When you think about Rockstar’s Bully, what first comes to mind? Sitting on a tree branch and chucking firecrackers at jocks on the football field? Stuffing Algie into a bin? Punching everything in the common room to find the wooden stick and then beating everyone senseless with it? As great, and sadistic as those all are, they aren’t what makes Bully so special – it’s all about the education, baby.
I’m going to sound like the nerds I was giving wedgies to, but it’s true. Bully is great for many different reasons, but its unique setting really shines the most when you choose to do the thing you’re there for, sitting your ass down and learning.
If you’ve never played Bully before, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, I’ll explain how education works in this weird and wonderful game. Lessons had a timetable and would only appear at specific times on certain days. This meant that if you wanted to take English, you’d need to get to the classroom at 12pm on a Monday, no complaints.
I don’t know how well the lessons hold up now but Bully was no slouch when it came to difficulty. As someone whose brain is mostly occupied by memes and a series of decreasingly funny in-jokes, some of these lessons were pretty damn hard. Maybe I was a just stupid kid back then, but those damn Geography lessons had me nearly as stressed as school in real life. Who needs to know all these countries anyway? Croatia? I barely know ‘er!
My fondest memories of the seventh console generation come from my best mate and I sitting down with scribbled down notes on Geography, Maths, and English, both shouting the answers at each other and praying we’d do well enough to earn our virtual grades. It was even better when I could completely show him up in English, and much much worse when he’d smash Maths without a second thought. Fucking equations, man.
As someone who was in school at the time of Bully’s release (that’s the Scholarship Edition, I’m not that ancient), it was surprising how well it managed to emulate such feelings of elation and anxiety. We didn’t have people being hit with potato guns, but we did have to get to class, study, and take tests. It’s just a shame we didn’t earn the ability to flirt with people once we’d passed an art exam or beat our mates to fuck with a random stick in the common room.
Bully also nailed the power fantasy of being able to skip school. Choose not to attend lessons like a good little boy and you’ll have prefects hunting you down. This meant you had to plan missions and exploration around your learning, but it also gave a goodie two shoes like me more of an ego trip than I’d ever experienced in games before.
As great as these lessons are, there’s a few stinkers to help mimic reality. When reduced to quick-time events and puzzles, the whole thing is a lot less interesting. The groan whenever I saw Shop class over something actually helpful was comparable to school, so bonus points there I guess.
Recently, reports have come out of a shelved Bully 2, and it’s got me thinking about what made the original so special, as well as what I’d want to see out of a sequel. You can ignore your individual blades of grass and tree-climbing – give me essays, new classes, stricter rules and bigger punishments for breaking them. Let me chase that feeling of being in school again, like no other game lets me.
Anyway, I’m off to do my homework and get an early night’s sleep now, like the nerd I am.
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