High school can be a rough time for some kids. Some are victims of needless bullying, while others are bullies with severe psychological and emotional issues that drove us to torment our peers; of course, there were the gamers who simply ignored everything and were glued to their consoles and PCs. Ironically, it’s the gamers that will enjoy Bully the most, while the real bullies and their victims sit through counseling. Rockstar Games has once again managed to craft a great game, this time satirizing one of the most influential periods of our lives. Even if we don’t really want to go back to our high school days, Bully makes it fun.
Bully can easily be interpreted as Grand Theft Auto set during the golden days of high school; in short, the game features similar free roaming gameplay peppered with short, objective-based missions. You take the role of Jimmy Hopkins, a rather troublesome fifteen year-old dumped at Bullworth Academy by his newlywed mother. Caught up in the wealth of her new husband who has decided to take her on a year-long honeymoon, Jimmy’s mother would rather keep Jimmy at a boarding school than help deal with his problems. Jimmy arrives at Bullworth Academy naive of the school’s raucous cast of characters, instead focused on his disappointment in being left by his mother. From day one, however, he starts learning that Bullworth Academy is full of bullies, jerks, and an assortment of freaks that all must be contended with if he plans on surviving.
Gameplay involves a combination of missions and general exploration of Bullworth Academy. The game is organized into chapters with specific missions that progress the story, as well as side missions that unlock bonus items and abilities. Completing a chapter generally opens news areas for exploration including the nearby towns of Bullworth Vale and New Coventry. Of course, opening new areas unlocks additional missions and places to search for special items. There are tons of objects to find, including blue rubber bands, cards from a fantasy table top game, and other sundry items that boost your arsenal of gadgets; but, the heart of gameplay rests in the cool missions the game throws at you.
Bully does a fantastic job of mixing things up with unique missions that vary from simple item fetching for a teacher to pulling pranks to getting even with a bunch of bullies. You never know what to expect from a mission; even better, many of the missions are without the violence that critics have lambasted Grand Theft Auto for. There’s a bit of naughty satisfaction when you successfully complete missions that require you to raid the girls’ dormitory or spike the football team’s energy punch by peeing in the cooler. The best missions are naturally not required, whereas those integral to the story tend to stick to the basic objective of beating up bullies.
Complementing Jimmy’s hijinks at Bullworth Academy are his studies. Bully runs on a daily schedule beginning at 8:00a when Jimmy wakes up. At 9:30a morning classes start; if you’re late, you’ll be tagged as a truant and can be sent to class if caught by a proctor. Afternoon classes commence at 1:30p and by 3:30p, you’re free to spend the rest of the day as you please. There are several different classes including art, shop, English, and chemistry each providing a unique mini-game that when completed offer a small bonus. For example, completing chemistry coursework unlocks new items like stink bombs and itching powder; English classes allow you to become more suave with words, which can make kissing girls easier. Contrary to reality, you’ll actually look forward to attending class because the mini-games are fun and challenging.
Like the Grand Theft Auto games, Bully succeeds not because of a compelling main storyline, but because of the sheer amount of things to do. Jimmy’s story is interesting, but its only part of what makes the game great. There’s so much to do and since all of it is entertaining, you constantly feel indecisive about what to do next. Classes, carnival rides, hidden rubber bands, secret challenges, go kart races – almost anything you can think of that a fifteen year-old boy would want to do is packed into the game. You can even make out with girls should you desire (or select boys). All of this content, combined with a stellar visual presentation, ensures that you’ll be playing for hours.
- Overall: 9 (Editor’s Choice)
- Take a nostalgic journey back to high school and beat the crap out of the bullies that used to torment you – reason enough to pick up Bully. Of course, the inventive missions, tons of mini-games, and solid graphics are good reasons too.
— Tracy Erickson