Bully: Quality over Quantity

By Shamus
on Sep 25, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Wow.  I’m five feet tall and sick of school.  It’s like junior high all over again, except this time I’ve got the strength to fight back when the bullies try to amuse themselves at my expense.
Wow. I’m five feet tall and sick of school. It’s like junior high all over again, except this time I’ve got the strength to fight back when the bullies try to amuse themselves at my expense.
Bully comes from Rockstar Games, the folks who brought us Grand Theft Auto. Here we have the same freeform roaming, the same style of motion-capped cutscenes, the same mission-based gameplay. But the game concept has undergone some sweeping changes, and these changes are almost universally for the better.

Bully replaces the thieving, cop-killing, gang-banging, hooker-punching, nihilistic attitude of Grand Theft Auto with bloodless fisticuffs, sports, pranks, and a little petty vandalism. These activities – while less spectacular – are more fun and engaging by virtue of them being less repulsive. If you ever got sick of the grotesque pointlessness of gang wars in GTA: San Andreas, then you know what I’m talking about.

Jimmy Hopkins is new kid in a tough school. His mother is a woman who is too busy getting remarried to deal with such tiresome tasks as raising her own son, so Jimmy is dropped off at Bullworth Academy, a private school that acts as a dumping ground for unwanted or unruly kids. The school is hopelessly defective, with alcoholic teachers, insular and combative cliques, a predatory coach, an indifferent headmaster, and rampant bullying.

Yes, you can scoop up some snow and pelt someone for a laugh. Jerk.
Yes, you can scoop up some snow and pelt someone for a laugh. Jerk.
Bullworth is wonderfully realized. I don’t know what schools look like elsewhere in the country where buildings are newer, but I found the school perfectly captured the dreary institutional style I saw during my own junior high years. I could practically smell the place. I’m sure if I could peer behind the walls of lumpy lead paint I’d find asbestos and fifty-year-old electrical wiring.

As the game progresses the seasons change. People wear clothing appropriate for the weather. Holiday decorations come and go. This gives the place a healthy dose character. The town of Bullworth isn’t as large or a sprawling as Liberty City, but it’s more detailed and filled with purpose.

The students aren’t bunch of randomly generated pedestrians. Each one is unique. Each one has a name, and each one has his or her own look, sayings, and preferred hangouts. After a while you’ll get to the point where you can recognize them on sight. The student roster isn’t really big enough to fill up a campus this size (there are “only” 61 students in all) but the game does a good job of hiding this.

The boy’s dorm is unsupervised and so the already wild kids go almost feral in this setting.  The place is a cesspit of trash and vandalism.
The boy’s dorm is unsupervised and so the already wild kids go almost feral in this setting. The place is a cesspit of trash and vandalism.
Someone at Rockstar has apparently heard my cries and eased up on the punishing gameplay of earlier titles. Most missions were beatable on the first try. A few took two. Very rarely did a mission take three attempts. I never needed more than that. This will vary from player to player, but no matter how much trouble the game gives you, it’s way less of a jerk about missions than GTA, and a lot more willing to get out of your way and let you have some dang fun. This means that the game is significantly shorter, but all that’s really happened here is they’ve cut out the tiresome repetition.

So the game and the gameworld are smaller but with less filler. The missions have less repetition. The gameplay is just as robust. Bully is a box of Lucky Charms that leaves out the bland, tasteless cereal and lets you eat one bowl of marshmallows after another.

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202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)

From the Archives:

  1. Thijs says:

    I will give it a try!

  2. Thijs says:

    ah, I wanted to say more, but my ENTER stroke sent the message…

    anyway, I always love the game reviews, I followed you on Prey, Fable, and now Bully, thanks for the inspiration

  3. Stephan says:

    Truly a great game!

  4. Grrrrmad says:

    I got this game when it came out (just under a year ago, I think?). I played with it for a few days and loved it. Then I let my friend “borrow” it to see what it was like, because I knew it’d be a few weeks before I had time to play it again.

    I haven’t seen it since that day.

  5. The Gneech says:

    Hmm. Sounds like the school I went to. Except we didn’t have such nice architecture.

    -The Gneech

  6. That character looks retarded. Like Down Syndrome, or something.

  7. Shamus says:

    Steven: He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. This is one of my nitpicks with the game: Jimmy is a little thick-headed and insolent. (Although he seems to smarten up and get more articulate as you near the endgame.)

    He looks less retarded once you get him a decent haircut. The shaved head that you have at the start of the game is what really makes him look like a monkey.

  8. Snook says:

    I’m hoping to find this in a bargain bin sometime soon… I’ve been wanting to play it (especially now that you tell me the rinse-n-repeat mission style is gone) for a while, but I’m only a poor college student.

  9. Cat Skyfire says:

    I got the game when it came out. (Free rental, so it worked out nicely). And I beat it within the week.
    I was really impressed with it. There were only two things I really didn’t like. The first is that Jimmy’s head is ugly. I mean, really ugly, considering you have to stare at it so much. I think it’s the roundness that gets to me. I would have liked to be able to modify it somewhat…changing hair color, or give him the start of a mustache. Anything to make him look less doughy.

    And towards the end, I REALLY wished I could get rid of the stupid bike. Biking around was cool at first, but when you have to go to and from the distance locations, it just got tedious.

    Other than that, I loved the game. It had a great feel to it. A lot of groups complained about the subject matter…bullying. But most of us have been bullied, and it was fun to play a game where you could get even. As opposed to real life, where you’d either end up in trouble or stuffed in a locker, or possibly both.

  10. Chilango2 says:

    Ah, glad to see you found one of my all time favorites, Shamus. Bully is truly a great game, for all the reasons you get at. I finished GTA: SA and wasn’t troubled so much by the nihilism (I just laid back an enjoyed it, to an extent) but its more satisfying for it to be a more limited physical conflict it offers, fights mean something in short, and you can have actual meaningful boss fights that are well executed, something I never felt the GTA series ever really managed very well.

    Additionally, the little sidequests and enetraintments are much more amusing and easier, bike racing is actually doable whereas the car races in GTA were always excerises in frustration. I could go on and on.

    Another “GTA-like” game I recommend is The Godfather. It’s not quite as easy as Bully, but it is easier than GTA, regular death is relivily painless, and detah during missions takes you back to a checkpoint, of which most missions have sevral. Furthermore, the game rewards tatical/strategic thinking in gunfights, i.e weapon choice matters, taking cover, aiming at vulnerable areas, etc.

  11. Chilango2 says:

    Actually, you can get a haircut, but my perffered solution to his head is wearing that hat you steal out of Russel’s locker. Sorry about double post, replying to things posted while I was writing my reply.

  12. lplimac says:

    I picked up Jade Empire (nice game, too short) after reading your review, as well as F.E.A.R. (Great game!) and though your reviews of Oblivion and Prey matched close to what I thought (though I have a system that exceeds what Oblivion requires so I didn’t have graphic problems) next time I have some cash and can get to Fry’s or Best Buy I’ll give Bully a try. Thanks for the reviews!

  13. lost chauncy says:

    You know, some day the spam bots are going to wise up and figure out that the secret passcode is always “d20.” Then we’ll all be in trouble.

  14. blaster219 says:

    I got this game a while ago and it quickly became one of my faveourites. I had so much fun wandering around being an absolute sob that I often forgot to actually play the missions or attend class.

    Plus, getting chased by the cops while speeding around in a go kart is hilarious.

  15. axcalibar says:

    He’s not retarded… he may have a little FAS though.

  16. Retlor says:

    Yeah,I have that game, except here in Britain it’s called Canis Canem Edit (The motto of the school, I think). I pretty much agree with you, and I would add that the storyline itself is worthy of praise. Then of course at the end the game opens up completely and you’re free to do all of the stuff you want.

    I like the fact that, like in GTA, you are able to project your own character onto Jimmy. If you want, you can be a heartless bully, a vigilante for justice (beating up anyone you see picking on others), ignore the bullying completely…

    Anything you really want, besides the stuff you have to do for storyline purposes.

    Jack Thompson of course went insane when he heard about the game, I believe he called it a ‘Columbine Simulator’. I wonder how much of it he played before coming to that ‘expert’ conclusion…

  17. Phlux says:

    I think we all know that Jack Thompson has never actually played any of these games. The rhetoric he uses is almost like he believes that all video games are as bad as drugs, and he seems honestly stupified that the rest of us don’t notice this.

    To continue with the drug metaphor, I think he seems himself as not needing to play these games in order to judge them in the same way that a person doesn’t need to experience herione to realize that it’s bad for you.

    I would keep writing, but mentioning you-know-who only feeds his evil power.

  18. Nathaniel says:

    I wish this game were available for the original Xbox (the only more modern console I own).

  19. largemarge says:

    Bully is one of my top favorite games of all time. I found it totally engrossing. I love the mission where you have to dress up as the football mascot and take on the football team. I also loved how each character in the game felt like they had a personality.

  20. ArchU says:

    I hadn’t really considered playing the game until I read this. Might be worth a shot after all!

  21. DocTwisted says:

    I’ve avoided this game, but now I might go and pick it up… I was initially afraid it was just “GTA in Middle School” with all the connotations that can take.

  22. Lanthanide says:

    Another blog I read has the anti-spam word as always being ‘gin’. Spam-bots haven’t hit that blog either.

    I guess what it boils down to is that most spam is posted by bots that scour the net for well-known scripts on webservers. They then execute the script remotely, so the extra required field for a captcha is enough to stop the script from working because they don’t know what the code word is (even if it is always the same thing) and therefore can’t post.

    Using the same word all the time would be ineffecitive if 1) everyone used captchas, and 2) everyone else also only used the same word each time. But as long as you approach to captchas is unique, you should be safe from bots (unless someone writes a bot specifically to spam your site).

  23. Brian says:

    Long time lurker, first time commenter here.

    I had the same reaction to the game. I played San Andreas longer, but enjoyed “Bully” much more. It has a great sense of fun, if not utter innocence. In some ways the development team put more deep thought and polish into their game mechanics than the GTA:SA team.

    It would be great if the next GTA learns from it, and includes the better melee engine of Bully, which was much more satisfying and deep than GTA’s. And, hey, being able to make girlfriends of any female character, if you only apply the effort? Nice one!

  24. Elton says:

    I just finished Bully, and I agree — I’m glad it was shorter and less tedious than San Andreas (although I liked that game for the most part too). The atmosphere was perfect in Bully. I bought a PS2 for the first time recently mainly to go back and play good exclusives like Bully.

  25. Mordaedil says:

    When on Earth will this hit the PC market?

  26. Miral says:

    I picked up Canis Canem Edit a couple of weeks ago (it was in the bargain bin, and looked interesting), but haven’t had a chance to play it yet. (Recently moved house, so my PS2 is still in a box.) This little mini-review certainly makes me feel better about buying it, though :)

  27. Dave says:

    “Jack Thompson of course went insane when he heard about the game, I believe he called it a ‘Columbine Simulator’. I wonder how much of it he played before coming to that ‘expert’ conclusion…”

    He tried to have it legally declared a “public nuisance” in Florida. The judge entertained the motion right up until the defense demonstrated the game for him (i.e. the Judge played it for a while), then promptly threw JT out on his arse.

    Naturally, JT has just filed a suit trying to declare Halo 3 a “public nuisance”.

    • Mthecheddar knight says:

      The problem is that he thinks he is a crusader for justice. He tried to say that the Kreate A Fighter option in Mortal Kombat Armageddon illegally profited off his appearence because you could make a character look like him. As if anyone would want to look like that old lunatic.

  28. Shapeshifter says:

    I’m pretty sure when You Know Who went after Bully it hadn’t even been released yet, so he couldn’t have possibly played it.

    He’s right about Halo 3 though, albeit not for the reasons he thinks. Every computer science person in the country will be groggy for days as they try to complete it. (Also all the frat kids, but we don’t care about them do we?)

    Anyway, silliness aside, i avoided Bully both because of the aura of GTA hanging over it and to avoid PTSD flashbacks to my own school years… but maybe i’ll give it a shot.

  29. Mordaedil says:

    “He tried to have it legally declared a “public nuisance” in Florida. The judge entertained the motion right up until the defense demonstrated the game for him (i.e. the Judge played it for a while), then promptly threw JT out on his arse.”

    And then he called the Judge unprofessional and a cock-bag trying to disgrace him for not doing his job properly.

    Beautiful, really. It’s this close to becoming the next Adam Sandler movie, isn’t it?

  30. Davey says:

    SO am I to understand that there are no guns in this game?

  31. Retlor says:

    “Davey Says:

    SO am I to understand that there are no guns in this game?”

    I think the closest you get is a bottle rocket. And at one point the nerds build a gun that shoots baseballs.

  32. blaster219 says:

    Spud gun to the nads for the win!

  33. Davey says:

    Wow, that’s really cool then, thanks. I may have to get this game now.

  34. Rabbitambulance says:

    I feel that many people are confused between “length” and “duration”. If it takes me twenty hours to finish a mission, it doesn’t make the game longer, it just makes it last longer, damn the developer’s eyes.

  35. Lo'oris says:

    glad to know that, and glad to know it’s also available for PS2… I’ll give it a try maybe :)

  36. daniel says:

    i think this game will be real populair with all the smal details like the kisses with the girls where you see the details (if you know that i mean) to the new haircuts and when you change haircut, your hair cant be longer. its realy a great game.

  37. Shellie says:

    This Game Is The Dogs Bollocks…!! =]

    Coooll Review…!!

    :) I Love Being Able Too Beat Up The Teachers and Prefect But If You Get Caught well..!!

  38. […] is that its setting is too vaguely realistic, unlike the more fantastic world of Grand Theft Auto. Shamus described the game as less “repulsive” in its actions, but there was not a single character in […]

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  1. […] is that its setting is too vaguely realistic, unlike the more fantastic world of Grand Theft Auto. Shamus described the game as less “repulsive” in its actions, but there was not a single character in […]

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