Otherwise, the game is splendid. Cycling through the ever-expanding town, fighting mobs with the really superb combat, playing at the stalls in the local carnival, sneaking around the lunatic asylum, winning the hearts of girls, taking over the various school cliques... the remarkable level of detail, the billions of sidequests, the BMX tricks, watching the town live around you – it has all the hallmarks of Rockstar’s genius.
Despite the game being called Bully, and starring a kid who is a pretty effective thug, the goal is to stop the institutionalized bullying in the school. By, er, beating everyone up. Amazingly, this irony is never really acknowledged. Next most strange is how utterly terrified the game is of letting you do anything too socially unacceptable. You’ll never smoke, for instance. Or get drunk. Hitting girls and smaller kids is severely condemned, and when all hell breaks loose toward the end, all the girls mysteriously vanish lest one get caught in the crossfire. It may be violent, it may have pranks where teachers get covered in human shit, but gosh-darn it, it’s chivalrous. What remains is an open, breathing world, bursting with stuff to do, collect or smash to bits. Albeit spoilt by the PC conversion.
The PC controls are the worst thing. They’re a joke, the mouse seemingly a mystery to Rockstar. Even reassigning the controls is ghastly. When the game told us to “press mousewheel up and mousewheel down together” we gave up and plugged in a 360 controller. Good grief. Then a tutorial tip popped up reading: “NOT TRANSLATED”. Shortly after, the game told us we’d failed a mission because someone had been beaten up – someone who stood behind us, untouched. A few mission details were also buggy, such as graffiti vanishing, or failing to vanish when removed, and NPCs spent a lot of time running into the sides of buildings. Oh, and for the Biology minigame, the PC controls were reversed. None of it game-breaking, just frustrating.
Which creates a quandary. Bully is fantastic. While the graphics often reveal their PS2 roots, the acting is stunning, and it’s a pleasure to play. But this is a dismissive and often broken port, not even bothering with a cursor for the menus. With a 360 controller it’s playable and mostly enjoyable. With a mouse/keyboard, we wouldn’t bother. Yet it would be a big shame to miss out on such a brilliant game. So with these warnings in place, we do recommend it. But if only the PC version had been given more dignity, especially given the two years they had to convert it.
Nov 5, 2008