Bully (PS2 – 2006) (PS4 – 2016)
PS4 / Rated T
Action / Adventure
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
I never remember high school being this intense. In Rockstar’s PS2 classic Bully, which is now available on PS4, you take on the role of the new kid. You start off pretty low on the high school hierarchy, but you eventually work your way up to bigger and better things. Along the way you accomplish some weird, random, and insane things, stuff I never remember doing in high school…probably for good reason. (Probably) When you think of Rockstar, Bully might not be a game that comes to mind, but it’s a game that’s worth a good amount of praise.
As I mentioned before, Jimmy Hopkins is Bullworth Academy’s newest student. After being expelled from numerous schools beforehand, which he is very proud of, Bullworth Academy is his final landing place, a place that will supposedly whip him into shape. The school might be tough, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing stopping Jimmy from his habits. After meeting some kids and making new friendships, Jimmy becomes determined to make his way up the high school totem pole, not stopping until you literally rule the school. All of your classic high school cliques, including the nerds, jocks, greasers, and preps, are present and you have to make some alliances along the way if you want to rule them all.
Although your primary goal is clear from the get-go, the journey to achieve this goal is fun and often times ridiculous. The game’s story and it’s writing is top notch and provided for numerous laughs, way more than I initially thought. The dialogue is clever and the situations that Jimmy gets himself into are completely insane, especially as you get into the later chapters. The story starts off pretty grounded, but then starts to go places as the game goes on, especially when the rest of the world, or in this case “the town,” opens up to the player. The characters that Jimmy comes into contact with, including the game’s antagonist Gary Smith, are all pretty enjoyable as well. Gary Smith is a pretty big dick, so his characterization was pretty well done.
The thing I appreciate the most about Bully is the fact that it’s basically Grand Theft Auto, but instead of guns you have slingshots and stink bombs and instead of thugs and the police you have bullies and the school’s authority figures, who are absolutely ruthless by the way. Technically there are also police in the game, which is kind of ridiculous in its own hilarious way. Just like any other normal school, you should expect to be disciplined for violence against other students, or any other mischief for that matter, unless you can find a way to get away with it. Bullworth Academy cracks down pretty hard on just about anything you do, but that shouldn’t worry players since getting away with your dirty deeds is pretty easy to do. Just prepare to do a lot of running. Running away from the school’s authority or the police is a majority of what you’ll be doing. Life’s tough as a bully.
Bully’s mission structure favors short bite-sized missions over long and drawn-out affairs, which actually works to the game’s benefit. A good portion of the missions involve you doing some pretty stupid things that often work best in shorter experiences. You’ll partake in a majority of the missions on the academy’s grounds, but the story will also take you outside of the academy’s walls into the town of Bullworth, which is surprisingly big for what I expected. There’s also a good amount of side missions, although most of them are relegated to fetch quests or beat-em-up missions. Some of the missions might not be super imaginative, but I never found myself getting bored. In addition to the missions, you can also partake in go-kart and other BMX-style races, carnival games, newspaper delivery, and combat training…because you know, that’s what high schoolers are into I guess. There’s also a relationship component to the game that can lead to some hair-pulling fights depending on the girls you kiss. Let’s just say there’s no shortage of trouble that you can get yourself into.
Gameplay is where Bully starts to feel a little dated. Combat handles pretty well and usually only involves punching or slingshot attacks from a distance. Other weapons in the game, like firecrackers or potato guns, offer some variety in combat as well. There’s also items like marbles and stink bombs that can give you the upper hand in fights as well. The first part of the game is pretty tough since everybody hates you and wants to pick a fight, however, once you start to make more alliances and upgrade your arsenal, fights become a lot less frequent and when they do happen, they are much easier to handle. You’re also able to ride bicycles and go karts, but these can get a little squirrely at times, especially the bicycle which I found myself wiping out on a lot if I wasn’t careful. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game were some of the classes, which are basically glorified mini games that you have to attend until you complete them. (You can skip class, but that basically makes you a refugee in hiding until the class times are over.) There are five classes in all, and most of them are either boring and unimaginative or frustratingly difficult. I never remember Art class being that difficult. Also, if Chemistry was as easy as just pressing buttons, then I’d probably be a scientist at NASA by now. The classes are essential in that they grant you access to upgrades upon completion, but they are not fun whatsoever…which is maybe the most realistic thing about this game.
Never did I think a teenager’s rise up the high school totem pool would be so fun. Bully provides a unique experience; unlike most traditional games we are used to. Some of the game’s mechanics might not date well, but the overall experience still stands as one of Rockstar’s best. This game makes me crave another dive into Bully’s world via a sequel, although that still remains a pipe dream at this point. Now, this is the part where I would say I wish my high school experience was akin to this game, but then I realize how terrible that would be. Bullworth is not a normal or sane school by any means, but boy was it fun.
Also available on PC and PS3.