The missions in the game are split into a series of chapters - of which there'll be five or six in total, Rockstar tells me - and these take place over the span of one school year. The first chapter culminates in a battle with hardnut thicko Russell, who's been goaded by the treacherous Gary into taking you on. Defeating Russell involves dodging his attacks, which vary as he gets worked up, and striking back to whittle down his health. With that out of the way, you disavow Gary and help Russell up. There are loads of people at Bulworth who deserve a kicking, you tell him, but he's picking on the wrong ones. At this point, some more of Bulworth unlocks, too, giving you the chance to head out of school. Later you'll be able to head off to the carnival, beach or industrial district. The progression's very GTA-esque.
You're a student too, of course, so there's the clock to keep in mind. With two set periods to complete, before and after lunch, you'll need to head off to class when the bell goes, with several subjects to attend - chemistry, English, art, maths, gym and photography the ones mentioned. Each is set up as a mini-game, with five levels to work through during the term. Chemistry is a rhythm-response, for example, about bashing buttons as the corresponding symbols move through a Bunsen burner, while art is a sort of Snake clone where you need to move a pen from the top to the bottom of the screen without having the line you've drawn severed by a roving rubber.
Completing classes earns you new skills. Level 1 of chemistry allows you to create firecrackers with your chemistry set back in the dorm, while level 1 of art gives you a boost with the ladies, whom you can court by buying flowers, chocolates and so on, and chatting them up or even kissing them - providing they're into it. English will give you some more eloquent playground taunts. Interaction's a bit less dramatic than GTA's "ignore or punch"; here you can say something positive or negative. I don't know about you, but I always struggle to play the bad guy in this sort of game (I was rubbish at Knights of the Old Republic), so here I found myself looking after wayward youngsters and trying not to offend. Perhaps all this explains the spit-balls.
You can skip class though. If you do, a truancy notice flashes up under the mini-map. You have a grace period of about 30 minutes to get to class once it's started, in case you simply forget, but after that the prefects, teachers and even cops - if you're out and about - will swoop down and escort you to where you're supposed to be.
Actually fighting prefects and bullying other students upsets the status quo, and unless you've built up the various cliques' respect you won't make many friends this way. You can leg it, with a GTA-style limited-sprint system, and hide in lockers to evade detection, but it's far from ideal. Better just to go about your business.
That business - sorting out bullies, defending yourself, collecting things from town for the soup-soiling cook and generally helping out - earns you a few dollars to spend. To this end the town's dotted with shops and boutiques, allowing you to buy the odd new sweatshirt or some flowers for the girls. Some missions require you to customise your appearance with a different top or a new haircut.
Other missions I've tried include one called Panty Raid, where Jimmy happens upon a teacher coming out of a smut shop and agrees to go and steal some knickers for him. It sounds awful, but it's done very knowingly - and conveys the tone of the game neatly. Jimmy's incredibly savvy, agreeing to help the flapping teacher out and not to mention that he's seen him with a handful of porn magazines. The mission itself involves sneaking into the girls' dorm and dodging a teacher, whose angry stare is portrayed by a Metal Gear-style cone of vision on the mini-map radar.
On the whole it comes across very well. It's immediately playable, with some enjoyable systems tying it together and a variety of interesting mission types. Nothing ground-breaking, but nothing leg-breaking either. There's real humour to the script too, and the GTA staples of hidden side-missions and NPCs spouting amusing one-liners from just within earshot. After a spate of rather narrow-minded GTA clones, like Neversoft's GUN, it's as though Rockstar thought, "Well hey, if anybody's going to make a GTA clone and get it right, it ought to be us." The transformation seems fairly compelling.
On first impression, Canis Canem Edit isn't going to change the landscape of gaming, but equally important, for the people jumping up and down on its corpse (not even its corpse so much; it's more like they're stamping on Rockstar's womb), is that it's about as morally deficient as Ferris Bueller. I've been more appalled by Saved By The Bell. Whether or not the game can live up to this promising snapshot is a far more interesting debate than whether Rockstar's on a mission to profit off people's misery. On this evidence, it stands a good chance.
Canis Canem Edit is due out exclusively on PS2 this October.