After activist groups tried and failed to ban Bully before it was ever even released Take Two interactive via Rockstar games were able to get this game to the sales racks. So is Bully the root of all evil? Not even close, but it is an entertaining journey through quite possibly the worst private school in the entire world.
Meet Jimmy, he's not a bad kid but he's certainly not on the straight and narrow either. In his defence he has quite possibly the worst parents of all time. In the opening sequence Jimmy's parents are driving him to the Bullworth Academy so they can free themselves of the burden of raising a teenager and take a one year honeymoon. That's right I said a one year honeymoon. You see Jimmy's mother has married a new man who is older and wealthy to boot.
Did I mention that Jimmy isn't a bad kid? Well he's managed to get himself booted from every school he's ever enrolled in; so I guess you could say he's not a model child, but hey boys will be boys right?
Once you're dropped off at the gates of Bullworth, you are quickly escorted to the school's principal who is a disciplinary and has a demeanor that would earn him a fistful of knuckle if I ever met him. After much advice about keeping your nose clean you are instructed to head to the boy's dormitory, which you'll be calling home. Once you make it to the dorm you're greeted by Gary, who reminds me of every first friend in every school age movie ever made. Gary is obsessed with taking over the school and he's your gateway to your first missions.
Where the GTA series basically allows you to roam freely until you decide to take on a mission Bully forces you to stick to a school schedule. You may choose to run around aimlessly on the Bullworth campus but if a prefect catches you while classes are in session you'll be sent directly to class. You may want to think about this when taking on missions, because if you get caught you fail and won't be able to try again till later.
Ironically going to class in Bully isn't so bad. Completing mini games for your classes earn you skills that you use while interacting with your classmates. For example going to English class and successfully completing a word scramble earns you the skill to trash talk better with each passing grade, this will allow you to better articulate your smack. Your vocabulary skills can be used to talk your way out of a fight with a bully, or scare a classmate into running away. Of course you can choose to fight if you want to.
To begin with fighting is extremely simple, all you can do is punch using the square button. In order to increase your fighting skills you need gym class. Gym will increase your arsenal of fighting moves or improve your aim with a slingshot. Each class is necessary to your development in the game so it's always a good idea to make it to class whenever possible.
Your missions include all sorts of miscreant behavior as simple as pulling a fire alarm, or as complicated as running down a bunch of bullies who have stolen a geek's D&D type game notes. And as with the parent games to Bully, finishing missions open up other parts of the game world so that the map grows to a huge playable area for Jimmy to cause trouble. When you get caught on campus by the prefects you'll either be sent back to your dorm room; or end up seeing the principal, and get stuck doing lawn duty. When you get caught causing trouble in town you're likely to find yourself standing in front of the police station. As soon as you open up a new area of the map you get a new save point which is nice, because the only place to save your game is your dorm room when you first start the game.
The controls in Bully won't take much getting used to if you've ever played a GTA game. L1 to target, R2 to shoot, pressing select brings up your map etc. Where I thought the vehicles in the GTA games handled really well; I believe the skateboards and bikes in Bully could have used a little more attention. Maybe it's just been so long since I've played a GTA game and I've played games with better controls since. I just didn't seem to be able to handle the character very well in Bully. The controls are fine when you're just running even though that can be annoying at times due to the camera floating unexpectedly; it becomes downright horrible when trying to hit a ramp on your BMX bike. Overall the controls work well with only the occasional problem with getting through a door, or not being able to select your intended target.
I haven't noticed any real graphical improvements in these games since GTA: Vice City. Hands are still blocky and jaggies appear everywhere. This game is really pushing the PS2's hardware to the max. We can rest assured that the next big Rockstar game will be on the next gen consoles but this game holds up and the with the excellent gameplay the lack of serious eye candy is easily forgivable. The actual map area of Bully is enormous, and the redraw is done very nicely. The visuals are actually very well done considering the system they have to work with and the scope of the game.
The Audio in Bully is great, not groundbreaking but it's still great. When you're in the halls or walking around the campus of Bullworth Academy students are chatting it up and saying some pretty hilarious things and distance plays in well. If you're right next to a conversation you can hear it plain as day but as you walk away the sound fades. Yeah after you've been playing the game for weeks hearing the same lines over and over will get old. There are enough unique characters in Bully that you won't hear everything within the first couple days, so it's really only going to become redundant after you've played through the entire game. The sound effects work well and really help to immerse you in this private school environment.
Any fan of the GTA series needs to pick up Bully. Outside of the murder and hookers in GTA, Bully has it all and because it takes place in an academy, Rockstar had to come up with other ways to be deviant. I think most people can think of a few pretty wild stories from your school days. There really isn't any content in this game that should worry parents unless of course they aren't even teenagers yet. Bully comes highly recommended.