Agents of change
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.