I missed out on Bully when it launched on the PS2 and so coming into Bullworth on the Xbox 360 is a fresh experience for me despite knowing that essentially the game is a PS2 port with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Bully follows the story of student Jimmy who is dropped off at Bullworth Acadamy by his mother who, rather than look after Jimmy in the conventional sense, drops him off at this place of not so excellence, so she can enjoy an extended honeymoon with her newly acquired husband. From the offset, it’s clear that little Jimmy is somewhat of an opinionated little rascal but, coming from such a broken home, can you blame him? Bullworth is a bit of a tough school and so upon entering the grounds Jimmy is thrust into a world of bullying, teenage girls, over zealous staff, and an opportunity to commit all sorts of mischief. Jimmy should be right at home here as he’s already been expelled from a number of establishments all ready.
From the offset, you have a certain level of freedom to move around the school grounds, although in typical fashion for a free roaming action game, you do have missions to undertake. These are marked on your heads up displays’ mini radar which grows more complex as you get further into the game. From the beginning, you’ll have a limited amount of options in terms of what missions and side activities you’ll be able to undertake, but as you complete more of the main story missions, more opportunities open up. The school missions are divided into various factions of students ranging from nerds to the guys who think they are cool. You’ll start at the bottom with the nerd missions and the once these are done, you’ll move up to the next group. School is a tough place and some kids are just damn right mean. Jimmy is a tough cookie though and has little problem dealing with the stuff that’s thrown at him.
Being a member of a school, Jimmy has to attend classes at two specific times during the course of the day. The classes are your basic lessons in Maths, English, Geography, various Sciences and some more enjoyable lessons such as Photography, Music, Art, Shop and Sports. Attending class presents a mini game which varies depending on the lesson. Maths provides a multiple choice selection of maths related questions, whereas Geography has various maps in which you have to correctly place pins related to flags. There’s always a time limit and those without proper knowledge or the Internet close to hand may struggle on some of these. Once a lesson has been passed you’ll be rewarded with some sort of bonuses which can help in other areas of the game; so for example, passing geography lessons will make hidden items appear on the map screen.
Attending class is an optional activity as you’re always welcome to play truant and undertake a mission instead or just goof around pulling pranks – or chatting up the girls for a saucy snog. There’s a wide range of activities to attend outside the school as well, including shopping for more clothes/items, bike races, paper rounds, random helping of people and even a fully fledged fairground to mess around with and a whole lot more to boot. Although It’s not all plain sailing for Jimmy, because being outside of school when he’s supposed to be in it will draw attention to him, meaning the Law will try and capture you and send you back. The same applies if you are in the school grounds when you’re supposed to be in class, although the Law is replaced by prefects who are older, stronger and uphold the law as much as the game’s police. Luckily you do have the option to escape when caught but this doesn’t always work out. With so many things to do and such a tight schedule it’s sometimes hard to squeeze it all in, so there’s some level of planning involved.
Like any other sandbox game, there is an underlying instinctive quest to earn money to progress Jimmy further, what’s more there’s a day/night cycle which determines where and what you should be doing at any given time . Although during this time you do have the freedom to move around at will. There’s some areas that will need to be unlocked through playing the story missions and the whole flavour is reminiscent of the GTA games. You will have to turn in each night to a bed, but as you progress you’ll unlock more places you can call your own.
It’s obvious that Bully is a PS2 port as you will notice a distinct level of last generation grime in terms of textures and characters. The game most definitely looks sharper than its PS2 counterpart but the core is essentially the same. Once you get over the fact that the game is a port, and appreciate the aesthetic design of the playing area, you can begin to understand that there’s a lot of effort put in. Things like rain falling or foggy nights, to having seasonal changes at Xmas where the trees become covered in decorative lighting, add up to make a truly immersive environment. It’s all very basic but despite its simplicity has enough charm to work as an Xbox 360 game. You could harp on about how it could have looked but ultimately there’s no need once you get hooked into the gameplay.
On a more darker note, there are some horrid glitches which have been well publicized. The game has locked up on me several times already, which has caused much frustration and an over use of the save spots. Apparently a patch is in the works, but this doesn’t help those not connected to the Live network, so a big thumbs down for releasing such a buggy game.
There’s some decent voice performances throughout from a wide number of wacky characters. Little Jimmy is suitably voiced and his wisecracks never get old. It’s all very American but there are some great lines that will have most gamers laughing. The other in game sound effects are as you would expect and when accompanied by a soundtrack that keeps pace with the action, you’ve got an great aural presentation that captures the school vibe.
There’s certainly a lot to do here and after hours of messing around with what’s on offer I still have a way to go to getting the coveted 100% completion. My total time is way over 10 hours thus far and I’m around 40% done, so this should give you an indication as to the game’s length. Bully is a single player only game, although it does offer a offline head to head mini game mode. There’s a lot to do here and so should keep most hardened gamers entertained for quite some time – the rest of you might not even be able to finish the game – especially where some of those fiendish lessons are concerned!
Bully is a pretty decent game, although I can’t comment on how much different the experience is if you’ve already played the PS2 version to death many moons ago. If like me you are new to the fold, then Bully is a highly entertaining tongue firmly in cheek look at modern day school life with a twist of old fashioned tomfoolery thrown in for good measure. Everything seems to work nicely and there’s always something to sink your teeth into, should you tire of one activity. The game’s graphics might disappoint the graphics whores, but I found that once you look beyond the rather dull textures, and focus on the gameplay, it feels passable as an Xbox 360 game…just. The only real issue that plagues the game are the sometimes frequent lock ups which really does let down the experience, especially as there isn’t a save anywhere option.