(You can’t beat a bit of) Bully.

Bully: Scholarship Edition
X360 boxart

Title: Bully: Scholarship Edition.
Format: XBox 360.
Release date: March 2008 .
Obtained: Sometime in 2009.
Place of purchase: GAME (Walsall).
Price: £25 (I think).
Completed?: Yes (12th May 2012).

Seems fitting to start off this potentially very long series of musings on every game I’ve ever played by talking about the one I’m mainly playing now: Bully by Rockstar Games. Specifically I mean the Scholarship Edition of the game on the 360, not the PS2 original. I actually did once own the PS2 version (renamed Canis Canem Edit here in the UK for reasons best left to the censors and the gods), but it arrived pretty much at the end of the console’s mainstream life when I was just getting a 360, so I never really played it. In fact, it became one of the very few games that I’ve ever traded in.

An even more obscure and utterly, utterly worthless bit of information is that B:SE was the only game I ever bought from GAME in Walsall I remember ‘nipping’ there on the way back to the office after meeting a customer one time. The customer in question I won’t name for the simple reason that I thought he was a bit of a prat.

Bully for the most follows the template of Rockstar’s open-world games laid down in GTA III and not really changed all that much since: you wander around at your own volition, progressing through the game by completing main- and side-storyline missions. Where it really stands out is it’s setting: a school. Admittedly it’s an Americanised boarding school complete with cliques of ‘jocks’ and ‘greasers’ that those of us brought up in the glories of the British educational system will know only from Saved By The Bell, but it’s a stunningly well-realised set-up. There are lessons to attend, buildings to explore and a whole town to play in. Plus you can beat up kids, stick fire crackers in toilets, vandalise school property and a whole litany of things that I never did at school because I was a good boy and, more pertinently, scared of getting caught.

Bully - In-game footage.
Jimmy Hopkins beating up a random kid for no real reason.

Never having really played the PS2 version, I’m not entirely certain what new content the Scholarship Edition adds, other than what the back of the box tells me. The graphics have been spruced up a bit, but their last-gen origins are evident throughout, and it looks a bit of an eye-sore in places once you’ve witnessed the visual majesty of GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption. Lack of checkpoints in the missions harkens back to a time when games were more challenging (or frustrating, depending on your point-of-view). Having said that, the majority of the missions I’ve played through thus far (and I’m around 50% in as I write) haven’t been too troublesome, with only a couple causing me to re-try. Actually, what’s caused me the most problems hasn’t been the difficulty of the game but a combination of the frequently-stupid camera and target-lock-on, which seem both designed to irritate and cause headaches at the most inconvenient of times.

When it first came out I remember people comparing it to the Microprose classic Skool Daze. To be honest, setting aside, there’s not really a great deal of similarity between them, probably a result more of the twenty or so years in between the two titles. Still, the game’s a good one and I’m glad that – after a couple of false starts – I’ve finally gone back to it to try and finish it once and for all. There’s plenty of fun to be had, with an entertaining storyline and lots of mini-games, albeit of admittedly varying quality, to try your hand at.

What has actually impressed me most about the game – and I really hope this is something that Rockstar build into the upcoming GTAV – is the passage of time and the fact that the story takes place at different seasons. You start off at the beginning of the school year and progress through Autumn, Winter (complete with Christmas decorations) and – presumably – Spring and Summer too. There’s one particularly memorable moment where you start off one mission at the end of the second chapter and the snow suddenly starts to fall; it’s a small thing, but one that’s still unusual enough in sandbox games, and has a bit of the same impact that the arrival in Mexico sequence had in RDR.

Christmas in Bullworth
Christmas in Bullworth. Pity the snowman.

UPDATE: After three aborted attempts over three years, I managed to complete this yesterday. I’m pleased to say that the remainder of the game keeps up the quality that I spoke about above. The storyline never really gets going all that much, but it’s entertaining and the high standard of the dialogue keeps it moving along. In ever want to do the bloody annoying stealth section in Finding Johnny Vincent ever again, though.

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