Review: Bully: Scholarship Edition
Posted 26 Mar 2008 at 19:19 by Mark Lee
|"...the ease of grabbing a student throwing your 'mote into their face and twisting it for Chinese burn action is seamless."|
First lesson of the day - School isn't all about education. I know, shocking isn't it? Spend enough time watching American Pie or even Grange Hill (or try attending school occasionally) and you'll soon come to understand that school is actually about popularity, vulgar humour and scraping through by the skin of your teeth - All whilst trying to maintain some kind of 'cool'. Easy? No. That's why counsellors earn good money.
So when Rockstar sat down to create a 'student simulator' they surely knew they were onto something. Upon closer inspection, it really does seem that a world of Grand Theft Auto is nothing compared to your average school day at Bullworth Academy.Jimmy Hopkins is a solid, if slightly clichéd angst-ridden teenager with a step father from hell, a mother who doesn't care and a whole world of teachers, preppies, jocks and greasers surrounding him. It's no wonder that Bully features more variety in its opening scenes than most games achieve in forty-plus hours of game play.
Unfortunately, rather than overwhelming variety; the first thing that hits you in Bully is the gruelling loading times and PS2-alike character models - albeit superbly animated/voiced ones at that. Frequent moments of disk whirring and instances of blurry textures don't usually bode well for free-roaming titles, yet given time this wholly fades into the background as you realise that the sheer amount of content packed into each area is where 90% of Rockstars work has gone. Take the school yard for instance: As you skulk around, pupils throw stink bombs; geeks are taunted by jocks whilst girls stand around their dorms talking about boys. Additionally, the ease of grabbing a student throwing your 'mote into their face and twisting it for Chinese burn action is seamless. Heck, why not run and hide in a bin from a prefect before jumping out of the trash and deviously placing marbles on the floor then stand laughing as students take a dive on them? These options are all yours in Bully as no items are underused.
Wandering aimlessly listening to the many conversations and ditties which litter the audible side of Bullworth shows the true wit and sheer effort that went into Bully, hats off to Rockstar for bringing real character, substance and variety to the environment. Indeed more praise must be given to Rockstar on the mapped PS2 controls. Motions operate as expected as Hopkins' fists, with other button needs never being too far out of reach. More motion control would have been nice (pressing B to throw an item?) yet what is there works and is never interfering.
From the off, Hopkins' outsider status actually means the entire cast of characters are against you. Therefore the beginning stages of the game can appear as confusing as both freedom and variety of locales seem strictly off limits. With the bite-size missions that start to appear between lessons, these stricter elements slowly start to fade. Handled with plot developments (seen as stars on the map) these 'major moments' generally lead the player into plusses and minus' between the differing schools factions and this is when Bully starts to really open up. In fact, by the time chapter two starts, a whole town is yours to explore. Pacing is exquisitely delivered so that there is always that proverbial carrot dangling in front of the player - And you will want to munch away.
As in any free-roaming title it's the missions which ultimately make or break a title and Bully tends to hit the high grades more than the low ones. One minute you may be racing students on a BMX, the next breaking into a scary asylum at night and although only a handful of new missions separate this from the original PS2 version, there is enough variety to keep the most avid gamer playing until the end. All 15+ hours of it. Along with the pre-mentioned extra missions, the actual classroom lessons have seen the most Wii-specific controls spent on them. Playing with a Bunsen burner in the Chemistry lesson ends up being effortlessly enjoyable due to the motion controls alone. Others, such as Maths/Geography use only IR functionality to pick numbers/flags and place as appropriate. It may be unremarkable control usage, yet in the context of those lessons, it actually works.
Moreover, attending the many different lessons reaps rewards as completion of all five modules unlocks skills in which benefit young Hopkins in a variety of different ways. Who would have thought Art increased your luck with the ladies? (Ed: That's where I was going wrong!) Another bonus is when lessons have been completed they need not be attended any more. This gives the player more time to explore the game world as truancy doesn't affect young Jimmy anymore, and so lessons end up forming an integral part of the gameplay. See! Rockstar aren't all that bad afterall!
And so to roundup Bully becomes a double-edged sword. A vast world of wedgies, catapult wielding fights and ludicrously exciting missions is hidden behind last-gen graphics, and slightly long loading times. But don't let that put you off. This is one of the best written, action-packed games in years. With more fights than an episode of Eastenders, more jokes than all American Pie films combined and enough hidden easter-eggs to keep the most hardened gamer going, (including a simple two-player mode in which lessons can be played out) this is a title that caters to the angst-ridden teen in all of us. Mischievous, vulgar and ultimately unique. If you missed this the first time around, then a journey to Bullworth is certainly worth your time. Just don't expect to enjoy the last gen makeup.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Just like that girl you somehow really liked back in school: Ugly and sometimes shallow yet always great company. Get this in your 2008 yearbook. You won't regret it.
LastGen graphics given crispy edges