Has a game ever had more coverage than Bully/Canis Canem Edit in the run up to its release? We've been right on top of developments related to Rockstar's latest game ever since it first came under fire in August 2005. Almost a year later, Rockstar released the trailer for Bully and it was greeted by critics crying out for a ban.
Jack obviously complained, claiming that the play-through wasn't sufficient and appealed against the judges decision - the appeal seems to have fallen through. Even though the game had come out unscathed from the Florida lawsuit, the volcano was still rumbling on our side of the pond.
On the day of release, there was a report on the BBC's Breakfast News show in the business segment along with reports on ITV news too. That's not all though, because there was also a report stating that Dixon Stores Group (the company behind PC World, Currys and Currys.digital) would not sell the game in any of its stores. Anyway, enough of the background and controversy surrounding this game - it's high time we separated controversy and hype from reality.
If Canis Canem Edit has proven anything it's that controversy drives the media. Bizarrely, that controversy has been stoked by the very people who want the game banned, conservative republicans, tenacious lawyers and over-protective parents. For these guys the result of their 'kicking-up-a-stink' has meant all eyes have been on Rockstar; how good will the game be? Does it promote school violence? Is Rockstar the spawn of the devil? The answer, pleasingly for Rockstar, is a resounding positive in all respects (except they aren't the spawn of the devil). Bully is a great game.
You take on Jimmy Hopkins, a teenage boy who is dropped off at Bullworth Academy by his rather horrible mother and her rich new husband before jetting off on a one year honeymoon (alright for some). Jimmy is plunged into one of the roughest private schooling institutions in the country, a more adult version of Hogwarts academy. But Jimmy ain't no Harry Potter. He's a mean looking misfit, the human equivalent of a pitbull terrier. Jimmy quickly realises he doesn't really suit Bullworth Academy and so begins a 20 hour journey through the eyes of a teenager trying to put the world to rights.
If you've played any of the recent GTA games you'll immediately feel at home with Canis Canem Edit. The game is based on the GTA engine and works in almost every sense like the popular third person shooter with only a few differences here and there. Instead of police you have prefects, instead of going to prison when you're busted you go to detention, instead of thieving cars you jump on bikes or skateboards to travel around. Everything has been stylised to fit in with the whole school ideal, and it's been done brilliantly.
The game takes place mainly within the school grounds and it is here that you will complete many of the missions, interact with the various characters in the school, go to lessons and do a whole host of other interesting scholastic activities. The other area you get to visit is the local town, a smallish area when compared to the sprawling cities of GTA. The game is far smaller than GTA but this only adds to the character, areas become very familiar making the game feel far more personal.
This move actually follows a trend of recent successful open ended games. Dead Rising for the 360 was far smaller than any GTA game but it was the downscaled nature of the in-game shopping mall world that allowed you to become so engrossed. It's refreshing to know that all developers haven't signed up to the 'bigger-is-always-better' game design contract.
Canis Canem Edit isn't completely open-ended either. You're still a kid, so you need to go to lessons to learn. If you don't, the prefects will need to be avoided as they will hunt you down and you'll end up spending some time in detention - not a fun experience. Going to lessons is worthwhile anyway comprising of enjoyable little mini-games that change depending on what lesson you are doing.
The English lesson for instance is a test of rearranging the letters to make words. The reward is almost RPG-esque, giving you extra abilities. For example you'll gain access to new weapons when you pass Chemistry classes or the ability to apologise and talk your way out of awkward situations as you get better at English.
The only problem I really had with the system was that I completed all the classes pretty quickly and once I'd done this I had no reason to continue going to lessons. Fortunately there are plenty of sub-missions outside of the school to keep you occupied, however, you can't stay up after 2am, you simply collapse, waking up back in your bed.