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Bully (PlayStation 2)

ESRB Rating
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168604)
Written on  :  Jul 12, 2007
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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Simply wonderful

The Good

With their GTA games, Rockstar created a new genre: a mixture of all genres. Well, maybe not all, but many. In their greatest offering, San Andreas, they managed to add role-playing and dating sim to the already tested mixture of action, driving, and adventure with a bit of simulation. And they brought all this to life thanks to their sense of humor, high quality dialogues, and great voice acting. This is why GTA games are justly considered great: not because of the violence and the gore, but because of those superb qualities.

The creation of "Bully" shows that Rockstar wanted to prove the above point to everyone. "Bully" has no blood at all. It is also impossible to kill anyone in this game. But from top to bottom, "Bully" is full of GTA spirit. Incredible variety of gameplay; all genres stuffed into one game; a living, breathing world for you to explore; and on top of all that, a highly original concept, setting, and plenty of humor. Believe it or not, but in some aspects "Bully" even surpasses "San Andreas", the best GTA game.

Probably the most astounding thing about "Bully" is its gameplay. GTA was already heading into a "total genre-merging" direction, and "Bully" is the next logical stop. The question to ask yourself here is not what can you do in this game, but what can't you do. The moment you begin the game, possibilities open up to you, and the more you play, the more you get. It is a prime example of developer's generosity - as if they were afraid to let down the player, they kept throwing more and more entertaining stuff at you. This is an attitude that really makes the player grateful, makes him want to discover more things, to keep playing. "Bully" is extremely addictive, because you never know what awaits you around the corner, you never know what idea the developers will come up with in the next mission.

If you have played GTA games (particularly "San Andreas"), you'll immediately notice the similarities. A large, dynamic, detailed world, with an internal clock, day-night cycle, and things happening everywhere. There are markers to step in if you want to begin a mission; there are obligatory story missions and "money missions"; and so on. Even the actual gameplay is similar in many ways, although you can't do the two basic GTA things in "Bully" - drive cars and kill people. But instead of cars, you have plenty of other fun vehicles - bicycles, mopeds, skateboard, even a lawn-mower; instead of guns, you have not only your own fists and various melee weapons, from baseball bat to sledgehammer, but also slingshot with aiming and zooming capabilities, all kinds of funny throwing weapons (eggs, marbles, fire crackers, etc.), and weird gun-like weapons invented by the nerds. Heck, you will even be able to use a mounted machine-gun look-alike in some missions! So while you won't be able to do exactly the same things as you did in GTA, you'll certainly have a very similar kind of fun, because everything you enjoyed in GTA is right here, only in a different form and style.

Races? Of course. Racing bicycles to catch people and to perform a"drive-by" (hit a guy with your fists while still riding a bicycle)? Check. A rail shooter, when somebody else drives, and you aim at opponents with your slingshot? Oh yeah, that was fun! All possible variants of beating people up? Right on. Stealing bikes, destroying property, pushing people on the street, kicking teachers and policemen in the groin, spraying grafitti? Yes! In short, all this crazy feeling of GTA is back. You can simply run around and cause havoc in your school and in the nearby towns.

But you'd be wrong to think that "Bully" has nothing but this mindless fun. Oh no. In many ways, this game is more mature than any GTA. Because even though you can be a bad boy, there is also plenty of other stuff to do in the game, most of which was not present in GTA.

First of all, you can attend classes. There are different kinds of lessons - English, chemistry, art, photography, and so on. Each lesson is conceived as a mini-game. For example, chemistry lesson is a lot like that lowrider challenge in "San Andreas" - you press the correct buttons as they pass through a square; English lesson is a real "unscramble" game - compose words from given letters. Gym lesson introduces dodgeball, a very funny ball game; photography has you take pictures within a time limits; and so on. These lessons are the RPG element of the game. Be good at art and girls will think you're more attractive. Learn new moves when attending the gym. Success in chemistry means your own sets of explosives and other stuff.

I could really talk on and on about the gameplay of "Bully", because damn it, there is so much stuff to do. It never, never gets boring. The world might be smaller than in GTA games, but it is more detailed, and feels more alive. The attention to detail is incredible; people go on with their lives, talk to each other, do stuff, talk to you, react to any action from your side. Just observing this world is fun. Perhaps the most important addition is the ability to talk to anyone. That's right, any random person on the street can be interacted with! Important, story-related characters also appear within the game world, and you can also interact with them. This brings the game onto the next level of realism. You can just stop any girl on the street and try to make her like you; you can give her chocolates or flowers, you can talk nicely to her; or, you could be mean and tell her something bad. There are various ways of humiliating opponents, or anyone you encounter; as you become better in English lessons, you'll be able to insult people in more creative ways...

I really can't stress it enough: "Bully" has probably the most detailed, versatile gameplay around, and it is set in a world that simply feels alive. There is not one boring moment in the game, not even one boring place. Even if you aren't doing the missions, there is always something else to do. Just running around the world, jumping and climbing, beating up bullies, flirting with girls, kicking soccer balls, spraying graffiti on walls, stealing bikes, shopping... There are random people everywhere who will give you missions that are not related to the story and are completely optional. You can participate in races, go home and play arcade games, buy drinks, pick lockers and steal things, throw marbles on the street, get jobs... And all that is just the surface of the game. It doesn't even touch its actual "meat" - the story missions.

Those story missions are wonderfully creative and range from simple beating-up tasks to majestic quests with boss battles. It is unbelievable how much variety there is in those missions. From helping an ugly cook to have a successful date with a respectable teacher to infiltrating girls' dormitory and stealing panties for a local pervert; from playing pranks on Halloween to defending the nerds fortress against a jock invasion; the variety is astounding. There is one mission in a carnival fun-house that contains at least five mini-games in a weird "horror" style, including a pseudo-2D platform sequence. Another mission, the nerd challenge, has you play an arcade game called "Consumo", in which you navigate a sumo fighter on a top-down screen, eating randomly passing good food and avoiding rotten one. This game was so fun that I played it just like that, forgetting the outside world of the main game! This is what "Bully" is capable of - a kind of a "double immersion". Not only is the game world itself enough to draw you in, the smaller tasks in it make you forget the big one!

But "Bully" doesn't shine only in gameplay department. It wouldn't be the same game without its malicious, yet charming humor. It perfectly captures the spirit of a high school in a humorous way. Basically, all things high school are displayed in a grotesque, over-the-top manner, and everything is mercilessly laughed at. The characters are presented in an amusing way, clearly intended as a parody. You'll meet every high school-related cliché and stereotypical character. The dialogues are brilliantly written and are delivered with top-notch voice acting, as you would expect from "Rockstar". Gary absolutely steals the show; his voice acting is among the very best I've ever heard in a video game. Some of the dialogues are so funny that I literally laughed out loud listening to them. Any time there is a dialogue in the game, I listened and read very carefully, trying not to miss a single word. GTA games had sparkles of humor, but in "Bully", it reaches a whole new level. This is a comedy game in the best sense of the word.

The school is a playground for mayhem and destruction, but at the same time has a strict hierarchy with sharply defined "gangs": nerds, jocks, preps, bullies, greasers, and townies. Each gang has its own ideology, own set of rules, commanders and a base. The story of "Bully" is that of a boy who has to "conquer" the school, rising from a mere nobody to a mighty ruler. While the story line itself is not really important in the game and serves mostly to tie all those hilarious situations together, the character cast is surprisingly strong. Jimmy Hopkins is easily one of the most appealing protagonists around. He is a clever and well-meaning boy who was neglected by his mother, and who has learned the sad truth: you cannot rely on anyone but yourself. He is cynical and disappointed by life, but he keeps the spirit up, he is always calm, brave, and reasonable. Of course, he sometimes prefers solving matters with his fists, but can you really blame him for that in such a place as Bullworth Academy? In short, Jimmy is really a protagonist you can care for, something that cannot be said about the protagonists of GTA games.

The supporting cast features all the great high-school clichés you could think of; each gang leader has a distinct personality which is a caricature of the attitude he represents. Those characters are funny, and their lines are always impeccably written. You'll be laughing at the ever-jealous greasers leader Johnny with his slutty girlfriend, at the super-nerd Earnest who has built a whole castle to read porn magazines in, and at pretty much everyone you encounter.

And the story line, although quite simple, has a few nice twists that make it less predictable than you would expect. The story reaches an appropriate climax in the end, and leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction and a desire to play more. Which, by the way, is possible to do: after the final credits, a new chapter opens, during which you are free to do what you like, and can complete all the missions you didn't do the first time around. You can finish the game at 60% completion only - which means almost a half of it is still waiting for you!

The Bad

I don't think I have anything bad to say about this gem of a game. Sure, there is no larger-than-life epic story, but the game is not about that; the story builds itself upon dialogues and characters, not dramatic events, evil plots, or saving the world. And this story is still more coherently told than in San Andreas.

I guess the only thing I could complain about is the fact "Bully" was not released for PC. While it looks every bit as good as anything else on the Playstation 2, the console shows its age. Contemporary PC games simply look much better, and it's a pity we won't be seeing "Bully" with more detailed graphics that made the PC version of "San Andreas" so much more appealing than the PS2 version. And just like in GTA games, the kind of gameplay "Bully" has would be better suited for a keyboard-mouse combo than for a gamepad. There are plenty of sniping sequences, and I would really like to be able to aim with a mouse.

The Bottom Line

+ Outstanding variety of gameplay
+ Incredibly detailed world
+ No dull moment, no dull place
+ Great humor
+ Excellent dialogues with top-notch voice acting
+ Captures perfectly the spirit of a high school
- Why wasn't it released for PC?

Rockstar proved to everyone that the reason why their GTA games became so popular was not their gangster theme or the violence; it was their incredibly versatile gameplay and their humor. "Bully" has the same ingredients as GTA, and delivers a similarly overwhelming free-form experience without a single dead body or drop of blood. But its world is even more lively and detailed, its interaction more deep, and its gameplay more varied than in any GTA game. "Bully" is action, adventure, driving, simulation, and RPG; it is sweet and naughty, warm and merciless; and it is, quite simply, a masterpiece.