As much as fans want a sequel, the chances of a “Bully 2” are slim, to say the very least. Call it part of growing up, but there’s simply too much of a taboo surrounding bullying, whether in-school, online, or in the workplace. Even Rockstar, with its clever approach to parodying serious real world issues would struggle to hold up a mirror without attracting more heat than it’s already used to.
Going back to Bully after ten years – a surprise release on iOS and Android last week spurred me to play the PS2 Classics release on PS4 – it’s easy to see why the game courted so much attention. In the States, Jack Thompson was ready to unleash another salvo against Rockstar while here, in the UK, it faced similar scrutiny. Pressure from anti-bullying campaigners, and pressure from politicians saw the game undergo a last-minute name change, resulting in Canis Canem Edit (Dog Eat Dog).
Now, I’m a firm believer in letting game developers tell whatever stories they like, however they like, though there are some lines in Bully that’ll make you flinch looking back. Specifically, there are a number of references made about students’ sexualities that come into play almost straight off the bat. Kids calling other kids gay (regardless of their actual inclinations) is a time-old form of unimaginative verbal abuse, right up there with “your mum” jokes. However, since 2006, there have been some quite considerable societal changes which, in turn, affect what writers can get away with nowadays without cutting too close to the bone. The same can be said of bullying people due to physical and mental handicaps. Even ripping on someone because of their size or the way they look isn’t something we’re used to seeing as we consume our daily cocktail of media. Unless you’re flicking through the tabloids, that is.
It must be said that Bully’s more risqué moments are heavily outnumbered by an abundance of intentionally dumb dialogue. There’s plenty of humour there for older, more mature gamers to sink their teeth into, some of which is rather clever and satirical. This is deftly weaved into the ongoing battle between high school cliques with nerds, jocks, preppies, and greasers hurling abuse at one another whenever they get the chance. The teachers are equally as fascinating while ascribing to well-worn stereotypes, from flirty art tutors to out-of-shape coaches.
The core gameplay holds up impressively well considering Bully has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. It’s expectedly clunky in spots, though you can definitely see how Rockstar had evolved the open world template used in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Instead of being assigned to a couple of buttons, melee combat is fleshed out into its own combat system, with players having access to a menacing suite of pranks from firecrackers to stink bombs.
Another highlight is the way you can interact with each individual NPC. Although most will shrug off your attempts to insult or chum up to them, Jimmy can romance and intimidate others, even accepting the occasional errand.
It’s not a particularly bad looking game either, even by today’s lofty standard. While the Anniversary Edition offers some visual improvements in the mobile versions of the game, with enhanced textures, lighting and character models, I didn’t feel at all disappointed with the emulated version running on PlayStation 4. Some busier scenes, such as the carnival, suffer from troubling framerate issues, yet performance is pretty solid all round.
It’s a shame that we’re not likely to see a Bully 2. Aside from being an easy target for campaigners, Rockstar simply doesn’t make these kinds of game anymore. Its table tennis days are long gone, focusing purely on creating some of the very best AAA gaming has to offer. Sadly, Bully 2 just doesn’t line-up with the studio’s current ambitions.