Written by  :  So Hai (371)
Written on  :  May 08, 2008
Platform  :  Wii
Rating  :  3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars

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Some Things In Life Can't Be Learnt...

The Good

A semi-negligent mother is your first of many enemies in this game. She, along with her new boyfriend or step-dad seem to take pleasure in dumping you at the notorious “Bullworth Academy” for what will be a long time indeed.. This scene is played out over the credits of the game, (it’s reminiscent of a tele-movie), and your character “Jimmy” doesn’t hesitate to express his feelings about this from the back seat of the sedan. The feeling is similar to that of being taken to prison – (not being a private school student, I can only imagine the feelings of betrayal and disappointment this guy must feel!)

You play as Jimmy, a fairly troubled guy who has had a patchy academic record at best. He’s often referring to his list of suspensions and expulsions to other students, and from his appearance you find these stories fairly convincing. His skin-head, burly figure and defensive body language are all there for anyone to read. Does a sensitive and intelligent character lurk under this exterior? To some degree, Rockstar let the player decide that. At first, you find Jimmy’s character quite impenetrable.

In a complete reference to their own back catalogue, Rockstar developed (to the best of the technology’s ability) a living, breathing and dynamic urban landscape, the hub of which is initially the Academy itself. We see that the school is fairly dilapidated, and lacks the prestige and traditionalism that many other institutions may have. It’s probably where the regions lower-middle class send their kids! We see sprinklings of graffiti, general carelessness and pretty confronting and impulsive behaviour by many of the students. The brilliantly programmed campus sees kids beating up others, fire-crackers going off and eggs being pelted all of the non-playable characters’ own accord. This gives the game the crucial feeling that the town is alive and that this is really happening now.

The game-play itself asks players to keep Jimmy alive (and even excel academically!) in this disordered environment. So how do you do that? Well, there are heaps of activities to take care of. Firstly, each day you can attend two classes (remember them?), and you are required to fulfil certain requirement or meet a standard. Sounds boring and too much like real school right? Well it’s not. Biology asks players to dissect frogs, rats and other freshly killed vermin with precise and speedy motion controls, geography is a flag-dropping exercise performed over a given part of the world (tricky), and gym makes use of the infamous game of dodge-ball, among others. These are no means the majority of the game, but they allow you to take a break from your missions, as well as unlock useful (and not-so-useful) items for your schoolboy.

The missions that you’re faced with are wide and varied. Some are trivial, some are funny, and some are plain criminal. But they’re mostly fun. Using the motion controls to punch, kick and combo works well, and the fighting that you have to do is never really a chore. Even if it were, the range of alternatives available means that you never have to throw a punch if you don’t feel like it. Try a stink-bomb, fire-cracker, slingshot, bottle-rocket or even a soccer-ball if you want. Luckily, the auto-targeting makes these things quick and easy to use, and I find that this is a good way to weaken your fellow pupil, prefect or civilian before getting close.

The cast and crew of Bullworth and the surrounding area are pretty well done too. The voice-acting (although hardly convincing) is well done and suitable. The characterisations are pretty well done, and some of the characters do draw the right emotion from you. Gary particularly gets my goat, while the shy and unconfident Pete does drum up some sympathy. Let’s just say that stuffing him into a garbage can was less fun.

The Bad

Control-wise, this game is a little shaky. Some times your targeting (initiated by the silly “C” button) skips a beat and you’re looking at the wrong dude. Other times the camera is put-off by your erratic but necessary movements, and sometimes (especially with the sling-shot) the IR detection plain fails. There is one mission in particular where you’re sitting in a tree trying to snipe students. Crucial seconds pass by while you’re waiting for the software to “detect” that you’re actually pointing at the right place. Meanwhile, these schoolboy thugs have already dished out some ultra-violence on the lunch-lady (not that she didn’t deserve just a little). There is also some amount of frame-skipping happening, but this is somewhat inevitable when playing in an open-area world such as this - or is it?

As you’re a teenager, car-jacking, firearms and most adult activity is not featured in this game. However, the petty pranks and juvenile vandalisms, as well as the displays of disrespect make up for this. Egging people while on your BMX, or ollieing over an SUV or even baseball batting a port-a-loo seems stupid to do, but it turns out that this stuff is pretty fun. It brings out the delinquent tendencies in all of us. Sigh.

Bully isn’t perfect. I find some of the missions fragmented and unfulfilling, and some of the environments decidedly non-interactive. Also, I don’t find Jimmy Hopkins a particularly likeable character. He’s not too intelligent, and is completely humourless. I can’t get into characters that take themselves so seriously, such as Master Chief or Gordon Freeman. Musically the game varies too. Sometimes the tempo and textures reflect the urgency suitably, but other times, the vibraphone-soaked quasi-spy theme that circles endlessly hurt the experience. And don’t get me started on music class.

The Bottom Line

This game has its merits in the originality of concept. The schoolyard is the biggest battlefield of our lives (well, for those of us that stay out of prison), and Bully draws on this environment well. The “Lord of the Flies” parallels make for some good game-play and opportunity for struggle, conflict and survival of the Bulliest.