polsci's Bully (Xbox 360) review

A glitchy port of a fun game.

One thing is for certain - applying the sandbox environment Rockstar is famous for to a boarding school concept filled with school bullies, jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, greasers and townies is a great idea and for the most part, it works wonderfully. There is alot to see and do on the campus of Bullworth and the surrounding towns, and the game will keep you entertained and busy for the 25-30 hours it will take you to reach the end.

You play through the game as Jimmy Hopkins, a smart-mouthed but enlightened 15 year old who has been expelled from a number of schools and is unceremoniously dumped on the Bullworth campus by his mother and her 8th husband as they head off for their honeymoon. It's up to you from that point forward to make the best of the situation, befriend your classmates or defend yourself from them, attend or cut classes and ultimately rise to the top of the school food chain.

To make your mark on the school your main objective wil be to complete missions spread out over the game world. If you've played a number of sandbox games in the past, many of these will be familiar to you - fetch quests, timed missions, pranks, undermining rivals, and a whole lot of fighting. None of these missions are particularly difficult and I had no problem getting through the majority of them on the first attempt. For this reason, Bully is a more relaxing game than others in the genre. You won't find yourself getting terribly stressed out.

In addition to the core missions there are many, many other things to do in the game to keep you occupied - bike races, go kart races, carnival games, paper routes, cutting grass, egging cars, giving wedgies, playing a variety of video games, boxing, kissing girls (or boys if you prefer)... and alot of these have achievements attached to them.

Key to making your way through school is actually attending classes - chemistry, english, math, music, shop, biology, and geography. All of the classes are fun and fairly easy. It may take you a few tries to get through some of them (math in particular) and the final biology class seems to be nearly impossible to pull off in the time they give you. When you complete 5 classes of each discipline you'll be rewarded with some funky clothing or a perk within the game. For instance, shop classes give you access to better and better bikes, and geography classes will reveal locations for secret items on your map.

What really adds to the overall experience is Rockstar's well known approach to humor - the game is very funny and will have you chuckling at what is said and done in cut scenes, as well as in the game world itself. In addition, you will appreciate the well done combat mechanics - Jimmy can brawl and you will be asked to defend yourself many times throughout the game.

Unfortunately we also need to focus on what Bully does not do well... the glitchy nature of the game is an aspect that has gotten alot of attention since it's release. The duty of porting the game from the PS2 to the 360 was handled by Mad Doc Software and the port job is a bit of a mess (even after the March update). It's obvious that the focus was just getting it to run on the 360, not in making it run better.

It's tough to tell you what areas the glitches occur in because they can hit at any time and effect just about anything in the game world. That said, I did not fail a single core mission due to a glitch - in fact the game did not freeze on me at all. Most of the glitches are cosmetic (NPC skitzouts being most common) but some effect the camera and controls. At one point the camera was stuck in one position above Jimmy's head and I couldn't control him, but then some random NPC walked up and knocked me off my bike and the camera reverted to normal again.

The worst glitch however, happened to me at the end of the game - achievements just stopped coming. I did not get the achievement for completing the game and the Endless Summer bonus missions never unlocked. I didn't get the achievement for 250 clothing items, even though I had 307. I reloaded an earlier save and re-bought the clothing items, but got the same result. I'm not a hardcore achievement junkie, but I lost out on 160 points in the end. Upon finishing the game I felt a bit like I had gotten punched in the face and it was a disappointing way to finish a game I had enjoyed.

Playing games isn't all about achievements however, it's about the experiences you have with the game itself. In this regard Bully succeeds as an enjoyable and funny game that won't stress you out. It's too bad the port could not have been handled better and some of these issues couldn't have been ironed out before it hit shelves. I would have scored Bully an 8.5, but I gave it a half point deduction for the glitches and another half point for the punch to the snout it gave me at the end, but don't let that stop you from buying the game if you're interested in it, you will be entertained.
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