Remember all the alienating cliques, roughneck threats and other sweat-inducing agonies of your high school years? Well, no matter what your most painful memories are, Bully probably trumps them. In fact, the much-anticipated video game from Rockstar Games plays like a nervous freshman’s worst nightmare.
This particular bad dream belongs to Jimmy Hopkins, an unfortunate 15-year-old who’s dropped off at a penitentiary-style boarding school by his mom as she leaves on a year-long honeymoon with her rich new husband. After a quick grilling by an indifferent and oblivious principal, Jimmy’s tossed into the school’s population like a minnow in a tank of piranha.
The nerds, preps, jocks and greasers (displayed in larger-than-life caricatures) are vying for control of the campus and more than willing to pound the new kid into submission. It’s up to you to guide Jimmy through this gauntlet, try to stay healthy and battle your way to the top of the social heap. But even if you go in with the intention of being a good guy (with plenty of opportunities to help the downtrodden), you’re eventually forced into fighting fire with fire.
A Real Troublemaker
Bully is an open-world game, which means you can go wherever you want to on the school grounds and in the surrounding communities. Paint graffiti in the school hallway or toss eggs from a rooftop in town, the choice is yours. However, within this world, a rapidly progressing clock urges you along your way. Attending classes two times a day is expected and, although it’s possible to skip out, the game makes it worthwhile to show up. Each class features mini-games that pay out in the form of skill upgrades. For example, if you unscramble enough words in English class you receive improved verbal skills that help you talk your way out of a fight or detention. And gym classes feature dodgeball challenges that will improve your slingshot aim.
In addition to your classes, you fill your time by choosing different missions that eventually help you become the big fish in the student pond. Nobler duties include protecting nerds and escorting them to the library. While others quests—like feeding rancid meat to a dog so you can prepare a “special” surprise for the teachers—are downright nasty. Speaking of the teachers, the faculty is a mixed bag of mackerel, too. The art teacher encourages your photographic skills. But the English teacher is a drunk who takes swigs from a bottle in his desk drawer and gets students to collect his stray empties.
He Gets It From Your Side of the Family
Parents and critics alike have wondered if this high school roughhouse adventure would be as ugly as Rockstar’s controversial Grand Theft Auto series. And I’d have to say that there is a definite family resemblance. The game has its share of profanity (“d–n,” “b–ch,” “b–tard” and some misuses of God’s name). However, although there are plenty of punches thrown, Bully‘s violence is tame in comparison to GTA and doesn’t rely on knives, guns or rocket launchers. Yes, you lie, cheat, steal, rebel against authority and hit people with stink bombs, bottle rockets and slingshots (immoral choices that are all rewarded) but at least nobody dies.
So, what about sex, you ask? On the face of things, hormonal interaction appears limited to Jimmy stealing a kiss from a cute brunette or some punks talking roughly about “getting some.” But wait. The Rockstar boys had to thumb their noses a little bit. When Jimmy approaches certain guys with flowers in hand he can receive a quick lip-lock from them, too.
All things considered, though, I’d have to say that Bully is less like Grand Theft Auto and more like your neighbor’s aunt’s boy. You know the one. The delinquent with a smart mouth, a Playboy hidden under his mattress and a perpetual scab on his nose from one brawl or another. He’s no killer, but you wouldn’t want your kids hanging out with him, either.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.