I paid $20
I love the concept of social games like The Sims and Animal Crossing. The concept, not the actual games. Those I have all found to be not at all fun. Along comes Bully. While it runs on a variant of the GTA engine, it doesn’t play like a normal sandbox game. It is a social simulator, a spiritual peer to Animal Crossing. However, unlike its milder cousins, Bully has action, a storyline, and a mean streak.
Bully has you playing a year in the life of Jimmy Hopkins, a 15 year old with a bad attitude, recently enrolled at Bullworth Academy. Your goal is to navigate through the social waters of Bullworth, a hell on earth environment where dog-eat-dog is the rule of the land, and everyone is constantly being tormented by someone else. Needless to say, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the typical high school experience.
The game starts with Jimmy being dropped off at Bullworth. As he enters the school, he is surrounded by kids taunting each other, chasing each other, crying. It is a nightmare given form. He soon befriends Petey, a pushover, and Gary, a scheming sociopath. Gary has a plan. Gary wants to take over the school.
Gameplay itself is nothing special. The missions are pretty mundane: fetch this, protect her, beat up him, etc. Combat amounts to little more than mashing down on the square button. If a game where nothing more than the mechanics of play, then Bully would merely be a very watered down GTA knockoff.
Fortunately, Bully isn’t really an action game. It is a dark high school simulator, and the joy of it is in the little details. As a student, Jimmy has classes to attend, and a curfew to keep. Get busted and you’ll have to attend class or detention. Stay out too late, and you’ll pass out. Classes are minigames, that teach Jimmy new skills upon completion. As the year progresses, the seasons change, complete with holiday decorations. These details, and many others, make Bullworth feel like a real school, albeit one with much of the drudgery stripped away.
At the heart of the game is the miniature society found within Bullworth’s walls. Each student is a distinct character with his or her own personality. At any time you can have Jimmy interact with any of them, with the option to either be friendly or to be hostile. Most students belong to a clique, and how clique members respond to Jimmy changes as he gains and loses favor over the course of the game. It captures the feel of a small community.
It is a little disappointing that your standing with the cliques is wholly based on the results of your scripted missions. And the social mechanics, which have been stapled onto an action game engine, aren’t as deep as it feels like they could be. But the game has enough depth that I found myself getting pulled into the world of Bullworth Academy.
Bully has received a lot of media attention as various parties attacked it as a bullying simulator, but they’re missing the point. Jimmy is certainly a thug, but at a school where the motto is Canis Canem Edit (dog eat dog), that hardly makes him unique. Thugs are everywhere, and Jimmy spends as much time fending off attacks from other students as he does causing trouble. As do all the characters. All the students at Bullworth are lashing out against others, out of a constant state of fear and insecurity. Jimmy is just playing by the rules. When one asks who is the bully in the title, the game’s sly answer is “Everyone.”
Those expecting a solid action title or a deep sandbox game might be disappointed by Bully’s gameplay. But if you want a game that is halfway between Animal Crossing and GTA, peppered with blunt satire, check it out. It isn’t going to be a game for everyone, but I was charmed by the game’s style.
Objective Rating: 78
Subjective grade: A-
Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.