I must not be alone as the only person with a blog who occasionally lapses into “busy-ness” and either can’t find the time or the words to write about anything. I must!
I’ve not written a new post in about three weeks. I’ll admit it – most of this current busy spell has largely been due to my Xbox 360, and more specifically, Call of Duty 4. It’s a great game, and it really is scary how addictive repeatedly leveling up your online soldier can be. But as a game player who is familiar with the crack-like properties of other electronic adventures, like World of Warcraft, I guess I can understand.
For the last week, however, I haven’t really been playing much COD4. Instead, I’ve been running around school grounds beating up kids, causing trouble for the administration, and generally being kind of a… well, bully. You know where this is going.
Yup – I’ve been playing Rockstar’s Bully: Scholarship Edition. I picked it up on the first day it was out, and just finished the game today with 100% completion, and 1000 achievement points. It’s an excellent game, and I highly recommend it. In a day where good game design is copied in triplicate by even the most respectable studios, it really is easy to forget what makes the original ideas (and the people behind them) great.
I played Saint’s Row all the way through some months ago, and though it too was a good game, it never quite forged ahead with the confidence that the GTA series had. Sure, it did take the GTA formula and improve on many of that series’ shortcomings, but when it came to interesting characters and narrative, smart humor, and social commentary, Saint’s always came up short by comparison. Having not played a new Rockstar game since San Andreas, this realization was lost on me – until I picked up Bully last week.
It’s easy to describe exactly what gives Bully its charm. The game contains within it all the staples of any Rockstar production of the last decade. You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a bad kid who just wants to be good again, and right from the beginning, you’re introduced to a handful of other characters, each embodying a different cliché of schoolyard personality (nerds, jocks, preppies, etc.). These cliques of kids act as the gangs in Bully, and anyone familiar with the way gangs have been handled in past Rockstar games will be right at home here.
Also to be found in Bully is the usual Rockstar humor and its ever-present social commentary. As you explore the school and surrounding town, you’ll encounter all sorts of things that are both funny, and sometimes subtly truthful. Prefects wander the halls of the school, complaining about not being able to beat enough people. The gym teacher has a sick obsession with seeing jocks mistreat the nerds. The preppies won’t be friendly to you unless you’re wearing expensive clothes. Girls impressed with Jimmy’s antics exclaim how they can’t wait to graduate, so they can spend all day kissing him… Okay, so maybe it’s not always so realistic – but the fact is, after playing a game like Saint’s Row, where NPC’s childishly drop the “F-bomb” continuously in hopes of a cheap laugh, most of Rockstar’s efforts into injecting humor and social context into their games seems almost high brow. Bully pulls off its humor and social context well – while playing it, you can’t help but wonder how many members of Rockstar’s staff might have actually been bullies in their childhood, for them to have gotten the whole experience down so well, and for them to be able to find so much humor in it.
The 360 version of Bully definitely has its flaws; throughout my quest to rule Bullworth Academy, the game froze my system completely 4-5 times. But as with all slightly flawed, but nevertheless awesome games, I kept reloading and jumping right back in. I highly recommend playing this game, if you haven’t played it on the Playstation 2 already, and now that I am done with it, I will hopefully have a little more time for my own game making again.
Unless my usual crew wants to play Call of Duty 4, that is!