First lesson: history. Bully was released in 2006 for the PS2. It was true to Rockstar’s distinctive open world, mission-based GTA games, but based around a private school. Later an updated version was released for the 360 and Wii, adding new features, characters and improved graphics. Even later than that, the PC finally gets a turn.
So pupils, what have Rockstar been doing in all that time? Apparently adding bugs, removing the offline multiplayer mode, and certainly not working hard on mouse/keyboard controls. But we’ll get to that. You play 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, child of a broken home, expelled from almost every school in the area. As his mother goes off on an eight month honeymoon with her eighth husband, Jimmy finds himself on the bottom rung of an extremely rough and unpleasant school, fighting for survival, attending lessons and trying to get it all done within the draconian school rules.
If you’ve played any of the GTA games, you’ll recognize the basic structure. You begin on a sizeable map, with missions and sidequests to complete, while balancing your status among rival gangs. Except here the gangs are school factions: jocks, nerds, greasers, etc. Cars are replaced by skateboards and bicycles. Hookers and drugs switched for slutty girls and slingshots. And on top of all of this, Jimmy has to attend lessons twice a day, or at least not get caught when he skives off. He also has to sleep at night, or he’ll pass out at 2am. Therefore much of the game is about budgeting your time. As you progress, the game’s world expands, and Jimmy’s abilities develop. Which brings us to the game’s one misstep: the lessons.
The idea is great: Jimmy gains skills and abilities through the classes he attends. Art classes improve his kissing (kissing girls gives you extra health, just like in real life), English gives him more ways to talk his way out of trouble, Chemistry lessons teach him how to make his own firecrackers, itching powder and stink bombs. But each lesson (bar photography and gym) is a tedious affair, either horribly dull quick-time event challenges, or sub-standard puzzles that wouldn’t grace the worst casual game. They’re a necessary chore rather than fun.