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Reviews

Bully: Scholarship Edition

Interested in heading to school and raising hell? Well, Bully for you.

For future reference, the official unit of time of how long a controversy remains potent is the length of time between Canis Canem Edit hitting the last-generation consoles towards the end of 2006 and of its polished up release as Bully: Scholarship Edition on the 360 just about now. Seems that we can call a game "Bully" after all. Phew.

Of course, the controversy around Bully, which climaxed in it being renamed in the UK was fundamentally ludicrous, like a tabloid getting outraged over the Saint Trinians film. While its graduation to the 360 has lead to a higher graphical class, and a number of extra-credit features, it's fundamentally the same game; a broadly-comic cartoon portrait of an American private school. If you can look past things like the literal tongue-in-cheek well-hidden gay kisses, it's barely more controversial than Dennis the Menace.

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Which isn't a bad thing at all. With this Rockstar shows that you can apply GTAs delicious mix of freedom and cheery anarchy to whatever sandbox world you can imagine. In this case, school. Playing new-kid Jimmy Hopkins, you're dumped in the middle of the roughest boarding school on Earth. Much of GTA transfers directly over: instead of gangs, you have cliques of nerds and jocks and other high-school movie favourites. Instead of guns, you have catapults, firecrackers and stink-bombs. Instead of police, you have Prefects. Instead of Old School gangsters you have - well - an old school. Chaos results.

It does differ though. School isn't like the mean streets - it's far more like Prison, with a regimated cycle that's brutally enforced. In this case, two lessons are timetabled a day, playing out as increasingly difficult minigames... that is, if you go. Playing truant is always an option, forcing you to dodge those prefects. With their vision cones sweeping the map, it's easy to draw a line to a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid. Except with more scarpering.

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With the play area being the school and nearby town, it's smaller, if more intense, than a GTA. Even so, it's impossible to explain everything you get up to . The strength of the game is variety, and while not many of the subgames are particularly deep, there's certainly enough of them. The lessons, of which there's four more than the original, are everything from simple rhythm-action games in Music and Chemistry, to Photography lesson's scavenger hunts, to Biology's amusing surgery and so on. Scrapping is similarly simple yet robust, with only the camera causing occasional problems. And it's not just fighting - you gain Fable-esque conversation options, allowing you to face down, suck up and get off with the various inhabitants of the town more efficiently. One of the game's strongest points is how it throws these options for fun at you, with people running up and suggesting things you can do to make the best days of your life pass in a more amusing way.

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The problem with this was sneaked in above. When some of the subgames drag on a little too long, their lack of depth becomes increasingly tiresome - this is especially true in the real misfires like the occasional stealth section. But the thing which pulls this down to a seven is actually its technical aspect - while diving in and out of the subgames would amuse, the constant loading pauses before most fracture its atmosphere. While mostly forgivable, when you hit sections like having to repeat a funfair game at least four times (and probably more) to pass a mission, with a loading pause going in and going out of each attempt, it drags like double-maths last thing on a Friday afternoon. Technically, the 360 makes us expect better. So while we heartily welcome Bully: Scholarship edition to the 360's Secondary School, you're aware it hasn't fully graduated from its primary-school.

The verdict

A solid report card. Perhaps, could try harder.

  • Brilliant High Concept
  • Constantly chaotic
  • Masses to do
  • None of it particularly deep
  • Loading Pauses shatter open world
7
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Rockstar Games
Publisher
Rockstar Games
Genre
Adventure, Action, Sim / Strategy

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