All this week, the only game I’ve been playing is Rockstar’s Bully or, if you’re in a PAL region, Canis Canem Edit and it allowed me to do all the things in school I didn’t do, like vandalise windows, skip class, get tattoos, throw itching powder and firecrackers at people and be an all round delinquent with reckless abandon.
The game is pretty classic Rockstar in structure and style, with an open world that opens up as you progress through the main story. In fact, how I think the pitch for this game went was probably along the lines of “what if we did GTA but in high school?” The world, despite it being actually quite small, feels decently large due to the primary means of transportation such as on foot, skateboard or bicycle for most of the game. However, unlike GTA, the sandbox is much more limited and in that sense makes it more like the Mafia series where the open world is fully explorable but is still more of a backdrop for the narrative.
Novel features in the game include a rudimentary social feature that allows you to give gifts to female students in exchange for a kiss, compliment people, insult or when others are with low enough health, you can bully them by giving them a wedgie. You can steal kids books. There are also various subjects, such as music, art, maths, the usual stuff in high school that act as optional minigames that are a neat abstraction of class but you need to be careful about skipping class as prefects or police officers will bust you if they catch you and send your ass to class. The AI will also often fight each other as you’re going past, which is also pretty amusing. There are also side missions, such as a paper route to get some extra cash but the amount of money you get from main missions is more than enough that you’ll never really need to ever do them.
Combat itself is a very simple beat em up combo style that includes grabbing, punches and kicks and is nothing terribly special. Visually, the game is something of a transition piece between the simple graphics of the PS2 GTA games and the higher fidelity realism of Grand Theft Auto IV. It looks dated but not terribly bad, with animations generally being quite good and textures being alright. There’s barely any graphics options and those that are there are basically resolution, vsynch, anti aliasing and whether shadows are turned on or off. One annoyance is that the game is locked at 30fps and since I hadn’t played anything in 30fps in a while, my eyes had to adjust.
There is a fix you can get to allow 60fps. I tried this and while the image was obviously smoother, I ran into a few problems like animations playing too fast, controls being less precise, cutscenes cutting off suddenly just before they’re supposed to so I decided to go back to 30fps mode as it’s clear that the game was never designed for anything above 30, which is a shame. In terms of controls, they’re mostly fine, although the skateboard controls are bit basic, although perhaps I expect a bit much from skateboards in games as a once avid Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater player.
Audio is also mostly good, although very rarely but very noticeably, some of the voice dialogue sounds like they accidentally swapped the mics for the most kvlt lo fi black metal demo. Music in the game is very comfy and diverse, combining influences 80s pop rock, synth, as well as sounds from The Doors and The Animals, as well as sounds that would feel at home in the American Pie films fit together remarkably to facilitate something of a timeless atmosphere. The voice of Gary, your sociopathic rival (what is it with Gary’s?) sounds a bit like Stifler and I checked the voice cast and he’s not voiced by Sean William Scott, but yeah, he sounds like a sociopathic Stifler more concerned with power and screwing people over rather than simply screwing people.
In terms of narrative, the setup is quite simple. You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a sarcastic delinquent who has been expelled from multiple schools who is sent to this academy and are introduced to the stereotypical cliques of preppies, jocks, nerds, greasers and so forth. Most of the characters aren’t very deep, which is fine considering the overall juvenile atmosphere of the game. But some are quite colourful, such as the alcoholic English teacher, the art teacher who makes Jimmy think she’s into him or the grotesque cook Edna. The story isn’t the best or deepest thing ever, but is amusing and gave me some good laughs. However, even with completing the story within 10 hours, at times it does feel like it drags a little, but not too much.
Overall, Bully, whilst being a smaller game, is quite fun and essential comfy core. The PC port isn’t great but is at least functional and you’ll probably have a good time vicariously doing the types of things you either did or didn’t do in high school, with novel mechanics on a familiar base. It’s a good time my dudes.