While everyone sits the long wait for GTA 4, gamers are looking for something to give them that sandbox, open world gaming fix that we haven't really had since San Andreas other than the few GTA copies out there. If there was someone that was going to do it right it was most likely going to be from the company behind the GTA games and that's exactly what Rockstar have done with Canis Canem Edit. They have taken a successful formula and transferred it to a new universe and style which works exceedingly well.
Canis Canem Edit is set in the town of Bullworth or more specifically Bullworth Academy, the local high school. It has the reputation of the worst school in America which comes as no surprise as James, the main character, is dropped off to board there while his mother and stepfather go away on a cruise for a year. James starts off with no respect from anyone and fights occur regularly but as the story progresses you become infamous, get access to the town, and even find love with some of the local girls.
As we expected, like GTA, the game is played from a third person perspective, in fact anyone that has played GTA3 will find the game instantly familiar in terms of interface. The main screen consists of a map, a health meter and a bar which indicates just how much the cops/prefects want to catch James. There are a number of things which increase this but we'll get to that later. The game at its core consists of moving from A to B, gathering missions and completing them but there are a few side activities to take part in as well such as the education component.
In a unique twist, James can truant but you can actually go to class throughout the day and complete tasks to gain access to new weapons or even build a bike to travel on in metalwork. Truanting does increase the number of people after you but you can do it if you need to complete a mission during class which you may find easier as the amount of people around is significantly less. The mini games for class are wide and varied such as the Chemistry class with its Dance Dance Revolution style button pressing, and the Art class where you play a snake hybrid to make boxes and reveal James' art.
The missions which the game has are all about gaining respect amongst the typical school groups of richies, jocks, nerds and bullies. Gaining respect in one group is most likely going to negatively affect another but the game doesn't make you choose a side during any point of the game. By the end you will have the respect of all the groups and be the number one student. The missions are easily described as a schoolyard version of GTA missions. For example in one mission you have to deliver a package across the yard, another mission steal notes from a cheerleader to gain a girlfriend. Once the city is unlocked you get a lot of wide and varied missions and the game becomes even more GTA-like which in many respects means that the best parts of the game are shown during the first chapter.
The environment the game has been set in is second to none in terms of authenticity. From the first moment you walk into Bullworth Academy, to gaining access to the town, to finishing the game, you will always be in a realistic environment, and one that is also easy to get around and has many landmarks. The draw distance is also quite impressive for a PS2 game and there is so much variety you may find yourself just running around checking the place out between missions. It's also, as you would expect, a living breathing world. School is only on during the day, while some missions are only available during specific times. Once 7pm rolls around you can go to bed, although there is no penalty for never going to sleep which is interesting.
The ambience of the environment is also well done. Rather than have random pedestrians, the school is full of random school kids who will pick fits with you, run and hide and generally just walk around and go to class. It's a small change but it adds so much to the atmosphere that it is hard not to mention. All the pedestrians/students can be interacted with in many ways such as kissing or if you're feeling a little naughty you can touch them on the butt, which will get the ire of the prefects very quickly. Rockstar also have implemented some basic school rules, such as hitting a girl is going to get you caught very quickly.
Visually the game is disappointing when compared to San Andreas considering the huge size of that game, but they still do the job all the same. Other than that it's exactly what you would expect from another GTA PS2 game with the Renderware engine used and cut scenes used extensively to explain the story between missions. Musically there aren't any licensed tracks and the soundtrack is hardly noticeable with the voice acting picking up the slack in this department.
Canis Canem Edit somewhat came out of no where although during its early development stages Rockstar was pushing this one quite hard. It's come about a year after it was expected but this is one game that you can say was helped by its extended development. It may not be GTA and it doesn't reach the heady heights of San Andreas in terms of crazy missions but for those who want the next GTA clone which is fun, look no further and swap your leather jacket for a school uniform.