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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Publisher By: Rockstar Games
Developed By: Rockstar Vancouver
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: October 17, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims

Taking what they've learned from years of working on the Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar Games has created Bully, an attempt to plant players in the middle of a high school environment and generally let them be a badass within it, and the result is GTA in a sort of downsized but concentrated form.

Bully drops players off at Bullworth Academy, a New England prep school that's basically run by bullies, cliques, and a somewhat dysfunctional faculty, and has players try to survive by forming relationships with different social groups through completing a variety of tasks.

Like the GTA games, Bully attempts to create a sort of working dynamic world that lest players do what they feel like. But whereas GTA presented huge, sprawling environments, Bully files everything down to a relatively small, albeit deep world, and the change is seen in both the game's technical and design aspects.

Bully's graphics engine, a refined version of the San Andreas engine, is definitely the best looking one Rockstar has fashioned on the PS2 with noticeably more detailed environments and character models whom are all unique (instead of the repeating sprites you usually get in GTA), and even emploring new effects like depth of field, which all, combined with a very minimal use of HUD, put more life into the small area of Bullworth Academy and the surrounding town, giving it a deeper feel compared to GTA. This focus permeates into the game's design in that it creates a dynamic world similar to what you would find in GTA and roots the game's challenges in it, but refines both the interface and the structure.

The Bullworth Academy campus as well as the surrounding town is filled with hundreds of characters, each one unique and each one (especially on the campus) part of a complex social structure made up of cliques, other students, the faculty, and the prefects, all of whom constantly interact, usually with you in the middle of what's going on.

While walking around campus you'll commonly see bullies picking on smaller kids, jocks getting into fights with nerds or greasers (which sometimes have surprising results), and prefects (basically hall monitors) chasing down delinquent students, and people generally chit chatting about the happenings on campus (usually about you).

Getting through the main story of Bully is based on interacting with these groups, each one with its own unique personality that effects how you play the game. Doing missions for a certain group rewards you with advantages like the friendship of that particular group and special rewards (like items) that differ from group to group.

Doing a mission for the nerds for example, like body guarding one of them during his student government campaign speech might give you access to a scope for your slingshot or some other cool gadget, but the jocks would also hate you more. On the flipside, starting to do missions for the Preps may give you the ability to use eggs as a weapon and gives you access to a boxing club which could make you a better fighter.

What makes these missions work so well is that they are all based in a world system that, like those in Rockstar's previous games, is dynamic by nature. All kinds of things can happen during the course of a task due to varying social interactions that all go on in the background. Completing a mission may present extra obstacles simply based on the fact that one more clique hates you and is out to get you, or the fact that you have to walk straight through that group's territory. The most prominent group in the world of Bully that affects nearly every action you take in the game is the prefects.

The prefects are basically the police of Bullworth Academy who roam the campus, busting anyone showing the usual signs of deliquency. Pretty much anything out of line you do, fighting, skateboarding, leaving school in the middle of the day, skipping class, picking lockers, or pulling any kind of prank (throwing cherry bombs in the toilet for instance), will get the prefects on you, and dealing with them is perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of playing Bully.

If one grabs you, you can simply shake them off and bolt, running past and jumping over all sorts of obstacles, or you can sneak around them, basically turning the game into a sort of basic Metal Gear by hiding in lockers, in trash cans, or otherwise cleverly avoiding them. The act of slamming a prefect in the nuts and then running off past the whole lot of them on your bike or skateboard gives off an excellent feeling of actually triumphing over authority. However you also have the option of just talking your way out of the situation… if you've been going to class that is.

While going to classes in Bully isn't necessary at all, and you can easily avoid the consequences of skipping class (and it's quite fun doing so too), actually attending classes in this game has been designed to be both beneficial and fun in a way. Each of the different classes like English, chemistry, shop, or art, puts you into a different minigame. For the most part these minigames are actually quite fun and pretty challenging at the same time. Completing each class gets you upgrades like better chemistry equipment to make firecrackers and stinkbombs, the ability to more effectively talk your way out of trouble, or better fighting techniques from gym class, which does a good job of opening up Bully's fighting system, which is somewhat based off of the one from Rockstar’s The Warriors.

You have your basic punch, block, and throw buttons as well as a sort of insult button that can turn into a special move like a wedgie or Indian burn. As you go through gym class you learn more combos and techniques to that make you a more effective fighter against people like bullies and jocks. This system works in that it gives off a sufficient sense of satisfaction when you're taking down a whole group of jocks or preps almost single-handedly.

Outside of going to class and doing tasks, Bully also does offer its own set of extra things to engage in, namely, jobs and other activities you can do to earn money. On campus students will occasionally come to you asking for help with a variety of tasks like walking them to their rooms, making deliveries for them, and other odd things. You can also take on jobs like doing a paper route (which fortunately attempts to emulate the classic game Paperboy), or mowing lawns. Because of the benefits all of this provides and the additional challenge it adds to the game, the extra content here is certainly enough to support a game played without focus on the main tasks.

What probably sets Bully apart the most though in the area of creating its own world is that because of its refocus on depth rather than sheer size, Bully seems to have turned out to be somewhat of a more manageable game than the larger games of the GTA series. Those who may have been intimidated by absolutely daunting size of GTA San Andreas may have an easier time settling into Bully, as it seems to be a more digestible game.

In creating an entertaining world to play in, Rockstar has maintained its tradition of filling its games with some exceptional presentation value, especially in the cutscenes. Cutscenes in Bully are all acted and animated excellently, giving off a vibe perfectly reminiscent of classic school-themed movies (think Animal House), filled with a cast of deliciously dysfunctional characters among both the faculty and students. All in all the cinematic portions of Bully are at least as entertaining as actually playing the game.

Bottom Line
If you enjoy the idea of getting into a sandbox world and doing what you want with it, but were scared off by the enormous size of games like San Andreas, Bully might be your game. It takes the general formula that Rockstar's been honing on the PS2 for so long and refines it to a point where the refocusing on a smaller environment results in a greater sense of depth both technically and design-wise and at the same time plants players in a world that is rarely visited in games and has never been done like this.


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