Life sure does suck for Jimmy Hopkins, the 15 year old protagonist in Bully. Poor Jimmy has been kicked out of a half dozen schools, he can't get along with his jerk step-dad, and it appears as though he may have some sort of anger management issues to get under control. Now that his parents are shipping him off to Bullworth Academy, Jimmy's luck has gone from bad to horrible. Will the strict school environment keep Jimmy in check? Will it be easy for him to make new friends and turn his life around? Will anybody give this hothead some medicine to control his rage issues?
These are just some of the questions you will no doubt ask yourself as you enter Bullworth Academy for the first time. This is Bully, the new adventure game from Rockstar Games, the people that brought us Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and The Warriors. It's easy to write off Bully as nothing but another mindless action game, but if you look deeper you'll see one of the most original game experiences of the year. This is one PlayStation 2 game that will dazzle you with its creativity, impress you with its scope and remind you of all the good (and bad) times you had growing up. Bully is the real deal, it's one of those rare games you can't put down until you've done and seen it all.
Bully tells the story of a young troublemaker who gets shipped off to Bullworth Academy, a school full of bullies and jerks. It's bad enough that you're in a new school where you don't fit in, but it feels like everybody is going out of their way to make your life miserable. Early on you meet up with Gary, a kid suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder who is more than happy to show you the lay of the land and introduce you to all of the major players at the school. But when Gary backstabs you and makes you fight the biggest, toughest kid in school, you know that it's up to you to get all of kids on your side and exact revenge on your one-time friend.
In order to get back at Gary you are going to have to convince all of the school cliques that you are on their side. This means that you are going to help the nerds, team up with the jocks, hang out with the greasers, roll with the preps and even figure out what the townies (the Bullworth drop outs) are all about. In its simplest form Bully is all about becoming the most popular kid in school … even if that means you have to go about it in dirty, mean and often despicable ways. But becoming the most respected kid in school isn't an easy task; it's going to take you a couple dozen hours and tons of missions before all of the various cliques look up to you.
Bully's game play is set up similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto series, in that you have the ability to go wherever you want and take on the missions whenever you want. You are free to explore the city of Bullworth, just hang out with the kids at school, play arcade games all day, and even perform after school jobs (paper route, lawn mowing) for extra spending money.
But true to its school environment, Bully has a lot of structure that Grand Theft Auto didn't offer. Instead of simply being one huge adventure, Bully is split up into five different chapters (each with a good amount of missions to undertake). By splitting the chapters up it gives Rockstar Games more freedom with the narrative, allowing them to tell smaller stories that eventually piece together to form one epic high school adventure. These chapters will deal with finding your way around a new school, learning to love, and coming to grips with your own limitations.
Speaking of structure, since this is a school you're going to actually have to study from time to time. Every day you are required to attend two classes, one at 9 AM and the other at 1 PM. There are six courses offered at Bullworth Academy, each represented by a small mini-game. Chemistry, for example, involves you pushing the buttons that they call out (similar to your average music game). English, on the other hand, gives you a bunch of letters and then makes you unscramble them to create as many different words as possible. The Art class has you playing a mini-game that is clearly based on the Taito classic, Qix. Auto Shop has you rebuilding a bicycle by rotating the analog sticks. Gym class offers both wrestling and dodge ball. And the Photography class has you going out on the campus and taking pictures.
Each of these six classes features five levels of difficulty, so you will end up having to go back to them until you've done everything that has been asked of you. Complete all five levels and you will have no reason to return to that classroom, ultimately freeing up a lot of your time to focus on the main (and side) missions. And best of all, when you complete one of the classes you earn upgrades for your character that you can use for the rest of the game. Complete enough English classes and you'll be able to talk your way out of any situation and sweet talk all of the pretty girls (and the ugly ones, too), do well in auto shop and unlock faster bicycles, etc.
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