After a tortured birth surrounded by controversy, Rockstar's free-roaming school-'em-up is finally here. Critics slammed it for being set in a school and 'glorifying' bullying and setting a bad example to kids. The papers complained... all this without anyone having actually seen it in action. Accordingly, Rockstar dropped the Bully moniker and slapped on a title in Latin - meaning dog eat dog - to avoid problems (and thumb their noses at the critics). So here we are with the hugely entertaining Canis Canem Edit - marking the last day of school for Rockstar on PS2.
The first thing we noticed is that Bullworth, where the game is set, is huge. Not just the school, Bullworth Academy, but everything outside the surrounding walls - which can be accessed after the first chapter - into the bargain. There are clothes shops, hairdressers and even a fully-functioning carnival to go and explore, and the amount of detail that has gone into making this place special is easily on par with San Andreas. But for the most part - playing as 15-year-old social misfit Jimmy Hopkins - your prime directive in life (like any 15-year-old) is getting yourself a decent education. Yeah, right.
A CLASS APART
At first we were properly miffed at the idea of actually going to lessons - we were all about causing havoc, smashing up jocks and sneaking about in the girl's dorm to see what we could find - but after a while things changed. We found ourselves jumping out of bed at the sound of the alarm, choosing our best uniform from the wardrobe and then mashing q to sprint all the way to our next lesson. Why? Well just like in real life, after each completed course you learn a new skill. This could be the ability to make a brand-new BMX after learning metalwork or it might be to expand your vocabulary in English so you can attempt to reason with all the bigger kids when they start giving you aggro. Each of the classes are played out using minigames - as opposed to the more boring idea of listening to a bald 40-year-old man lecture you on tectonic plates, for instance. The chemistry lessons, say, are Bemani button taps and in Physical Education you get to twat a kid about the face. This is the beautiful thing about CanisCanem Edit, everything is presented in such a joyous manner that you never get bored. It sticks to the right side of puerile just enough to keep us big kids happy.
Aside from a few cuss words here and there, Canis Canem Edit is fairly sedate on the swearing front, but it can be fairly saucy in places. Don't worry, there aren't any Hot Coffee mods, but there are a few occasions where you have to take pictures of a girl taking a shower and, in one sordid expedition, collect soiled panties from the girl's dorm as a favour to the pervy gym instructor. And little Jimmy may not look like much, but he's quite the ladies man and often gets a few sloppy kisses. He even collects photos and souvenirs of his conquests in his room. Nice. You can also make a cheeky grab for their rear ends, though this can end up with him crumpled on the floor following a swift kick to the stones. Just like real life.
When not harassing women, you'll be involved in daring missions, like GTA. But unlike its older brother, Canis Canem Editfeels fairly lightweight sometimes. GTA fans will recall the siege on Area 52 as you make off with the jet pack or the Scarface-inspired showdown at the end of Vice City, but you'll be hard pressed to pick out a truly memorable one here.
EASE OF USE
It's not the missions themselves that are lacking punch that's the problem, it's more the ease of which you breeze through them. We only failed about four missions in all, and nailed them all the second time because there's just not enough challenge. An example? There's a mission toward the end called Busting In where you have to get into a chemical plant and find a certain someone (we won't give the name away because it'll spoil it for you). Getting in is easy. Russell, a tough kid with limited brain capacity, smashes through the exploding barrels - and then you're in. The second part sees you wandering around and pressing switches to open gates - all the while thumping lads without a care in the world. And then you find the guy, use a sheet of metal as a shield to protect yourself from his attack, then whoop his ass clean off with a metal bar. Job done. It's every bit as simple as it sounds.