Gaming for Grown Ups
20th February 2013 13:00:00
Posted by James Marshall

Titan Exclusives: The Art of Halo 4 and The Art of Assassinís Creed III

A good, hefty book is an item to be treasured, especially with the rapid onset of e-readers and tablets. While the written word can just as easily be conveyed on a palm-fitting screen, the lush beauty of art can only truly be encapsulated in print. Video games, with the amount of concept artwork that goes into creating top-tier titles, are perfect candidates for the curation and presentation of such assets. Almost to be expected, Titan Books have released two artbooks compiling storyboards, character designs, mood pieces and more from two of 2012ís biggest releases - Halo 4 and Assassinís Creed III. Available in standard and wallet-lightening flavours, we took a look at the extremely limited collectorís editions, available exclusively through the Titan website.

These are not the first lusciously bound art books to come from Titan: treasure troves of movie concept art and collections of iconic artists were joined in 2011 by a collection of Halo art, released in conjunction with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Entitled The Great Journey: The Art of Halo, this book set out the template for this yearís editions - a sturdy outer cover, highly detailed artwork printed on quality paper as well as a set of autographed prints. Whereas the first Halo art book came with a set of four signed prints, these latest releases only contain one or two. Still, the quality is undeniable and itís still an enticing prospect for collectors mulling over the price.

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For all the flashy exterior, it wouldnít make much difference if what was on the page failed to impress. Luckily both books offer never-seen and rare images from all production stages. Although they cover the same ground, there are enough differences between the two franchises that the Halo book can feel a little rudimentary at times. With only a short paragraph of explanation behind each image - sometimes even a single sentence, if that - it seems to be accepted that anyone reading the book will have prior knowledge of the Halo franchise. While it doesnít detract from the majesty of the visual image, a little more insight into design choices would have made some mysteries a little less abstract. Nevertheless, standout images include those of John Liberto, who contributes the sublime vista included as an autographed print. Other artists synonymous with the franchise include Nicolas ĎSparthí Bouvier and Gabriel ĎRobogaboí Garza, their styles instantly recognisable, from spiky abstractness to intricately detailed technical drawings.

Haloís influences are fairly obvious to anyone whoís seen a James Cameron movie and the book doesnít shy away from admitting that classic sci-fi casts a long shadow over the Halo series. Yet seeing designs that feel reminiscent of Aliensí marines feels part of an overarching plan, a way to entice gamers of a certain generation to a universe that contains fantastical elements. Halo 4 is undoubtedly one of the best-looking Xbox 360 games - anyone who has seen that view of towering structures, floating down from numinous clouds, can attest to its beauty. A line can be traced between each piece of concept art and the finished in-game result, unless the art is unused - an early design of a maskless Grunt takes the cake for unintentionally hilarious weirdness.

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In contrast to the fictitious Halo universe, Ubisoftís Assassinís Creed franchise has its feet firmly rooted in reality. The third main game, set during the American War of Independence, has a thick vein of historical detail running through the campaign from real-life characters to familiar landmarks. Thanks to this historical grounding exploring Ubisoftís approach to actual events and participants is intriguing and encompasses all aspects of the game, including the modern-day interludes and epic naval battles.

By basing their concept art on an actual historic period itís easier to see where reality is embellished by Ubisoftís talented art team. Portraits of George Washington and Charles Lee sit aside characters invented for the series; Connor atop a church spire becomes the only sign that a Boston cityscape isnít a historic document. The section on naval battles has pages of glorious artwork that would comfortably fit in at the National Gallery. Whereas Halo is a fantasy world occupied by feasible concepts, Assassinís Creed is the polar opposite - a grounded reality with elements of fiction. The fact the book has a greater number of annotations is also a plus, giving deeper insight into the factual basis and various design iterations.

What both books achieve is a strong desire to revisit the worlds depicted across each page. The Art of Halo clocks in at 192 printed pages while Assassinís Creed is a slimmer 150 but thereís plenty to feast your eyes upon. The presentation is exceptional and even the standard editions are a worthy purchase, coming as they do with such insight into the design process. The addition of autographed prints - wisely chosen, as they are some of the best artwork in either book - is a bonus that will delight collectors and fans alike, giving them a direct connection to their treasured franchise. While the limited editions cost more than the games themselves, the standard copies can be found for a very reasonable price at most retailers.

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The conclusion reached with Assassinís Creed III was that it overshot; the ambition of the developers was too great and subsequently resulted in a game that felt patchy, inconsistent and a step back for the franchise. After delving into the artwork, seeing the design process and thought so evident throughout, returning to Assassinís Creed III felt fresh and revitalised. There were definitely missteps and odd design choices, but seeing designs on the page translated into onscreen characters and events was enough of a thrill to encourage revisiting Connorís America. The same can be said of Halo 4 - although its majestic beauty was apparent before reading the book. Nevertheless, the same desire to play Halo became reignited thanks to Awakening. Pick up either or both of these books and you too may rediscover what makes these franchises so memorable.

Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 is written by Paul Davies and published by Titan Books. The Art of Assassinís Creed III is written by Andy McVittie and also published by Titan Books.