#691 Bully

Posted: 8th September 2012 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

177th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PS2
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Bully, our next game, is an open world-ish action adventure set in a boarding school… Bullsworth Academy. You’re a kid who’s just been sent there, abandoned by his parents. In the mean time, you have to survive against the cliques that have already formed and end up on top, all the time while avoiding detention.

It’s one of Rockstar’s open world games, this time focused on you as a school kid and (potential) bully. If you can’t find the game, it’s also been released as Canis Canem Edit. It was also fairly controversial at the time as it featured… well… bullying. Oh, and boys kissing boys. Yeah. (Pervert)

Our Thoughts

The main disadvantage of a game like this set in a school is that it’s set in a school. This may be an odd criticism to start off with, but it’s the part that struck me most of all. An open world game in this environment is well enough, but having it be restricted by having to take classes feels like it takes away a large part of the openness.

I know this is in part a reaction to my dislike of time-based missions, as discussed in, for example, Ocarina of Time, but while the circumstances aren’t as dire (“Do this or die”), it feels more intrusive at the same time. Quite simple – in a boarding school you’re supposed to get up at 7:30, be in class 9-12 and then 1:30 to 4:30, ending with being in bed after 8PM. This means that you’ve got limited time for missions – yeah, you can skip class, but that just means being even more careful in avoiding the prefects, not always easy, and the end time still stands.

This is rectified later in the game when the world is opened up more and you have access to the nearby town and some areas of countryside. Before this ‘opening of the gates’ things can feel a tad repetitive but with access to a vehicle(ish) and a town without the prefects forcing you to go to art class things feel far more freeing which is what Rockstar is really good at.

Now, that might leave time for a mission (or two if you’re lucky), but it isn’t as easy. Part of this is the need to avoid prefects, but another part is that you start making enemies very early on. Not by choice – just that the early missions you take get you on the wrong side of one major clique, who’ll proceed to beat you up the moment they see you. Don’t expect the prefects to stop them, do expect the prefects to grab you the moment you punch back. As this can even happen during mission, life doesn’t get easier for you early on, and that makes the early game actually quite difficult.

Now those are the early game annoyances that I experienced until we went for the write up, some of which apparently get better later in the game (I believe I already said that). Plenty of it works well too.

First, the setting. Despite some of the issues it causes, a lot of it is set up well. There’s a large amount of interesting characters (some more disturbing than others) and a lot of work has clearly gone into the characterization and planning of this system and the behaviour of some. It’s funny and fairly immersive. The school cliques (nerds, bullies, greasers, jocks and preppies) each have their own character sets, incidental music and motiviations (for some reason the preppies have a rivalry with the greasers… no idea why).

Second, gameplay. While the controls take a moment of getting used to (they’re just different enough from other games that it gets annoying every once in a while), they are mostly quite responsive and quick. It takes a while to learn the different options (you can make peace with or taunt people if you want, which requires you to target them first – yes, as you’d do in combat).

The result of this leads into quite a few things you can match to open world experiences – you have main missions, side quests (some of which are randomly generated) and a number of other distracting activities. There are also plenty of collectibles – partially for the 100%, partially to gain a few advantages such as a rubber band ball weapon.

Most of these have a school flavour. The classes are one of these sidequest type things, having five per subject with each level giving an advantage – gym class gives you more fighting moves, chemistry more weapons to make, and so on – while the collection is more juvenile than most. Aside from the rubber bands, this consists as much of smashing gnomes and pumpkins rather than graffiti or such delinquency.

While the game moves on a bit further, that’s really the theme of the game – be the bully or beat the bully. Despite the name, the former isn’t required entirely – you can do some of it, but mostly you’re just the mischevious school boy who skips class, throws in windows and breaks into lockers. We’ve all done it… or been on the wrong end of having it done to us. Well, not the lockers bit. I somehow never had a locker in school. Just… never happened. But that doesn’t matter now.

It makes for an interesting game that has its annoyances for me, but creates an awesome game in the end – one that makes you wonder about how far you should go.

In terms of how far you should go Bully came under fire from many parenting groups due to it’s depiction of homosexuality and bisexuality. When you (Jimmy) become popular enough you are able to approach girls from each clique and kiss them. You are also able to do this with one boy from each clique. You character, in this way, appears to be more bicurious since there is the trope love interest that runs through a lot of the game. There are, however, exclusively gay characters who are in the closet. This mix of open-word free-choice and the LGBT world really got up the nose of a lot of people even though it is a world away from the full-blown romances present in recent Bioware titles.

Due to this fact (and the whole, you know, beating up school kids) has made Bully one of the more controversial games on this list even though there is still a lot of free choice involved… which I guess is what people had a problem with in the first place. No parent wants to see their child willingly beating up school kids on their PS2… it would really show up their parenting skills.

Final Thoughts

This game will always some of the fondest memories for me. It was the week after the Academy Awards in 2007 when I had some form of food poisoning where I threw up everything I ate or drank but otherwise felt fine (it was the same week where I discovered how awesome Life on Mars was). I was off of school for a week and as such had the time to play this to completion in between toilet visits. It sounds strange but since my mum was off with a similar bug during the same week it was like an extra week of school holiday where you did not have to feel guilty about only watching DVDs and playing on the PS2. I miss that week.

  1. […] way back when it was actually being made… then, like most of my other games (including Bully and Halo) I sold it […]

  2. […] Daze… misspellings intentional, I’m sure. In typical Bully/Canis Canem Edit fashion, you go back to your childhood to play a not-very-holy schoolboy. The difference here is […]