Controversial 'Bully' gets good grades

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 "Bully," a video game set in a fictional school, has won over critics following its debut this week despite protests from anti-violence advocates concerned about safety in U.S. schools.

The game, produced by the Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. studio behind the controversial "Grand Theft Auto" series, is for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 2, the dominant video game console with 106 million units globally.

If the game resonates with consumers, it has the potential to be another blockbuster hit for Take-Two's Rockstar Games studio, whose last brawling game "The Warriors" had a lackluster retail showing.

"Bully" riled educators, lawmakers and anti-violence advocates long before its release on Tuesday, and a spate of deadly shootings in U.S. schools stoked outcries from opponents of violent video games.

But the publisher has insisted that the game, which lacks the pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and rocket launchers found in its "Grand Theft Auto" titles, actually has a positive message with incentives for attending classes and punishments for breaking curfews.

"Bully," which has a "Teen" rating, stars 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, who navigates the social hierarchy of nerds, jocks and tough guys at fictional boarding school Bullworth Academy after being dumped there by his mother and her new husband.

Florida's Miami-Dade County School Board urged retailers not to sell the game and required the school district to warn parents about potentially harmful effects of violent games.

But Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Friedman previewed the game and last week blocked a separate legal effort to ban sales to minors, finding that there was less violence in "Bully" than on evening television programs.

TEEN TAUNTS - INSULTS, STINK BOMBS AND FIRECRACKERS

Video game critics gave the game high marks.

Gamerankings.com, which complies video game ratings, shows its average rating at 89.3 percent.

Video game enthusiast site 1up.com gave the game a 10 out of 10. Reviewer Robert Ashley summed up his preference for the game over other alternate-reality titles saying: "I'd rather hang out in the most painful, awkward, and humiliating real 'world' of them all: high school."

The game's shortcomings include a somewhat repetitive soundtrack and frequent, albeit short, load times.

"Bully" features immersive gameplay as Jimmy runs, skateboards, fist-fights and bullies his way through the Academy's leafy campus and roving gangs pelt him with insults, eggs, stink bombs and firecrackers.

The crisp graphics and smooth, intuitive controls make Bullworth and the nearby town -- complete with its own carnival, stores, and nagging adults -- an easy place in which to get lost.

However, the game is much more than a third-person slugfest featuring teenagers. Jimmy's quest for popularity also has him picking flowers and buying candy for girls he's looking to impress, as well as a host of missions a la "GTA" to complete.

In between story-linked missions, Jimmy is free to attend classes, which include English, chemistry, art and photography, each featuring a minigame.
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