I just got done playing through Rockstar’s PS2 game “Bully” for the third time. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which being that I have no money to buy any new games, and even if I did, I cannot justify spending $49.99 on some mystical new game that I want when it, in fact, does not exist. There hasn’t been anything out that I’ve wanted to play in a while now, and moreover, I cannot stand the thought that, for a mere $200.00 more, I could buy a Nintendo Wii, which I actually do want. Badly.

Not that I can find one anywhere in this city.

So, for the last several months, I’ve been replaying games that I’ve already beaten. But only the really good ones. I’ve been replaying some of the cream of the crop of PS2’s all time best games; Prince of Persia, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Indigo Prophecy, the GTAs, Black, Beyond Good & Evil, God of War…

And I have to say, even after replaying all of these great games over the last 7 to 9 months… Rockstar’s “Bully” still holds a place at or near the top of my favorite PS2 games of all time. And that is the main reason I’ve played through it three times.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story. It comes from my love of movies. I’m willing to overlook some of a game’s technical flaws for a good story. If you can make me actually care about the character or characters that I am controlling on the screen, then I think you have done an admirable job.

Even a game like Disaster Report – which many players have derided for its non-responsive game play, awful graphics, and (sometimes) laughable voice acting – will beg me to finish it, just to figure out the why of what is happening. In other words, to get through the story. Of course, by the end, you get to see what is possibly the cheesiest cut scene in the history of video gaming, which is its own reward. Let me set it up for you:

Your character, the female love interest, and the photojournalist have all outrun a tsunami by climbing to the top of a building where, for some reason, armed thugs are still trying to shoot you with high powered rifles, despite being in mortal danger themselves. Anyway, the building is going to collapse, being pummeled with the entire strength of the Atlantic Ocean, and these armed thugs are getting ready to shoot the female love interest. You try to get to her to save her, but alas, you trip over a pipe and fall down. The armed thug pulls the trigger. The photojournalist, despite being a smoker, is apparently faster than a speeding bullet, and throws himself in front of the female love interest, taking the projectile in the stomach. The photojournalist yells, but the cigarette stays in his mouth. The love interest runs 10 feet her right, stopping behind no cover whatsoever, where she will obviously be safe from the armed thug. Meanwhile, back at the ledge at the top of the building, overlooking the ocean several stories below, the photojournalist gets shot again, and utters the best line ever to be uttered by a person who is about to be killed by an armed thug on the top of a building.

“Aww crap. Leave me alone.”

The armed thug shoots him, and he falls off the ledge. Marlboro still stuck in his mouth. To be honest, I have very little recollection of what happened right after that because my wife and I were laughing hysterically.

And I will even give a cheesy game like that a decent review simply because they had a pretty decent story idea.

Bully, however, went way beyond my expectations. Not only is it a beautifully detailed game, but it has a great story. An epic tale, really. Even when compared to GTA: San Andreas, Bully stands up as possibly the greatest Rockstar story ever told. The difference comes from the other characters in the game. Bully has a character model for each and every character in the game. There are no randomly generated characters. The effect this has on gameplay is one of immersion.

For instance, I was running to class one morning, and I saw one of the girls (one who likes my character) kissing another boy. It got me genuinely irritated. So I walked over to him, grabbed him by the shirt, threw him up against a nearby wall, and rammed my knee into his crotch. It was really satisfying. And just.

That’s really what Bully is all about: justice. It’s wasn’t a “Columbine Simulator”, as Jack Thompson would have us believe. It was about the injustice of high school, and one boy’s fight to set things right again. The gameplay is smooth and responsive, the fighting (and there is a lot of it) feels just right, and it was one of the funniest games I’ve ever played.

I’m not one of those people who wants a sequel made, however. I think a game this good stands on its own merits. The story of the game feels complete to me, and doesn’t need a continuation.

No, the reason that I keep telling people about this game is that it didn’t sell as well as it should have. Neither did ICO, Beyond Good & Evil, or Indigo Prophecy. But we, as gamers, must make a stronger effort to spread the word on the hidden gems in a game world overrun with first person shooters and sports games. If no one buys these good games, the game studios will never make more.

And then we’ll all be playing Madden.

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