Bully remains my favourite Rockstar game. There are plenty of reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that I like things that are set in schools. I’m not sure why this is, but so far as settings go, high schools are one of my favourites. It’s why I enjoy Persona, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and any number of terrible teen coming of age movies. (Mean Girls represent.)
But there’s plenty of other reasons to like Bully, too, chief among which for me is the fact that there are no guns anywhere to be seen. The Grand Theft Auto series is great, for sure, but we all get tired of guns once in a while. Bully’s arsenal — made as it is of boxes of eggs, firecrackers, stink bombs and a slingshot — captures the slightly absurd nature of high school conflicts and pranks nicely while still fulfilling the necessary “weaponry” function in the game.
Then there’s the fact that amidst all the drama and silliness of the storyline, you’re still a schoolkid and are expected to not get into trouble and to attend class. You can break both of those rules, of course — this is a Rockstar game, after all — but it’s actually to your advantage to attend the classes in the school, as they unlock various special abilities through fun little mini-games. They also provide a means to get to know the characters of the teachers, who actually play a relatively minor role in the story but are still there in the background — discovering the art teacher’s insistence on painting her in increasingly slutty poses, for example, is an entertaining moment.
My absolute favourite thing about Bully, though, is the scale of it. It’s not that it’s huge — it really isn’t. It’s probably smaller than Grand Theft Auto III. But in that scaling down, you get a lot more density. There’s a lot more to do in a much smaller area, meaning you’re rarely left wandering aimlessly in the desert like in Red Dead Redemption (a game which really didn’t resonate with me for some reason — perhaps I’ll give it another shot if it ever gets a PC release) unless you specifically choose to wander aimlessly in pursuit of the inevitable hidden goodies.
Bully found itself on the receiving end of controversy from People Who Didn’t Understand It when it was originally released. Such was the fuss kicked up by people judging it purely by its name that the UK version ended up being renamed Canis Canem Edit (“Dog Eat Dog”) — later, thankfully, renamed back to Bully for the Scholarship Edition. Yes, it’s quite violent considering schoolkids are involved — but there are consequences for your actions, even if it’s just “you have to run away and hide in a bin for a bit.” And you’re punished more severely for hitting little kids or girls — not to mention the fact that indulging in acts of random violence really doesn’t achieve anything, unlike in Grand Theft Auto, where it can sometimes net you cash or other goodies. There’s no blood in Bully, either — all combat is of the “playground brawl” variety, usually ending with one party or the other suffering a wedgie or a palmful of spit to the face rather than, you know, death. Really, there’s nothing in the game that you wouldn’t see if you dared to walk through the gates of any comprehensive school in the UK.
Having only intended to boot it up to see what the Scholarship Edition was all about, I find myself wanting to replay the whole thing in depth. So I’m going to do just that, and I’m off to do so right now.