Bully: Scholarship Edition - Review
By Rory - March 11, 2008
Platforms: Xbox 360
Check out the Video Review!
How does our second tour of Bullworth Academy fare?
The original Bully came out in 2006 exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and now it’s been remade for the Xbox 360 with extra content and improved visuals. This time around there are eight new missions, four new classes, new unlockable items and clothing, a two-player offline multiplayer mode, and of course... achievements. The core game is still just as good but minor tweaks here and there have made an overall improvement on the game. The graphics have been improved in every way, although they still don’t stand up to most Xbox 360 games today. The extra classes, although fun, feel a bit tacked on and the extra missions are just too short. The game is also once again plagued with bugs and glitches that really keep it from living up to its full potential. This is still a great game, but in my opinion it’s just not enough of an improvement.
The visuals in the game are much better this time around. The graphics themselves are very clean and easy to look, but dated nonetheless. You can definitely tell this was a PS2 port and not a ground-up Xbox 360 game. The character models are better, but still very blocky. The cutscene animations are stiff, but definitely improved. The mouths do a better job of matching up with what the character is saying and there are actual facial expressions now. The art style and effects in Bully have a more fun and kid-friendly feel to them and the enhanced colors only make things better. The textures in the game are clean but there’s not much to them. It definitely takes away any realism the game might have had. One issue I had was something that most gamers know all about: The ‘level of detail’ problem. While walking along, you’ll notice that there’s a transparent line following in front of you, revealing the detail of the textures. It’s usually only noticeable while walking on pavement, but it’s still annoying. Check out the video review for an example of this. The pop-in isn’t too bad this time around and usually only occurs when approaching the city from the school. The framerate has been slightly improved, but it’s still an issue. It goes from stable to unstable continuously, for no real reason. You’ll just be running along and the framerate will be fine and out of the blue it will start slowing down even though nothing is happening. It’s pretty annoying at first, but I actually found it pretty easy to ignore once I got used to it. The lighting effects are not so great. To give the ‘sunset’ feel, the game just puts an orange haze over the screen that does nothing apart from make it harder to see. It doesn’t actually effect the environment at all. Day into night transitions are awkward and abrupt. One second it will be seemingly fading into night and then all of a sudden everything will get completely dark and every city light will come on instantaneously.
The graphical glitches from the PS2 version are mostly still here. Some of the major ones have been fixed, but minor ones are still present. There’s lots of character twitching, things clipping through one another, characters clipping through themselves, etc. One glitch that I thought was particularly funny was every once in a while when Jimmy sits down in class, he’ll do a complete 360 degree spin in his seat. There are other graphical glitches that happen every once in a while that will completely ruin parts of the game if they occur. I’ll get into that more when I talk about the classes, as that’s what they pertain to.
Still, the graphical improvements do make the game more enjoyable.
The audio in Bully is pretty good. The music is fun and there’s a wide variety of it. It does a good job of setting the mood for whatever you happen to be doing. The sound effects are nothing special, but they’re decent and fit the game well. The slingshots, firecrackers, punches, etc. are all overexagerated and unrealistic, but they work. The voice acting is really good, for the most part. The main characters are really given their own identity through their voices and the way they speak (in cutscenes). It makes the characters feel very dynamic. Some of the minor characters who don’t actually appear in cutscenes are voiced by the same handful of people and only have a few select comments which they’ll continuously repeat. Unfortunately, while playing the game you can’t really interact with other people very much. You can say things like “How ya doing?” or “You suck!” and they’ll respond appropriately, but that’s about it. You can’t have any real in-game conversions or anything like that and this does make things feel limited. Also, when speaking to major characters in-game they won’t act like they do in the cutscenes and they’ll say completely random things. It does kind of take away from the supposed relationship that you have with that character.
The story is decent, although it is pretty cliché and generic. You’re the tough guy who arrives at a new school and is hated by everyone but eventually takes over and tries to change things. I’m sure you’re thinking “I’ve heard this story so many times before, how can it possibly be interesting?” Well, this is a game, not a movie and that is what kind of saves it. We’ve never really played through anything like that. Plus it’s just so much more over-the-top when you really get into it. The story begins with the main character, Jimmy Hopkins, being dropped off (more like abandoned) at the school by his mother and new step father. He explains a little about his past experiences, such as being expelled from several schools, but you don’t get much back story on him and it makes it hard to feel any attachment. That does change as you start to play though. As you embark on your adventure as Jimmy, you’ll ignore the fact that you don’t even know who he is, and as things start to unfold and all kinds of things start happening to him you’ll find it easier to put yourself in his shoes.
No “teen goes to a new school” story would be complete without the stereotypical set of cliques. There’s the jocks, the nerds, the greasers, the bullies, the preps and the townies (or drop outs). They’re all here and they all hate eachother. When you first get to the school everyone is against everyone, and they all especially hate you. It’s hard to walk 10 feet without someone trying to pick a fight with you. Right off the bat you only have two friends, a crazy sociopath named Gary and a shy loner named Pete. Right away it’s clear that Gary really doesn’t value you as a friend and only wants one thing: to take over the school. As you progress you’ll start doing missions for certain cliques to earn their respect. You’ll start from the ground up, running errands for nerds, but soon you set your eyes on the next clique to take over. You work your way up until eventually you’re the head of the school. That doesn’t last long as there’s one person who doesn’t want to see you at the top.
The gameplay in Bully is really what sets it apart. Some refer to it as ‘GTA in a school’, and although it has its similarities, it’s really nothing like that. There are no guns or knives and you can’t kill people or steal cars or anything like that. There is a lot of violence in this game though. The fighting is pretty intense and you can use weapons such as bats or boards to knock people out with. When you hit someone, you really get a sense of impact from it. The fight system works really well and is similar to the Warriors. There are different punch-kick combos that you learn throughout the game, and they’re fun to use but you’ll mostly just find yourself mashing X to take someone down. The enemy’s health bar is shown as a circle that appears around their feet which decreases as you deal damage to them. It’s simple but effective. The fighting is fun though and it never feels repetitive. Taking someone down feels very satisfying and you just don’t get tired of it. One problem with the fighting is the targeting system. You press the left trigger to target specific enemies, but which enemy it targets is completely random. I’d find myself facing right in front of someone trying to target them in a fight and it will go off and target some random person to the side of me. Also, during a fight you’ll constantly be hitting nearby people who you aren’t trying to hit. You’ll be fighting a set of bullies and a nerd will run up and try to help out and just run into one of your punches. Then he gets mad at you and you’ve got a whole set of nerds on you as well. It gets quite aggravating at times. The weapon mechanics are decent but aren’t as in-depth as you’d hope. Throughout the game you’ll get things like slingshots, firecrackers, potato guns, stink bombs, etc. but they don’t work that well in most situations and you’ll rarely use them outside of boss battles and when you’re just messing around.
I said before that there is no car-jacking, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to go everywhere on foot. Eventually you’ll unlock a skateboard that will get you around a little quicker. It’s controls pretty well and it’s fun to use. Don’t expect Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or anything; you can’t pull off any tricks but you can ride around and ollie and do spins off of staircases and stuff like that. It’s pretty much just for getting around, and in that respect it does work well. You’ll also get a bike when you leave the school which works the same way but is a bit faster and handles better on rough terrain.
The main part of the game is broken up into chapters but with a mission-based structure, much like GTA’s. Each chapter you’ll be taking over a different clique. As the chapters progress, things will change. In one chapter for example, snow will fall and Christmas decorations will be everywhere. It really gives you the feel of a progressing school year. Throughout the main story, you’ll be doing different missions for different people and you can activate these at any time. You’re not forced to do any mission at a certain time if you don’t feel like doing it. The game is an open world and you’re free to progress at whatever speed you want to. Doing missions earns you respect from one clique, and sometimes loses you respect from another. Your ultimate goal is to get to the top.
One of the coolest things about Bullworth is that it really feels like a living, breathing school. There are people everywhere doing their own thing. Some going to class, some hanging out talking, some getting in fights, etc. At first it seems like there is a massive amount of students because they're literally everywhere, but unfortunately you'll soon figure out that it's the same handful of students popping in and out of random locations.
Classes play a pretty big part in the game. There are ten classes which you are supposed to attend (although you can skip them and be truant) which are just simple little mini games that relate in some way to the subject. Passing classes will earn you useful rewards so it’s a very smart idea to go to class. Passing English for example will earn you better taunts and apologies, passing Geography will allow you to locate hidden items on your map, etc. The six original classes are English, Shop, Photography, Art, Chemistry and Gym. English is just an anagram game. It gives you a set of letters and you have to arrange them in different ways to make as many words as you can before the time runs out. This one is actually pretty hard because it requires you to come up with a large amount of words from the letters, and you’ll quickly run out of words that you’ve actually heard of. Shop has you working on bikes and requires you to do spur of the moment button presses or analog movements to advance. Photography offers no challenge but it’s a bit more fun and relaxing than the rest. It has you running around the school or town taking a number of pictures of certain things. Art is probably the hardest and most frustrating. It starts off easy but as you get to class #4 and even #5 it becomes very hard. It has you drawing lines on a canvas with erasers, scissors and other things flying all over the canvas trying to hit you. It eventually becomes just a frustrating mess of confusion where you'll die instantly and fail the class. Chemistry is extremely easy. Jimmy will be mixing chemicals as buttons will be flying from the side of the screen. They’ll move horizontally through a set of bars in the middle, and you hit that button as it passes. Gym has you either wrestling or playing dodgeball. The wrestling is easy and just serves to teach you new fighting moves (which would never actually be used on a wrestling mat). Dodgeball is a bit challenging at first until you get the hang of it. The added classes to the Scholarship Edition are Biology, Music, Math and Geography. Unfortunately these all feel a bit rushed and tacked on. Biology is kind of fun but is basically just a rip-off of froguts.com, without the educational value. This class has a major glitch that occurs every once in a while and can make it completely unplayable. When cutting open the animal there are small animations of green bubbles around the incision you’re making. Every once in a while these bubbles will become enormous and take up the entire screen making it impossible to see what you’re doing. The only way to fix this is to restart your console. Music is handled like DDR, but using only the right and left triggers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well. The button presses don’t line up with the music and you’ll have to rely on lining things up visually rather than by sound. Math is very easy but requires you to be quick. You’ll start off saying “man, I learned this stuff in the 3rd grade!” but you’ll soon realize that the challenge is coming up with the answers at a rapid pace. Geography really throws you off as it requires you to locate countries that most people could never actually locate on a map. This is the one class that actually requires knowledge. It’s also the most useful class of them all as passing them will give you a map indicator of all the collectibles in the game. A problem with all the classes is that failing them can be extremely frustrating. Each class is only available at a certain time of the day on certain days. If you fail a class, you’ve got to wait a long time before you can retry it, which makes failing even more annoying.
There are also side-missions that aren’t part of the main story and they kind of give you a break from the action. Some aren’t as fun as others but I wouldn’t consider any of them bad. There are also errand missions which pop up randomly and mostly consist of ‘deliver this’, ‘beat these people up’, ‘egg this many cars’, etc. They’re not a big of the game but it gives you more to do outside of the missions. There’s also things like bike-racing, go-kart racing, boxing, and arcade mini-games. The racing offers a decent amount of fun, but it does feel a bit easy. As long as you pass up the other riders right away and don’t run into anything, you’re guaranteed to win. The boxing on the other hand, is a lot of fun. This out of everything feels the most developed. It’s not Fight Night or anything, but it works very well and I really enjoyed it.
The multiplayer in the Scholarship Edition is just a simple two player offline mode where you and a friend can compete in a variety of mini-games. These are just the classes or the arcade games. There’s no boxing, no bike or go-kart racing, nothing like that. It’s pretty lame unfortunately, and you’ll get bored quickly.
Character customization is great. There are literally hundreds of clothing options (which you can buy, unlock, or steal from lockers), as well as different hairstyles you can get. You can even get tattoos. You can really make Jimmy into whatever you want.
Violating the rules or the law will cause you to be chased down by teachers or police and the resulting consequences will be getting sent to the principal’s office, and possibly detention where you’ll mow lawns. Really, that’s it. You could go crazy and beat up women, knock people out with bats, steal peoples bikes, assault police officers and all that happens is that you get dropped off at school or sent to the principal’s office. It just feels sort of weird having no real repercussions for negative actions.
The sense of direction in this game isn’t very good when you’re first starting out. You get used to your surroundings eventually but in the beginning you’ll really get thrown off when trying to locate places. Using your radar is a bust as there is always a set path to get to places and following the radar usually just leads you to a dead end. You’ll have to constantly check your map to figure out where you actually need to go. There is also no indoor map, so once you get inside you’ve got nothing to show you where to go.
The camera is not so great. If you try and maneuver it while running, it will completely throw you off course and send you running in a circle for no apparent reason. When you get indoors or enter a tight situation the camera just locks up in strange positions and doesn’t know what to do. You’ll constantly be fighting with it.
The save feature is just terrible. There’s no autosave or anything that’s become standard now. You have to hike yourself back to a designated save location and manually save it every single time. It’s very annoying and outdated. You’ll find yourself putting off saving the game just because it’s so inconvenient, but that’s really not a good idea. My game crashed twice while playing it and since it doesn’t save anything for you, I lost a good hour or two of playing each time. This also makes its way into the missions. Some of the missions can be very long and force you to do a ton of traveling and such and failing these means you start all the way at the beginning again. There’s no checkpoints, other than the beginning of a boss fight. If you fail, you hike all the way back to where the mission started and do it all from the beginning.
The loading is short, but very frequent. The load screens just show the same 4 or 5 boring images over and over and you’ll get pretty sick of seeing the same thing every single time.
So, with all these gameplay downfalls, why do I still think the game is as great as it is? These problems make up a very small part of the game. Play it for yourself and you’ll find out that the problems are there, but you can easily look past them in most situations. Beyond that, the game is just plain fun.
Overall, there are so many features thrown into Bully that we couldn’t possibly begin to list them all. The replayability is great and there are so many little things to do that you won’t get bored for quite a while. The game is also rather long. The main story took me about 15 hours to complete, and I spent another 10-15 finishing up everything else. The achievements add even more to the game. They’re pretty easy to get as they mostly just consist of throw 50 stink bombs, beat the bike races, etc. but hey, who doesn’t like 1000 free Gamer Points? As we’ve stated above, the game definitely has its down sides but it’s just so much fun that they are pretty easily forgiven. There isn’t much that’s new to this version that will make the experience that much better, but the game itself offers so much and is specially priced at only $49.99; great entertainment value. I highly suggest you pick it up.
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