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Critical Reception: Rockstar Games' Bully

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Rockstar's Bully for the PlayStation 2, a sandbox-styled adventure title that has been the subject of much controversy in the months prior to its release. [ALSO: Some UK r
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Rockstar's Bully for the PlayStation 2, a sandbox-styled adventure title that has been the subject of much controversy in the months prior to its release. Outside of its title and its school setting, not much was known about Bully until very recently. Parental concern was raised over the possibility of a title that was assumed to place players in control of a school bully, and numerous requests were made for the game to be banned from being sold. Now that it's been released, however, reviewers agree that Bully is nothing like the "Columbine simulator" that many had assumed it would be. Rather, Bully is said to encourage class attendance and cooperation with one's peers as part of normal gameplay, and apparently contains little content that would be unsuitable for minors. Though these revelations may ease the minds of worried parents, gamers are more concerned with whether Bully's school-based gameplay is entertaining enough to warrant a fifty-dollar purchase. Gamerankings.com's current average review score ratio of 91% indicates that a good game lies under Bully's many layers of controversy. "The first few hours that I started playing Bully, I didn't particularly care for it," begins GameSpy's Sterling McGarvey in his review, in which he rates Bully at 4.5 out of 5 stars. McGarvey states that Bully, at first, seems like nothing more than "an amalgamation of nearly every gameplay mechanic that Rockstar has learned in the five years since GTA III," only with more structure, thanks to the implementation of a set school schedule that must be followed closely. The lack of gameplay originality may initially be a turn-off, according to McGarvey, but he also says that players should be aware that, "Bully has a very sly and subtle way of sucking gamers in." Interestingly, McGarvey theorizes that Bully will probably not find an audience among children and teens, thanks to its somewhat restrictive take on the Grand Theft Auto formula. Regardless of its familiar gameplay, however, McGarvey recommends Bully for its unique setting and entertaining storyline, and describes it as "one of the year's best." 1UP.com's Robert Ashley, on the other hand, was thoroughly impressed with Bully, so much so that he awarded it a perfect score of 10 out of 10. Ashley gives special acclaim to Bully's diverse missions and varied gameplay. "Bully's story missions draw on [a] toolbox of activities to create a huge variety of gameplay," Ashley says. "Everything, from playing midway games at the carnival and arcade games set up around town to boxing at the gym, go-kart racing, and even descrambling words in English class, is fun in small doses (which is all Bully ever gives you)." According to Ashley, Bully's greatest achievement is that it provides an entirely new and fresh take on GTA-styled sandbox games. "It's hard to remember after this recent spate of GTA clones," Ashley explains, "but back when Grand Theft Auto III still had that new-car smell, it was a mind-blowing new experience. Bully reclaims that feeling." Citing only a few minor complaints -- mostly in regards to what he describes as a "less than perfect" gameplay camera -- Ashley believes that Bully is a revolutionary title that will be remembered for years to come. "There's a good chance Bully will still be enjoyable five or 10 years from now," Ashley concludes. "It might even achieve that most elusive of game descriptors: timeless." "Punctual Crap" at GamePro feels much the same way, calling Bully, "a sometimes flawed, occasionally gross and boorish, but oftentimes clever adventure game," in a 4.5-out-of-5 review. According to GamePro's review, Bully's fighting system is one of its best aspects, though it's not without its flaws. "The fighting, which is exceedingly well-done, has been plucked largely from the gang epic The Warriors," writes GamePro's reviewer. "It's held back, however, by the game's auto-aiming system, which is slow and unwieldy." The review is positive overall, and praises Bully for remaining fun even during the required classroom minigames. "Rockstar deftly avoids potholing Bully with its challenges," GamePro's review states. "They're brief, unobtrusive, all are competently done and offer suitable rewards upon their completion." So far, all reviewers agree that Bully's content does not warrant the controversy it has received in the past. Despite this controversy and the potentially dull premise of attending class as a gameplay requirement, however, many critics believe that Bully emerges as one of the best in its genre.

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