Rockstar once said that Bully is just a light hearted looked at school life, much like Harry Potter, Just William and The Beano. We certainly don’t recall Dennis the Menace smacking Walter the Softie with a baseball bat, then calling him a prick before rubbing spit into his face though. And we don’t recall Harry Potter kissing boys either. Yes, you can kiss boys in Canis Canem Edit. Rockstar say it’s a glitch, but we think that they’re just being open-minded. Or aiming for a bit of extra post-launch controversy. Whatever the reason, it’s a game deserving of its 15 certificate.
Jimmy Hopkins finds himself outside the school gates of Bullworth Academy – a rough school for rough types – after his mother decides to go on a year long honeymoon with her new lover. After a chat with the principal – CCE is very US-oriented, despite being set in an olde English boarding school – you’re shown to your dorm and whisked off to your first lesson. These take the form of simple mini-games, which get progressively harder. Upon competition you’re often awarded new items; when you pass a chemistry test – by following the on-screen prompts – you’re granted stink bombs and firecrackers. Art lessons play like Taito’s classic Qix, while English lessons are based on anagrams. They aren’t compulsory, but if the prefects catch you skiving they’ll give you a beating. Hence the game’s original title: Bully.
It’s easy to tell that Rockstar are behind this. The cut-scenes are very upbeat and humorous, while the controls, camera and on-screen radar are similar to those of Grand Theft Auto. The fighting system seems to have been lifted straight out of The Warriors, allowing for grapples, finishing moves and taunts, plus breaking into lockers is identical to stealing car radios. The gang system is like that found in San Andreas too, with parts of the school being dominated by stereotypical types. You’ll find nerds around the library, jocks around the gym and football field, greasers in the auto yard and garage and so forth. Stick up for the nerds and you’ll earn their respect; give ’em a kicking and other factions will start to acknowledge you.
You’re pretty much free to run around causing mischief – setting off fire alarms, breaking windows, fighting – or completing sub missions like finding elastic bands – CCE’s equivalent of GTA’s hidden packages – or spare radio parts for the drunken tramp who sleeps in an abandoned school bus. The actual story line missions, which involve Jimmy’s rag tag bunch of ‘friends’ trying to take over the school, range from protection and escort missions to sneaking into the staff room to steal a girl’s diary. There are also themed challenges – Halloween takes place near the start of the game, for instance, and allows for all sorts of trick or treat and firework related malarkey.
There’s a really good atmosphere, with plenty of mindless chatter and stuff going on in the background, such as other students playing around and getting into rucks. It’s a bit annoying that there always seem to be thugs after Jimmy’s blood, even if you’re just casually walking around, but they go down easily with a catapult and it’s also possible to reason with them. The music – best described as chilled jazz – adds a lot to the experience too, while loading screens are short and infrequent. A bit later into the game Jimmy can explore outside the school gates, on either a bike or a skateboard. The local carnival is a haven of mini-games.
The biggest problem by far is that it’s too easy. Most missions can be finished on their first go, and there’s no serious penalty if you ever get busted. There’s still plenty to see and do though, with a top-down futuristic racing arcade game as a decent distraction, and like Rockstar’s previous works it’ll take lots of after school hours to do everything. You might even say that it had us under a bit of a ‘Skool Daze’.