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Bully: Scholarship Edition


by John Erikson - 3rd Mar 2008
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Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360)

Rockstar are renowned for creating controversial games. When Bully was released on the Playstation 2 about 18 months ago it received positive reviews but for some reason was ignored by a huge section of the mass public. Was it perhaps just not controversial enough ?

With the release of the Scholarship Edition Rockstar are giving the game another chance with the "next generation" crowd as it features some new missions, high definition graphics and enhanced gameplay.

Bully is a T-Rated game which for Rockstar is quite a feat!, you will find no blood, no shooting pedestrians with Uzi's and definitely no mass car chases with you running over old age pensioners. Bully is all about the trials and tribulations of life in a high school.

That doesn't sound very exciting however it is quite a bit better than it sounds; you take control of Jimmy Hopkins a 15 year old troublemaker who has been expelled from seven schools already. You come from a dysfunctional family and are landed in the latest school in Bullworth. The goal of the game is to improve your social standing from a disturbed and socially alienated kid into a school hero. It is Jimmy's first year in Bullworth Academy and you have to find a way to deal with all the various school groups, such as nerds, bullies, jocks etc.

Bully, like the original, starts off slow and will be offputing to many people, the first section is basically your introduction to the school and a lot of the territory is locked, you can't leave the school grounds. Initially you are also very limited in your combat ability and have hardly any weapons, you are also hated as you are the new kid on the block. So the first chapter is really about you making friends with Gary (a violent nutcase) and having to deal with the bullies who want to pummel you into the ground everytime they see you. I would even go as far to say that the first 90 minutes of the game are a bit of a chore with all the missions and tasks being interupted by other kids wanting to rearrange your teeth. After two hours however the game takes a hugely positive swing when the school gates open and the bullies end up taking your side.

Each of the school gangs are affected by the game progression, if you complete specific missions you will tally favour with the jocks and alienate the nerds and vice versa. The game becomes a bit of a balancing act at times and it affects how you are treated in the school grounds. Interestingly the game is not quite limited to just gangs, as individuals within the gangs might hate or like Jimmy a little more than the others. There are even romantic encounters, just like we all experienced in the real life school. Kisses in game actually increase your health for some bizarre reason, however if you end up kissing the partner of another kid then you may very well find yourself in the middle of a fight.

Character interaction is rather simplistic but works relatively well. You either give positive or negative responses and taunt people into fighting, or if you so wish you can kiss their asses to try and tally favour. Unfortunately while this sounds very freeform and appealing in theory, the actual implementation is more or less forced along with the game storyline so you are really quite limited in the choices you make.

Your time at Bullworth Academy follows the same routine, you attend a class every morning and every afternoon with the option to skip the class to get up to some antics. Prefects patrol the grounds and are always to be avoided. They will chase you for a myraid of rule breakers, such as truancy, fighting, or even wearing clothes that break the school rules. You will end up running a lot in Bully however your character is seemingly one of the fittest kids in the world as he can outrun and outlast everyone else. Hiding points include trash cans and lockers and it won't take long before the prefects give up their hunt.

Attending classes isn't as boring as it sounds because you have to play mini games to get bonuses. There are ten classes which have mini games and each can be completed five times. For example shop class unlocks better bikes and english improves your ability to taunt or compliment your peers. For those of you who like to check the change lists, the original Bully had six classes, so the new Scholarship edition has an additional four.

The main strength of Bully is the storyline, as with all things Rockstar, it is witty, sharp and very well executed. Imagine watching a hilarious teen angst movie and this is exactly what you will feel a part of, just that it is interactive. All the characters have great personalities, are well voice scripted and come to live on your TV.

There are a plethora of missions in Bully and you will end up doing your fair share of "go and fetch" quests, they all work well and are easy to comprehend, you won't end up mindlessly backtracking or hunting for a mission objective. All these missions are short, but extremely pleasurable. Bully breaks a little from the usual game style of "10 missions, each an hour long", into more of a "hundreds of missions, each several minutes long" approach. This really makes for a totally enjoyable series of events rather than a plodding game - if one mission is boring, you really don't get time to fall asleep.

Combat is mainly hand to hand fighting, you won't be carrying any rocket propelled grenade launchers.  Left trigger locks onto a foe, X is the attack button, Y grabs and B adds a few other moves when in a grapple. As the game progresses you gain more attacks, however the simplistic nature of the combat is always apparent and this is not a bad thing, the system works well. There are some supplemental weapons such as firecrackers, itching powder, stink bombs and catapults.

Combat is really quite fun in a lighthearted way, once you have an enemies strength down to almost nothing you can initiate a humiliation move. If you like the idea of kicking a guy down to almost zero strength then insulting him by making him hit himself with his own hand then this game will surely appeal to you.

The game lasts around 14 hours if you stick only to the primary missions to get through the main storyline, however you would missing out on a lot of the fun elements if you limited yourself to this. Rockstar have crafted a vibrant, bustling adolescent world to enjoy which likely would double the game play time if you took your time.

The world of Bully is another of the games main strengths, there are sub games like "Consumo" (in which you play a sumo out to eat as much food as possible) and loads of carnival, BMX and go kart rides. You can even take pictures , build a yearbook and break into lockers. The list goes on and on.

The graphics in Bully are unfortunately not as "next gen" as we might have hoped for, clearly the game hasn't undergone the full monty in regards to a graphics overhaul and while the resolution has been improved, the background details are sadly lacking. To be fair developer Mad Doc have built the engine from the ground up however compared to AAA titles such as Gears Of War the game looks several years old. The title is also plagued with texture pop in and frame rate issues which while not ruining the game certainly mar the experience.

The voice acting in Bully is top notch and the soundtrack also helps to keep the flag flying high, it is not based on licensed songs from well known artists, however the original soundtrack is more than adequate to keep the immersive experience flowing.

There is a multiplayer mode, but it is not online, in this mode you can team up with a friend and compete in one of ten games. One player takes Jimmy while the other takes his single player friend, Gary. It is not an indepth experience and there are no leaderboards. It really is nothing more than a curious inclusion and tends to feel a little like an afterthought.

All in all Bully: Scholarship Edition is an enjoyable, fun game. It doesn't really bring anything fresh to the table when compared with the original PS2 version, however the improved graphics and additional game elements enhance what was already a very solid and playable title from Rockstar.

Gameplay
87/100
Great Fun and will appeal to many people especially fans of Rockstar's story based titles
Graphics
72/100
An improvement over the original PS2 version with high resolution graphics and some decent textures. There are some frame rate issues however and many of the background settings are very bland and lifeless.
Sound
83/100
Great voice acting and respectable music and ambient sounds.
Value
87/100
Will probably last around 15-20 hours, which by todays standards is a very respectable amount of game play time. There is more to do after you beat the main storyline based missions.
Overall
(not an average)
86/100
Recommended but be aware that the first hour or two is not the most exciting.

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