I recently beat Rockstar’s Bully and surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying it. My enjoyment is a surprise because I don’t really like Rockstar’s big franchise Grand Theft Auto and Bully does not stray from its famous brother’s legacy. But Bully does fix one of the two big problems with GTA, which allows me to more easily ignore the other one.
As mentioned above, I have 2 major problems with GTA. The first is that while GTA has tons of different things to do, it does not do any of them particularly well. You shoot people, if you can manage the crappy targeting and controls. The same goes for driving, though it is better than the shooting. I would rather play a game that does one or two things well than a game that does lots of things badly. For most players the sheer variety of gameplay options seems to outweigh their relative quality, but I don’t like it. The other problem I have with GTA is the overall tone. Sure the game is rated M for Mature, but Grand Theft Auto is mature in the same way that a 14-year-old is mature. It has a fondness for dirty words and sex jokes but lack anything resembling actual maturity. This juvenile vulgarity permeates the world of the game and makes the experience largely unenjoyable for me. I do see why most gamers love GTA, but I have concluded that it is just not for me.
I could easily have assumed that Bully was the same thing, like the moronic people who protested the games release did. (I do like that they assumed that since the title was “Bully” the game would be about the main character bullying other students when it is really the opposite.) But the setting seemed interesting enough for me to try it out, though it did put it on the shelf for about 2 years after I purchased it.
Bully is just like GTA in its variety of gameplay options. It is maybe just a bit more focused, but in large part, it is the same. There are tons of missions with all sorts of objectives, but none of it is really outstanding. Where it does greatly improve on GTA in the setting. Not that the juvenile humor is gone or has added a layer of sophistication; the big change is that it feels more right in this game. The crude “maturity” fits right in with a pack of rabid High Schoolers. I would say that the characters are still drawn much more broadly than they could be, but the simple school stereotypes work. The switch from outright crime to schoolyard pranks replaces the feeling of general menace from GTA with something more playful, which I would call an improvement.
Honestly, the game fully won me over with the last boss. (Spoilers I guess) When your fight through the various gangs of students culminates in a fight on top of the school I can’t help but see the whole thing as a tribute to the greatest of greats River City Ransom. There is nothing a game can do to make me enjoy it more than echo River City Ransom.