I’ve never reviewed an art book before, and to be completely honest, I’m not even sure how to go about it. I mean, if you’re a fan of the Halo series and you love books with pretty pictures, then you probably already own this. If you love concept art, or video game art books, then I can tell you that this is one of the most beautiful collections I’ve seen in some time. But how beautiful is it? Let’s talk about it.
Art books. I’ve always loved them, but then again, I’m the type of guy who can spend hours at an art exhibit, pouring over every detail of something, whether it’s a tower of painted jeans – something I saw about a year back at the Museum of Modern Art here in San Francisco – or a piece from a renowned artist. It’s fun, trying to transcribe the message the artist hid in their work, assuming there is one.
To me, the thing that makes video game art books so interesting is how full of potential they are. When I look at an art book for a game, I see what could’ve been. I see the worlds, weapons, creatures, and characters the artists created for the game in the way they’re supposed to be seen, unhindered by the restrictions of budgets, schedules, deadlines, release dates, or technological restrictions. I wish more games turned out half as stunning as the concept art that helped birth them. Some do. Most don’t.
I didn’t really get an itch to collect stuff like this until 2008, when Dead Space released. If you pre-ordered the game, it came with an art book. It was a tiny, insignificant little thing, but I had so much fun looking through it. That planted the seed for what would eventually become a seemingly insatiable appetite for video game art books. It doesn’t even matter if I enjoyed the game, if the art looks great, then I want it.
Alice: Madness Returns has an incredible art book that was sent to me prior to my review of the game. That and an unused hookah, which may or may not be collecting dust in my closet right now. I hate to say it, but I had way more fun looking through that book then I did playing the game. That’s not to say Alice: Madness Returns is a bad game, it’s just that it failed to live up to the astronomically high bar set by the artists that crafted all that stellar concept art.
Back to Halo. Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 is special because it’s the first art book I’ve seen for the Halo series. There have been others, sure, but until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to look through one. I’ve been a huge fan of the franchise since Halo 2, which I spent an inordinate amount of time with while in High School. I’ve played, and thoroughly enjoyed Halo 3, Reach, and Wars (though I wasn’t terribly fond of ODST). One of the main reasons why I prefer Halo to Call of Duty is the world. I love the sci-fi setting.
The vibrant colors, sleek, futuristic structures, aliens, etc. Halo offers something Call of Duty never could: a temporary escape from this world. You’re still shooting things in the face and tea-bagging their bloodied corpse, but it’s more fun when it’s an alien’s face that’s having your space marine balls dropped on it a couple dozen times. I love me some Call of Duty, but the idea of a realistic shooter is one that’s lost much of its luster over the last five years.
Halo 4’s art book captures the epic scale of the game brilliantly. Not only is this a well-crafted art book – it’s also a fantastic collection of many of the reasons why I love this series. Seeing the worlds in their original form, on paper, raw and un-rendered, is really neat. The book also showcases the game’s evolution throughout its development cycle, so if you happen to be an aspiring artist (whether you’re aiming for a job in the gaming industry or elsewhere) seeing how the world evolves can also be educational. And they say video games don’t teach us anything.
I could go on about Awakening: The Art of Halo 4, but really, all you need to know is this: when it comes to video game art books, there are good ones, bad ones, and then there are the books that go that extra mile. Awakening falls into that third group. It’s big, and as someone who used to live in Texas, I have first hand knowledge that bigger is indeed better. It’s full of some insanely gorgeous art work that covers essentially every facet of Halo 4, from the aliens, to the worlds, the weapons, and even the ships and vehicles. It’s also tasteful; this is the type of book that you can totally slap on a coffee table.
The Final Word: If you’re a Halo fan, a lover of art, video games, or the art behind video games, this is something you should check out. If you hate happiness, double rainbows, and all things pretty than you’re probably a Call of Duty fan (ZING).
For the super fans, there’s also a limited edition of the book for your hungry eyes to ogle until they explode from the sheer alien awesome that’s contained between the covers of that wonderfully crafted art book.