Thursday, November 09, 2006


A quick explanation re: this week's review. The little bit at the bottom after the second photo is a sidebar that ran with the main story on the current kissing controversy surrounding the game. Thought I'd include both this time around.

It was while defending myself from an oversized attacker, pummeling him quickly and helplessly to the ground in a fury of fisticuffs, that I did something I never did before in a video game.

I apologized.

Then I helped him back up, admonished him about picking on defenseless kids and let him go on his way.

So it goes in “Bully,” the latest game from the company that brought the infamous “Grand Theft Auto” series.

If anything, “Bully” has created an even greater amount of controversy, drawing ire from anti-bullying groups and video-game haters.

“This game will glorify bullying,” protesters claimed. “Minds will be warped. Children will be hurt. This game is pure evil incarnate!”

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, “Bully” stands quite emphatically on the anti-bullying side of the fence. It’s not a shining tower of moral rectitude, nor is it a pit of cruel and insidious amorality.

In the game, you play Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled teen who gets dumped by his mom and worthless stepdad at Bullworth Academy, the worst prep school ever erected.

As the new kid, Jimmy quickly finds himself having to maneuver around the cliques and social groups — preppies, jocks, nerds, bullies and greasers — most of whom see him as easy pickings.

Learning fighting skills taught by a drunk, homeless vet, Jimmy quickly decides to fight back and slowly starts to put an end to the constant harassment that goes on at the school, becoming something of a big man on campus in the process. And if he has to enforce the peace with a baseball bat, so much the better.

Despite the large amount of fighting in the game, it should be noted that there is no blood or gore to speak of. No knives or guns, either. Bottle rockets, itching powder and slingshots are the weapons of choice here.

Of course, Jimmy’s noble intentions don’t make him a star pupil. Throughout the game you’ll engage in such antisocial activities as breaking into lockers, egging houses, vandalizing property and, of course, leaving flaming bags of dog excrement at someone’s door.

Yet for every time you break the law, there’s a mission where you’re called to protect the weaker students at the school, such as when you have to escort the incontinent geek to his locker without getting beat up, or get the nerdy girl’s chemistry notes back from the mean cheerleader who stole them.

Consequences loom large in the game. Picking on girls will immediately draw the wrath of the school’s prefects, who are more than happy to knock you flat. Steal a bike and expect to see the police pull up next to you in seconds. In fact, learning to maneuver around the adult authority is one of the trickier aspects of the game.

But while “Bully” may be ethically and thematically different from the “Grand Theft Auto” games, structurally it’s quite similar. As with “San Andreas” and its ilk, you play on a vast landscape, picking missions at your leisure. There’s lots of minigames to play and tons of unlockable items such as clothes to discover.

The gameplay itself is varied but never feels cheap or by the numbers. At various times I raced bikes, delivered food, started a paper route, mowed lawns, found someone’s lost dog and (how meta!) played video games. None of the tasks felt tacked on or poorly designed.

“Bully” resembles the GTA series in a more notable and important aspect: its sense of humor. Like its brethren, “Bully” is at its heart a satire, a funny, but dark critique of the brutality and cliquishness that pervades most high schools, and indeed, most of adult life.

“Bully” isn’t a terribly difficult game — you’ll get through the main story without any trouble — but is a highly engaging and entertaining one.

For those of us who were picked on in school, “Bully” often seems hilariously and cringingly familiar. Despite his more mean-spirited moments, I wish I had had someone like Jimmy Hopkins to escort me to the bathroom.


When “Bully” was announced, detractors feared the game would be a mindlessly violent, morally abhorrent “Columbine simulator.”

It turns out the violence might be the least controversial aspect of the game.

In “Bully,” you can woo female students by offering them flowers or chocolates. They, in turn, will give you a kiss or two, which can raise your health level.

But the girls aren’t the only classmates willing to pucker up for some pretty posies. There are a few boys eager to lock lips as well.

Apparently one boy from each clique at the school “plays for the other team.” If you can locate them and offer them some sweets, they’ll utter something like “You’re hot. I’m hot. Let’s make out.”

The kissing itself, as with the girls, is pretty G-rated, with only the occasional impassioned moan raising so much as an eyebrow.

Last year, Rockstar came under fire for a hidden sex scene, dubbed “Hot Coffee” in their game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

Is all this some sort of smart-aleck reaction to the “Hot Coffee” incident? (one pundit has already dubbed the new sequences “warm tea.”) Or is Rockstar attempting to incorporate more diversity and real-life situations into their games?

Either way, the scenes might generate more media attention than outright violence would.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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