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Bully is one of Rockstar’s great unsung games. While it sold perfectly well and received good reviews, it’s not a game that a lot of people return to as an exemplar of Rockstar’s open-world design, but it should be.
It’s essentially an early 3D Grand Theft Auto title transposed to a boarding school and its surrounding town, and it gives you the chance to play as the roguish Jimmy Hopkins as he navigates the difficulties of school life.
Bully is a pretty unique game, but there are titles out there that are somewhat similar, so without further ado, here are the 12 best games like Bully.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
When Rockstar released Bully in 2006, it had been two years since the launch of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, so you can consider CJ’s adventure to be a direct antecedent to Jimmy’s. San Andreas is a bigger and more open-ended game, with a larger play space to discover, and it’s also decidedly more adult, so if you’re looking for something with the same childlike spirit as Bully, San Andreas might disappoint. If, however, you want a game as grand, ambitious, and funny as Bully, here’s your stop.
2. Yakuza 0
Hear us out. Yakuza 0 embodies the same spirit as Bully, combining open-world shenanigans with humorous character writing and some excellent, well-crafted side content. It also allows you to engage in a variety of minigames, just like Bully does with its classes. You won’t get into trouble with the authorities in Yakuza 0 in quite the same way, but the game is still about someone who clashes with authority figures on a regular basis.
3. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
It’s probably not really worth revisiting Grand Theft Auto 3 these days; it’s a somewhat basic template that would provide the basis for Vice City and San Andreas. Vice City is arguably the earliest Grand Theft Auto game that’s still very much worth your time. It takes place in the Miami-inspired city of the title and boasts a host of licensed 80s music, as well as more movie references than you can shake a submachine gun at. It’s another excellent open-world Rockstar excursion.
4. Grand Theft Auto IV
We’re not quite done with Grand Theft Auto yet, so bear with us. Grand Theft Auto IV is a much darker and murkier affair than Bully, which is a more lighthearted experience. It follows Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic, who moves to Liberty City with the promise of the American Dream hanging over him and finds, well, not that. This is a heavier game than its peers, both physically and emotionally, but its strong narrative lifts it head and shoulders above other crime sandboxes.
5. Grand Theft Auto V
Okay, okay. This is the last Grand Theft Auto game we’ll put on the list, we promise. Still, if you love Bully and you want to play more games that are in the irreverent spirit of that game, then GTA is where you need to go. Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t have quite the same strength of storytelling and characterisation that previous GTA games have boasted, but its open world is still reactive and enjoyable, and there are plenty of minigames to enjoy as well.
6. Red Dead Redemption
We said we were done with GTA games, but not with Rockstar titles! Red Dead Redemption is an open-world Wild West odyssey taking place during the dying days of the Old West. You play as John Marston, an ex-outlaw looking to go straight but dragged back into the past as he’s recruited to round up the members of his old gang. Red Dead Redemption marries the aesthetic of Western movies with the gameplay and exploration of a GTA game.
7. Red Dead Redemption 2
This is Rockstar’s maximalist magnum opus. Depending on your personal preference, Red Dead Redemption 2 may either be your favourite game of all time or it may completely lose you. The attention to detail here is nothing short of staggering; at times, the world almost feels a little too detailed, and it’s clear more thought has gone into this element of the game than almost anything else. Still, this is a living, breathing world without equal.
8. Sleeping Dogs
While we’re on the subject of Rockstar-style games, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Sleeping Dogs. Wei Shen’s dualist journey through the murky worlds of the Triads and the Hong Kong police is undoubtedly indebted to Grand Theft Auto, but it has a character all its own as well. Taking cues from John Woo-style action movies for its combat, Sleeping Dogs focuses more on melee engagements and driving than it does on GTA’s characteristic gunplay.
9. Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV is the wackiest of the Saints Row series, and it’s also one of the only games in the series that you can comfortably play on modern platforms. It casts the nebulous Boss as a superpowered warrior fighting back an alien invasion, granting access to Crackdown-style superpowers as you leap around the city of Steelport. It’s not grounded by any measure, but it will give you what you want if you think recent Rockstar open worlds have been a bit dour.
10. Lego City: Undercover
Bully is stuffed full of pop culture references, and if you like that style of humour, then you could do a lot worse than Lego City: Undercover. Unlike most Lego games, this is an original story (although “original” might be doing it too much justice). It follows police officer Chase McCain as he reckons with an escaped crime boss, and like later-period Lego games, it’s also an open-world experience with lots of collectibles to find and sidequests to complete.
11. South Park: The Fractured but Whole
Tee hee. Sniggering title aside, South Park: The Fractured but Whole will cater for you if you want more of Bully’s schoolboy humour. Obviously, it’s set in the South Park universe; it’s a followup to the RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth, so it takes a similar approach to that game in terms of its gameplay and its comedy. It’s not a perfect experience, and if you don’t like the show, this won’t convert you, but it’s a solid RPG that evokes Bully without copying it.
12. Persona 5
Hear us out on this one. Persona 5 is a life-sim-JRPG hybrid that’s about as far from Bully as it’s possible to be in terms of gameplay. However, it takes a similar approach to Bully by casting you as a student at a totally normal school. You must go to classes, do your best to pass your exams, and also jump into the subconscious minds of ne’er-do-wells and correct their personality defects. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy life, but it is a fun one.