Agents of change

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Brian Wil­son’s fel­low Beach Boys were less than im­pressed the first time he played them Good Vi­bra­tions. Front­man Mike Love thought it mad­ness to ditch a phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful surf-pop sound for theremin-fu­elled psychedelia. “Brian,” he is claimed to have said, “don’t fuck with the for­mula!”

Love lost his battle and the Beach Boys re­leased Pet Sounds, now ac­knowl­edged as one of the best al­bums of its time. But he had a point, one we can imag­ine is para­phrased fre­quently in the board­rooms and ex­ec­u­tive bath­rooms of this of­ten risk-averse in­dus­try. Yet this month’s crop of new re­leases yields ev­i­dence of a re­newed will­ing­ness to tin­ker with the most suc­cess­ful of gam­ing for­mu­las.

In Bat­tle­field Hard­line (p108), Vis­ceral shifts the fo­cus from the marine’s tour of duty to the po­lice pro­ce­dural, a the­matic change that also of­fers new me­chan­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties. Be­ing able to ar­rest perps makes stealth a vi­able ap­proach in a se­ries that has been his­tor­i­cally viewed through an op­ti­cal scope, a wel­come change of pace in a genre typ­i­cally faster than a speed­ing bul­let. The re­sult is the best Bat­tle­field cam­paign in years, even if that’s damn­ing with faint praise.

While Bat­tle­field has long needed a shot in the arm, few would have moaned had From Soft­ware sim­ply made an­other Souls game. Blood­borne (p112) may share more than a few similarities with its spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sors, but care­ful tweaks have made for a game that feels very dif­fer­ent to what came be­fore: it is faster-paced, more co­her­ently de­signed and, at times, truly ter­ri­fy­ing.

On the other side of the ar­gu­ment sits Hot­line Miami 2 (p116). Den­na­ton’s need­less changes re­sult in a frus­trat­ingly rigid se­quel to a game that let play­ers cre­ate car­nage on their own terms. At times like th­ese, you can see Mike Love’s point: it’s hard to get be­hind change for change’s sake.

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