Bully – Review


(Rockstar for PS2)
by Mike Delano

If season four of The Wire taught us anything, it’s that fucked up shit doesn’t just happen in the streets. If you’re a student in America’s rapidly decaying education system, it can happen at school, too!

What does it say about schools in America when Rockstar Games, known for their gritty, street-savvy titles, decides to set its latest release at a private academy? Keep in mind, in an attempt to constantly outdo themselves in terms of urban mayhem, this is the location that was chosen after games based in South Central Los Angeles, downtown Miami, and a fictionalized ’70s-era New York City run by roving gangs. I guess all we have to look forward to now is Grand Theft Auto IV: Fallujah.

In this case, what’s bad for the moral fabric of this nation is good for gamers. Bully is a worthy GTA successor, applying the now-trademark sprawling, mission-based gameplay to a fictional private school, Bullworth Academy. The school is overrun with violent cliques, so it’s your job as newcomer Jimmy to beef up your respect on campus, stand up for the nerds and fatties, and start spreading your own brand of havoc.

The story, with its solid voice-acting and excellent scenarios (picking off jocks from a tree with a slingshot, learning fighting techniques from a hobo veteran), will keep you intrigued throughout the substantial quest. Like the GTA series, the sheer variety of missions means you’ll never be bored, but it also means that the gameplay doesn’t really evolve into something that’s satisfying on its own. You’ll want to rifle through the game’s fascinating missions rather than just playing with the controls for the fun of it.

Bully looks great throughout, and while some of the interior settings can be drab at times, the exteriors, from changing seasons to campus decorations to the nighttime lighting effects, more than make up for it.

The music deserves special mention. It’s some of the best original music for a game ever. Even some of the best in-game music tends to hit you over the head with the quiet/loud dynamic, but Bully manages to build tension and mood with a memorable sense of restraint. The lush, low-key instrumentation at times feels like its pulled straight from a lost Pinback album, and it’s a big part of why the game as a whole nails an authentic, contemporary feel that few other titles even attempt.