likely stay in your head after you finish playing. The story is decent enough, but the characters and writing really come out on top here. I'm now fairly confident I know what people are talking about when they mention the "Rockstar sense of humour". Bully is a very funny game, due to great writing, and awesome characters. Jimmy himself is sort of bland, but the people he meets are much more interesting, like Johnny, the leader of the gang of greasers, who loves and hates his girlfriend, Lola, more than anything. There's a good variety in characters, the students and the various cliques are highly entertaining (the inbred preps are my favourites, they're hilarious), and the teachers at Bullworth Acadamy are funny too, such as the perverted gym teacher Mr. Burton, or the drunkard English teacher Mr. Galloway. The dialog is ever better, from small lines in the middle of battle (a prep yells "I'll beat the poor out of you!") to full scenes during missions ("I'm not English, I'm just insecure, so I talk like this"). Everything in Bully possesses this strange, offbeat sense of humour, and it's simply awesome.
You'll get a lot of time for your money in Bully, there's a lot to do. There are storyline missions, side missions, classes and minigames to play (as well as those awesome bike and go-kart races) and absolutely tons of things to collect. "Grottos and Gremlins" (G&G) cards and rubber bands litter the town and school, though collecting them all is daunting since they aren't marked on your map. There are also all kinds of outfits to get for Jimmy. Of course you can also explore and find things to do, though I personally never was really motivated to do so without purpose.
Overall, it's not a must play title by any means, but it's one definitely worth playing. Bully is imaginative, unique, funny, and totally off the wall crazy at times. It's got a great setting, great characters, and is just in general a real breath of fresh air. The gameplay is fun and varied, if not a little bit simple, and though it's hampered by quite a few flaws, I can't really hold them against the game too much, because it's just so much fun to play. And really, isn't that what games are supposed to be about?
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/20/10, Updated 07/14/11
Game Release: Bully (US, 10/17/06)
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