Review: Bully (PS2)

Bully
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: 10/17/2006

Bully. All Rockstar said was that they were releasing a videogame with that title and it sparked a controversy that spread like a wildfire through an orphanage. Jack Thompson, Anti-Bullying groups, etcetera have been all over the game throwing around accusations such as calling the game a Columbine simulator before even a screenshot or description of the game was released to the public. Rockstar closely gaurded information on the game and after a couple of delays the game is finally here. How does the game stack up to the controversy? Read on…

Story:

Let’s get this straight right away, this game is NOT a Columbine simulator. Not much of a shock there since it got a T rating. So if you’re expecting Grand Theft Auto in a high school you’ll probably be disappointed. There’s no blood or death. Yet at the same time if you’re a fan of Rockstar’s previous games the story told in the game Bully fits well within the stories told before. Instead of working your way to the top of a local crime syndicate, you’re working your way up a school social ladder. Instead of gangs there are school cliques. Also like other Rockstar games the cast is full of over the top characters that satirize stereotypes. Even though the other characters are memorable the one that stands out the most is the main character, Jimmy Hopkins.

Jimmy is a tough bastard who appears at the begining of the game to be trying to set the world record for getting expelled from school having already been expelled 7 times. When his mom and his new step-dad drop him off at Bullworth Academy he seems to already be prepared for Bullworth to be school number eight. His preception is quickly changed the hard way when he finds out the Bullworth is a school full of kids who have been expelled from other schools, some of whom want to teach Jimmy that he might’ve been a badass elsewhere but in Bullworth he’s just another kid to give a swirlie to. In Jimmy’s own words though, when people underestimate him he turns around and shows them how wrong they are, and to never make that mistake again.

While the plot has a pretty predictable ending, almost everything leading up to end is well done and often hilarious. Notice how I said ‘almost everything’ though? There are small flaws with the story the game is presenting that bugged me throughout the game. Like how the game is broken up into chapters, at the begining of which Jimmy does a voiceover talking about which clique he’s taking down next, except it isn’t until later in the chapter that he’s generally given the motivation to attack that clique. Some characters make comments that go beyond tongue-in-cheek and are just clunky dialouge. It’s kinda funny that a rich kid’s family inbreds, but why would that character just randomly spout off about it if he’s so ashamed by it? And at a couple points in the game it seems like they were almost going to explore more into if Jimmy was any better than the bullies for the way he treated his fellow classmates…but they never really follow up on it, which is a shame since even at the end you’ve gotta wonder if the main character even learned anything from the whole ordeal.

Still the story is entertaining and will keep you coming back to find out what happens next. There’s everything in the story from betrayal, revenge, substance abuse, romance, and more all wrapped up in a setting not normally seen in videogames which gives the whole game a unique feeling.

Story Rating:7/10

Graphics

With the next generation of platforms already here and more around the corner this is a little hard to grade. By PS2 standards Bully is a pretty good looking game. You can tell it was made using the same engine that powers the GTA series, but since the scale of the city is smaller it looks better than San Andreas and is about on par with some of the better looking PS2 games out right now. The camera is closer on Jimmy than the protagonists of the GTA games, and the city is filled with lots of small details that really add personality to the town.

Of course since it uses the same engine it has some of the same problems that the GTA games have. You’ll notice some draw in as you travel around the game, but none of it seems as bad as the GTA series mostly because you’ll travel around on a bike instead of driving fast in a car so it’s not as annoying.

The graphics aren’t next-gen, but it’s still pretty amazing to see what developers are pulling off on a console that’s been out as long as the PS2 has.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

Sound:

I don’t know who does the casting for voice acting for Rockstar but they deserve a payraise. ASAP. The story in Bully would be nothing if they didn’t have a voice cast to pull it off, and even with a large cast of character there might be only one or two that slightly off through the whole game. Maybe I’ve been playing too many poorly translated games recently but I really appreciated how good the voice acting in the game is.

The music as well is top notch. Instead of licensed music that you’ll find in some other Rockstar games the music for the game is all original and lends many of the scenes in the game a movie-like vibe to them.

Though I can deal without ever hearing the music that plays everytime you ride the bike ever again. It’s not bad but it’s also kind of annoying the 50th time you get on a bike.

Sound Rating: 9/10

Control/Gameplay:

If Grand Theft Auto slipped a mickie in The Warriors drink, took it back to a hotel and made love to it, this game would be their love child. Rockstar at least seems to know what formulas have worked well for them in the past and apply them here. If you’ve played both of these games you don’t even need to really read the manual for Bully since it’ll all feel familiar to you.

The fighting system is greatly influenced by The Warriors. You can string together a simple punch combo or hold down the attack button (square) to do a more powerful attack, you can grapple and give them a headbutt, push enemies to the ground or knock them down and stand over them and get a few more hits in. There’s also a lot of objects in the game laying everywhere to use as weapons, fighting moves to unlock and learn, and a variety of appropriately themed weapons (marbles, itching powder, stink bombs, slingshot, etc) to use. The system is a lot of fun, and something I hope they’ll continue to develop and add to the GTA series since that’s one area it’s always been lacking.

Of course the mission system and gameworld is GTA influenced. The ‘sandbox’ style of play is in effect here, though at first it’s much, much more restrictive than your usual GTA game at first which might make or break the game for some people. In the begining of the game Jimmy has to go to class. You can skip school but being truant makes the wanted/trouble meter in the game go up and makes it harder to complete missions. This may sound too restrictive except you only have to do two classes a day, and just about every class is enjoyable to go to since they’re represented by minigames and passing each class unlocks bonuses you really are going to want later. So during the average school day you’ll be trying to make it to the classes while completing missions, all before 2:00am, since Jimmy is a kid he’ll always pass out at that time. This makes the begining of the game feel kind of hectic, depending on the type of person you are this might be a good thing or a bad thing. Personally I liked the pacing and missed some of the hectic nature later in the game since I did the classes all at once to get them out of the way. The classes go by quickly and after you pass there’s no reason to keep going back leaving the time that the classes took to do missions. Since the missions never take long to complete you’ll go from struggling to do two a day with classes to knocking out 4 or more easily and the game just seems to fly by. The game is restrictive in other ways as well, this ain’t GTA, so violence towards children, adults, and girls will not be tolerated and will shoot the trouble meter up as far as it can go. Even if you accidentally run into an adult with your bike you’ll be running from the cops.

Other than the main missions there’s side missions to impress girls, summer jobs, random people in town and other students will want help, then there’s racing missions, arcade games, hidden objects to collect and more. There’s a lot of stuff to do outside of the main game. I love the inclusion of the playable arcade games in particular and have wasted more lots of time just on those.

All in all the controls are tight and responsive, the fighting is simple but has enough variety to keep from being boring, and the mission layout is one that has been a proven success for Rockstar and works well in the school enviroment presented in Bully. My only complaint is that you’ll be pressing the X button A LOT since running, bike riding and skateboard are your main transportation, and all require jamming on the X button if you want to get anywhere fast.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 9/10

Balance:

This game really made me wish I could choose a difficulty setting because there’s no real challenge to the game. The only thing you have to worry about is being surrounded, and even then enemies drop health more often than you’ll likely need it so even that doesn’t present a problem. Often when you fail a mission it’ll be for some frustrating reason, such as a prefect or cop being close by during a part of a mission where you have to fight someone and getting busted.

The variety of missions keep the game interesting and fun despite this, however sometimes you’ll be in a boss fight and take down the boss way too easily and it kind of kills how strong the boss is supposed to be when you can take them out so easily. Especially the last boss fight.

Good mission variety, but not challenging. The lack of challenge sort of makes the game kind of feel like a GTA game for a younger audience.

Balance Rating:6/10

Replayability:

Mixed bag here. On one hand, there’s not much point to play it again since anything you missed you can still do after you beat the game and there’s no additional difficulty level unlocked or anything once you beat it. Also while the classes are fun, they get progressively harder as you play so starting them over again would be kind of tedious.

On the other hand, I want to play the game over again already because I want to do Halloween again and replay some of the more enjoyable missions. Still that’s really just a personal thing though, the game itself doesn’t really provide much incentive to go through it all again.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

Originality:

The setting of the game makes the game feel original and unique…but everything else is all too familiar. I’ve compared the controls and mission structure to the Rockstar games GTA and The Warriors and unfortunately that’s not where the similarities end. There are many missions that feel like they’ve been lifted from those two games and just given a different coat of paint. Sure you might not be on rails shooting cops, but you will be doing a mission on rails slingshoting enemies following you on bikes. There’s still a lot of variety to the missions, like a part that plays like Super Punch-Out, or a different section that feels like it’s straight out of American Gladiators but with nerds. I just couldn’t help but feeling like I had played some missions before only with cars and guns instead of bikes and slingshots.

Originality Rating: 5/10

Appeal:

One of the things ‘ve knocked off points of GTA games for in the past was the fact that while the games certainly appeal to me, they’re not for everyone, especially younger kids. Bully on the other hand is a high profile, much talked about game that should appeal to just about anyone. It’s kid friendly enough where you’ll see more death on Veronica Mars than in the game, and there’s plenty of inuendos and jokes for older audiences. Also there are a bunch of small homages to older games like Paperboy and the previously mentioned Punch-Out and the arcade games should appeal to those who where still playing those kind of games when they where in school. The game should pretty much be likable by anyone not named Jack Thompson.

Appeal: 9/10

Addictiveness:

I couldn’t put the controller down. Part of it is the mission variety and the good storyline so you’ll always want to see what happens next. At first what kept me coming back was how rushed everything felt with the classes, I just kept wanting to play one more day. Plus the more you play the more there is to discover.

Addictiveness Rating:10/10

Misc:

I might’ve mentioned it before but it’s really hard to describe just how much enjoyment there is in just the small details of the game. Which is why it’s so disappointing when you run into a glitch or something not as well refined. When you see how much effort they put into just making small things like a pitching game at the carnival, you gotta wonder why they didn’t spend more time allowing you to do a couple of trick with the bike or skateboard. I mean there’s a whole BMX park but all you can do with the bike is bunny hop, wtf? Same with the glitches, I kept encountering one that wouldn’t let me pick up health drinks, which was annoying. Another in the final mission almost caused me to fail it do to something weird which straded me in midair. These aren’t common or game breaking issues, though it’s a mystery how so much effort could be put into the game and yet these issues still exist.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

Final Scores:
Story 7/10
Graphics 7/10
Sound 9/10
Control/Gameplay 9/10
Balance 6/10
Replayability 5/10
Originality 5/10
Appeal 9/10
Addictiveness 10/10
Misc 5/10

Overall: 72/100
Final: 7.0

Short Attention Span Summary
Man, the PS2 is going out on a high note with some of the games coming out and have come out recently. Even with all of the Next Gen systems about to hit stores Bully shows that there’s still some life left in the Playstation 2 with a game that’s like blind date, she may not look as good as others out there but she’s got plenty of personality. If you’re a fan of Rockstar games then pick it up, now. If you’ve always though Rockstar games were about picking up hookers and Hot Coffee, then give Bully a try and see what you’ve been missing.