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From Far Cry to Hitman, I Love When a Series Reinvents Itself

It can be a bummer to watch your fave change, but games are better for experiments and new ideas.

by Austin Walker
Feb 21 2018, 4:15pm

Header image courtesy IO Interactive

Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to sit down and play a few hours of next month's Far Cry 5. I can't talk about that until March 2, but it has me thinking about the long and changing history of the Far Cry series. And, with Burnout: Paradise back in the news, I've been thinking even more broadly, about how AAA game series change over time in general.

We often talk about how games are like other types of entertainment: Like films, they tell us visual stories. Like novels, games bring us into close, intimate proximity to their protagonists. Like performing music, games are a blend of recitation and improvisation. But one thing that separates games from these is that they often take an incredibly long time to finish. In this way, they're less like film and more like TV shows, which (when successful) span dozens of episodes spread across many seasons. They travel with us between years, relationships, and homes.

Or, maybe even more strangely, game series are more like homes themselves. You inhabit them, grow physically familiar with how they work. They're like our apartments in that way. Or like our shoes, our cars, our neighborhoods, and all the other small things that exist over a long stretch of time in our lives. When these are replaced, even improvements can feel strange. The softness of a new bed or support offered by new sneakers or the smooth shifting of gears on a new bike: On paper, all good. But they still take time to get used to.


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This effect is (partly) why it can be so jarring when a game series changes dramatically. Take the two games I mentioned in the intro: Far Cry and Burnout. With the former, change has been constant: The bombastic action of the original Far Cry (and its spin offs, like Far Cry: Instincts) was replaced with weighty animation and light simulation elements in Far Cry 2, which, in turn, was sanded down and turned into the much more approachable and forgiving Far Cry 3 and 4—games that also brought flight to the mix in a major way. (All of which is to say nothing of Primal and Blood Dragon.)

Unlike Far Cry's slow, steady change in style, the Burnout series faced one huge change years into the series life cycle. Burnout: Paradise's move to open world racer pleased a lot of folks—and for good reason, it's a fantastic game that helped to establish a new style of racing game. But its loss of series standard Crash Events and its open-ended, player-led structure was a disappointment for many fans who'd grown used to the arcade racer's old format.

The thing is, Far Cry 2 and Burnout: Paradise are some of my favorite games. In fact, even though it's meant that some of my favorite series have rocky years (Hitman: Absolution, I'm looking at you), all said, I can't help but feel that this sort of re-invention is healthy and necessary. Sometimes you just need new shoes (like Hitman (2016)... sorry, this metaphor is getting away from me).

At the same time... my precious Far Cry 2 was a long time ago now, and I'm not sure the series will ever hit me the way it did then again. (And hey, I've never loved a pair of shoes like the ones I had in 2012-2013, either.)

Which is why I'm curious about your thoughts on this. For today's open thread, let me know if you like it when a series switches it up. What's your favorite (or least favorite) example of this happening? Splinter Cell? Zelda? WarioWare? Let me know over in the forums!