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SummaryExhilarating high school freedom
The GoodShortly after a fairly unknown Canadian company was brought under the aegis of a publisher who also presided over some famous Scots, they developed a game that was simultaneously strikingly original and related in concept to the partner's flagship series.
From top to bottom, Bully is full of GTA spirit: incredible variety of gameplay; flexible approach to genres; a living, breathing world for you to explore; and on top of all that, a highly original concept, setting, and plenty of humor. And yet, there is not a single drop of blood in this game. Nobody gets killed, yet beautiful chaos rules supreme.
Bully is magnanimously, heart-warmingly varied. The question to ask yourself here is not about what you can do in this game, but rather what you can't do. Possibilities open up to you right away and pile up with head-spinning speed - and the more you play, the more you get. The game is a prime example of developer's generosity - they entertain by letting us satisfy our childish curiosity and innocent greed. Bully stays perpetually exciting because you never know what awaits you around the corner, what idea the developers will come up with for the next mission.
If you have played GTA games, you'll immediately notice the similarities. A large, dynamic, breathing, 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 side 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, skateboards, 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 there is right here, only in a different shape and style.
Races? Of course. Racing bicycles to catch people and 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 graffiti? Yes! In short, the craze of GTA is back.
However, Bully even surpasses its celebrated cousins in gameplay depth. You can attend high school classes in this game and actually have fun - good luck doing the same in real life. There are different kinds of lessons, and each one is conceived as a different minigame. For example, 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 time limits; and so on. Be good at art and girls will think you're more attractive. Learn new moves when attending the gym. Success in chemistry means laying your paws on your own sets of explosives.
I could really talk on and on about the gameplay of Bully, because there is simply so much of it. It never, ever 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, talk to you, react to any action from your side. Just observing this world is fun. And you can talk to anyone now. 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 throw eggs at her. 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...
You'll postpone your missions because even without them there is always something 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 this is just the surface of the game. It doesn't even touch its actual "meat" - the story missions.
Those 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 them. 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 Fortress of Nerds against a jock invasion; the variety is astounding. There is one mission in a carnival fun-house that contains at least five minigames 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.
Bully 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. You'll meet every high school-related cliche and stereotypical character. The dialogues are well-written and delivered with top-notch voice acting. 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, 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 BadThe console controls are not optimal, particularly since many activities involve aiming, zooming and other things that are better done with the mouse than with analog sticks. Bully was later ported to the PC with additional content, so I guess that would be the version to check out if you were, like me, bothered by the controls.
Other than that, the only real problem in Bully is its low difficulty level. Forget about corona-flying or other hair-pulling activities in San Andreas: in this game, every story mission can be completed with only a little bit of effort. The game is often too lenient, leaving wide margins of error where punishing lazy players would be more appropriate.