Even before Rockstar had a chance to show off their school ‘em-up sandbox game the knee-jerk reactionists were knee-jerking like knee-jerking was going out of fashion. Knee-jerk. In short, a game named Bully would feature just that – bullying - with you controlling every aspect of the nasty core subject.
While you can make 15-year old protagonist, Jimmy Hopkins, dump an innocent pupil in a bin, it’s hardly the ‘Columbine simulator’ that game hating, and ex-attorney Jack Thompson described it as. But then he’s an attention seeking idiot hole. In fact, you’re punished by prefects and teachers for even the merest of wedgies you dole out. See...
Above: Jimmy is man-handled by one of the burly prefects for being late for class
Rather than be a brainless thug, Jimmy rises against them and unites the factions of nerds, jocks and regular kids by dishing out justice to those responsible for such behaviour. In a lot of ways then, he’s like Batman. But Bully was, and still is, a masterpiece in gaming that deserves to be lauded as highly as anything in Rockstar’s back catalogue.
The story barely contains any fat. All of your time following Jimmy around his school life at Bullworth Academy made sense and you rarely felt like you were pissing about with needless tasks. Sure there are jobs like being a paper boy or mowing someone’s lawn, but like a real kid - if you want to earn money, then you have to do chores. But all this felt part of Jimmy’s character.
Above: Chemistry lessons can blow up in your face if you don't get the button presses right
Condensing the play area from the sprawling landscapes of San Andreas and Vice City is a genius touch from Rockstar and creates a focus that is rarely found in free-roaming games. Everything of interest outside of the game’s main school hub is only a short bike ride away but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied within the halls of the Bullworth.
With simple minigames, Rockstar manages to sneak in some fun educational features in the form of classes, which Jimmy has to attend every so often. It was funny how I’d steal a bike and race back to school to make sure I didn’t miss a lesson. If only I had as much enthusiasm for education in my own youth – I could’ve been president of the UK by now, innit.
Above: Hardly the Hot Coffee mod from San Andreas but folk still got worked up over this
Forget the shitty distractions that are disguised as dates within GTAIV, Bully nailed the tricky subject of relationships with aplomb. Presenting a lady with flowers and other presents enabled you to snatch a kiss, like above, but the more you woo her the more gropey Jimmy becomes.
There's even a mission where you have to show a lass a good time (not like that) at the fun fair, but it never feels tacked on. Oh, and even this innocent aspect of Bully courted more controversy from the those daft reactionists by allowing you to kiss boys too. It's amazing that these backward fools managed to find the way out of their caves in the morning.