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Canis Canem Edit

Bundles, granddads and flaming bags of poo - Rockstar takes us back to school with its latest star pupil

Do you hear that? It's the sound of a thousand Daily Mail readers rushing for their picket signs as Rockstar's "controversial" Bully or erm, Canis Canem Edit as it's now known, bundles into shops around the country (except for Currys - because they've gone and banned it).

But that's enough of the "controversy" - this is a relatively tame and all-round charming adventure game that's more Grange Hill than The Sopranos.

You play as young hoodlum Jimmy Hopkins, who's managed to get himself expelled from every school he's ever been to. Dumped at shifty boarding school Bullworth Academy, by his honey-mooning mother, Jimmy is left to fend against the thralls of bullies, nerds and teachers stalking the halls looking for fresh students to give a hard time.

Just as GTAIII did with its sprawling metropolis, Canis's objective is to create a (cliché alert) "living, breathing" school - and Rockstar has done a good job. Everything you'd expect is there; the dorms, playground, football field, cafeteria and toilets that you'd rather fill your trousers than use.

But it's the students that bring a believable feeling to Bullworth's campus; it's a significant advance over what we've seen in Grand Theft Auto, as every student has their own name, voice personality and story to tell - and there are over a hundred of them.

This way when you spot someone in the halls you immediately know "that's the fat kid who whets himself," or "better dodge him - he's mates with the big lad."

Another thing redeeming the school day spirit is Canis' embrace of social segregation; something we remember well back when we were last picked for the after-school kick around. There are six social-groups in Bullworth Academy; jocks, nerds, greasers, preppies, townies and bullies. Help them out in missions and you'll gain their favour, and they'll save you with a few well-place rugby tackles when you're in a fight. Piss them off and you'll have the reverse effect.

The structure is similar to GTA, although admittedly less open-ended. At first you're free to run around campus and get up to whatever mischief you like, as a clock in the top left of your HUD (shock, horror) indicates the time. Missions are shown on your mini-map as yellow stars, some of which progress the story and other which are more like fun distractions.

One minute you could be escorting a nerd to the library, the next you're having a bike race with some preps, and then you're pot-shotting football players from a tree. One of our favourites is the Halloween mission which tasks you with performing various pranks around school campus. Complete them all and you're offered the chance to pull off the "big prank," which involves a dog, raw meat and a flaming bag of turds.

Canis Canem Edit also requires you to turn up to lessons like a good student. These show up on your your mini-map at relevant lesson times and if you bunk off them the prefects will haul you into class on first site.

But unlike the schoolwork we can remember, Canis' lesson comes in the form of rather-enjoyable mini-games, our favourite of which is the English class' 'make as many words as you can from these five letters...' challenges.

But it just wouldn't be a Rockstar game without some punch-ups; combat mechanics see punches executed using the square button, grabs with triangle and - when your opponent's health is low - taunt moves with circle, our favourite of which is the spit-on-hand-and-rub-in-enemy's-face manoeuvre.

In addition there's also an arsenal of playground weapons at your disposal. No shotguns on offer but think stink bombs, fire crackers, marbles and the ever-classic slingshot.

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