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PS2 Review: Bully

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It’s a tale of revenge and terror. The story of two kids who were kicked and beaten down by society until one morning they woke up, went bowling and decided to take a few extra toys to class… WHOOPS, my mistake, that’s Columbine. Hmm I wonder how I could possibly have mistaken Bully for Columbine? I mean, the two are nothing alike.

Bully is the tale of Jimmy Hopkins, your average latchkey kid with a troubled past. Having been expelled from every school he’s ever attended, Bullworth Academy is Jimmy’s last hope. To make matters worse, his rather unconcerned parents have just left for their fifth, year-long, honeymoon – leaving troubled Jimmy as a burden on the school and not on their own decadent lives.

Like The Warriors and GTA before it, Bully continues the Rockstar tradition of incredibly rich sandbox game play. Bullworth Academy is an enormous campus, complete with its own gym, dorm rooms, auto shop, cafeteria and more, but it pales in comparison to the size of the Town of Bullworth.

With countless shops and districts to explore and 100 NPCs, Bullworth is easily one of the most detailed environments Rockstar has ever produced. There’s even a full-blown carnival, complete with games, prizes, as well as a rollercoaster.

Shortly after Jimmy is abandoned at Bullworth he runs into a crafty kid named Gary who has ambitions of global (or at least scholastic) domination. At first, Gary may seem like your friend, but soon you’ll learn just how quickly he will sell you up.

From here on out Gary serves as one of your key enemies, often inciting others characters against you by telling them you said things about their parents and barnyard animals.

Just like real high schools all across the land, the students have divided themselves into different cliques. Just like the rival gangs in The Warriors, every group has their own unique traits and territory.

The Geeks wear green and glasses and hang out in the geekiest of hangouts, the Library. Greaser’s on the other hand prefer something a little more retro and hang out in the auto shop working on cars, wearing leather and combing their hair. Preps hang out in their own private Gym and wear expensive vests with a strong preference for blue.

Finally we have the Jocks, the oldest stereotype in scholastic history. Jocks like to hang out at the school Gym and often don’t have much in the brain department. One jock can’t even pronounce the word ‘President’.

Outside of the cliques we have the Bullies. The Bullies don’t seem to have any particular territory, but do tend to dress in a simple white Bullworth Academy shirt, and will attack you anywhere they can.

In order to succeed at Bullworth you’ll need to learn how to navigate these groups and use them to your advantage. As in GTA, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your respect levels, otherwise you’ll find yourself getting attacked by the group you need to help and kissed by the group you need to beat.

Once Jimmy figures out how life works at Bullworth, it’s time for him to start making a name for himself. While Jimmy is free to be as cruel or as nice as he pleases, he does seem to have a code of honour. Petey, one of the weaker kids, is often defended by Jimmy against Bullies, including the very wicked Gary and at one point Jimmy even convinces Russell, the biggest of the bullies, to stop beating up the innocent kids and start beating the punks who really deserve it.

Jimmy’s moral code itself is actually quite deep, at least for a videogame character. He has no problem with violence, or torturous acts, just so long as it’s being done against the right people. In a way he is a scholastic vigilante, standing up for the little guy, however Jimmy is not without his dark side and often won’t do anything courteous without being bribed.

When the time for combat does arrive, Jimmy is nothing if not prepared. In addition to his basic punch and grab combinations, he can also learn some more advanced skills from Gym class, or from the drunken Korean vet who lives behind the school.

Combat is smooth and very reminiscent of The Warriors, however your weapon selection is much more tame. Instead of knives and guns you’ll be using stink bombs, firecrackers and baseball bats. There’s no blood whatsoever in the game, and while that does make it seem less realistic, given the setting and the current political climate in the U.S., it’s completely necessary.

Outside of fighting, there are lots of other activities for Jimmy to partake in. Like any normal teenage boy, Jimmy will spend a lot of time chasing down girls. Usually a few flowers and some chocolates are enough to win a girls heart, but others will require you take them out on a date and win prizes.

Given that Bully takes place at a school, Jimmy should probably spend some time attending class. Hell, he just might learn a thing or two.

Each class comes in the form of its own unique mini-game, each fitting the respective class. For gym, you’ll be wrestling or dodging balls; for English, unscrambling words and for Art you’ll be making a picture. Completing a class grants you useful new abilities such as new fighting moves or the ability to make your own firecrackers and stink bombs.

While Bully may not be the sexiest game to set foot on the PS2, it is one of the better-looking Rockstar titles. Characters are rich caricatures of their respective stereotypes. On Halloween, Gary even dresses up as a Nazi officer (sans the arm band), which is the prefect fit because his character, much like the Nazi’s, tries to use charisma and power to dominate others.

Despite all that Bully has going for it, there are a few small faults that need to be pointed out, the biggest being the massive amount of backtracking you’re gonna be doing. Many missions require you run from one end of the map to the other and back again, and when you fail to complete the mission again and again and again, it gets taxing.

There are also several glitches in some missions where events won’t trigger properly and you’ll be forced to restart it.

Bully is a great example of how a good game is made. The story and characters are incredibly rich and the humour is pure gold. Despite advanced warnings from Jack “Bully is a Columbine Simulator” Thompson, the game does not feature any killing of any kind, or any level of disturbing violence. It’s good fun for teens and adults and definitely worth a look.

Bully is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Crude Humor, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco and Violence.

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About Jason Westhaver

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Congrats! Your article was picked for this week’s Editors’ Picks!

  • noname

    This review, and many others, miss the essential point of the majority of the critics. It’s not about the rather bland violence in this game. Most people who are against this game realize it is not a Columbine simulator. Instead, it is the fact that the marketing suggests the idea that it is appropriate fodder for fun and entertainment to abuse your peers. The fact that so many critics have been bullied and belittled for speaking out only further justifies those concerns.

  • http://www.njiska.com Jason “Njiska” Westhaver

    Ok so as the authour of this review i’d liked to make a few points.

    First and foremost THIS IS A REVIEW. It’s meant to rate the game on it’s merits not give a divine social commentary on the whole Bully controvery. So critizing my review for not properly addressing the critizism of marketing is kind of a moot point don’t you think? My few references to the critics are largely meant as satirical entertainment. A way of making my review a fun read for the bulk of gamer kind.

    Now as for the issue of Bully being marketed as entertainment based on abusing your peers. So what? Are you saying that it’s the marketing that’s doing harm and not the end product? I’m afriad i just don’t follow your line of logic, although i’d love to hear a clarification.

    As for the number one complaint of the critics, the ones who claim this game will incite further violence, How the hell can you think so lowly of your children? Have you no faith that they’re smart enough to know bullying is wrong? And if not isn’t it your job as a parent to educate them on that issue?

  • http://www.hurlinginvective.com Timothy Greathouse

    I’m with ya, Jason. Bully won’t inspire violence among children any more than KMFDM inspired Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to open fire at Columbine. Lack of parental presence, guidance and love are the reasons why kids go astray, period. There are a million kids who play Doom and don’t shoot other kids. There are a few that do, but to link violnet video games and violence together is an association fallacy.

    IMHO, of course, which, admittedly, is anything but H.

  • http://www.njiska.com Jason “Njiska” Westhaver

    Actually Tim there is an easily shown link between real violence and violence in video games, but what that link is, is often ignored by both sides.

    There is no doubt in my mind and little doubt in studies that violent people play video games. It’s a correlation, that means the two are related. The thing is that violent people play video games becasue violent people like violent things. Video games don’t cause them to be violent, they were already that way. Video games just happened to be something that they enjoyed.

    In other words there is a shown and proven correlation, but there is no proven causation.

  • http://www.hurlinginvective.com Timothy Greathouse

    You’re probably right. I barely passed my logic class in college. My point is that a child who plays violent video games and has loving, involved parents to watch over them and guide their moral compass is pretty damn unlikely to pull a Columbine, or anything like it.

  • http://www.njiska.com Jason “Njiska” Westhaver

    And on that we can agree.

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    On Halloween, Gary even dresses up as a Nazi officer (sans the arm band), which is the prefect fit because his character, much like the Nazi’s, tries to use charisma and power to dominate others.

    Did you mean ‘prefect fit’ there, as in ‘Gary’s a Nazi prefect’ or was that a typo?

    I’ve just started playing the game and it’s neat, but a bit tiresome to be always running from point to point, don’t they have bicycles in this school?

  • http://njiska.com Jason “Njiska” Westhaver

    What i’m trying to say is that dressing up as a Nazi on Halloween fits with Gary’s character because Gary is a character who uses power and charisma to dominate the minds of others just like the Nazi party.

    The Nazi’s gained power in Germany because they had charismatic leader’s like Adolf Hitler Joseph Gobbels that presented arguments with a tone and mannerism that bred confidence in the people and rallied them together.

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