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Bully Review

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: October 17, 2006 Also On: None

I have always said that Take-Two will not be the successful company that they have the potential of being until they find something other than Grand Theft Auto that can sell in stores. It seems that each year a new Grand Theft Auto is responsible for whatever profits the company gets. When San Andreas took a dive in retail after the Hot Coffee controversy, their financial outlook took a dive with it. Enter Bully, the alternative from Rockstar Games that we’ve all been waiting for.

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For all of the fuss that the game created before its release, including a protest at Rockstar headquarters by a radical self-publicizing lawyer from Florida, it interestingly enough isn’t anywhere near as outrageous as most people were led to believe. You won’t be recreating events of Columbine by killing fellow students and teachers or anything like that. Instead, you will stick up for yourself and your friends as a troubled teenager, pull off pranks and attend classes.

As is Rockstar tradition, Bully has a pretty decent (and funny) story behind it. Nothing’s funny though about the main character, a troublemaker named Jimmy Hopkins. He gets sent to Bullworth Academy after his parents decide that they no longer want him in their hair. Your first task is to meet the principal, but you run into a school bully along the way who you will need to deal with. Early on in the game you learn to fight and defend yourself. Once you meet the principal, it’s time to suit up in your uniform and head to class.

It’s interesting to me that Rockstar would even add the classroom to the game experience. They’ve come a long way from sleeping with and killing hookers to word scrambling. You will have a number of different classes, each of which is its own mini-game. English class has you finding the most word combinations possible with a given set of letters. Gym class has you wrestle a fellow student and learn new moves. Chemistry you press the corresponding button as it scrolls across the screen and earn stink bombs, among other things. Bully actually promotes attending class by penalizing you for being tardy or just skipping altogether.

Bully is setup to where you have a set amount of time in each day to do what needs done. Essentially, the early part of the day is all dedicated to studies, but the evening gives you an opportunity for something else. Aside from attending classes, you also have missions to complete. Some of them are optional, others are mandatory missions to advance the story. Doing side missions, such as escorting a geek to his locker, can earn you cash or other types of rewards. They also will earn you respect (or lose you respect) depending on which clique you’re aiding. This adds a level of realism that many other games don’t have.

The missions themselves are pretty standard fare that you find in a lot of different games. Retrieve items, escort and defend certain players, etc. What you don’t find a lot in games are the different types of pranks that you will pull in Bully. In one early mission, you shoot at the football team with your slingshot. On Halloween, you set out to set pranks on different groups throughout the school. In yet another mission you will wander around the belly of the academy until you reach an area where you wind up in a cage fight with a fellow student.

Some of the more entertaining parts of the game come not from hitting the books (or fellow students), but from the optional activities throughout the campus. There’s really a whole lot you can do. Talk to any character in the game, and if you’re lucky, you may find yourself a girlfriend (or a boyfriend, as seen in this controversial video) by giving the right person flowers. You can pick the lockers of your classmates and hide in them from the prefects that loom around the halls of Bullworth looking out for bad behavior.

The game controls a lot like Grand Theft Auto, and it even has some of the same displays, such as the map. The left analog stick controls Jimmy’s movement, while the right analog stick controls the camera angle. You can sprint by holding X or run even faster by tapping X rapidly. Circle allows Jimmy to jump, while square is a melee attack and triangle will interact with things on-screen. Jimmy can lock onto people with L1, fire with R1 and switch between your inventory with L2/R2. A combination system allows for deeper combat techniques.

Bullworth is a tough school, but Jimmy is a tough kid. Bully is the story of a troubled young person that tries to survive life in some rough conditions. His parents dumped him off at a school foreign to him, with malevolent students and faculty. As Jimmy struggles to become accepted, he keeps fighting on. This isn’t the violent school shooting simulator that we were all expecting. I actually wonder if Take-Two intentionally released a milder game with an edgy topic to see the media’s reaction to their punt fake. Bully is likely Rockstar’s final major release on PlayStation 2, and as such, a worthy conclusion to the generation.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.9
Written by Kyle Review Guide