Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Book Review - The Art of Watch Dogs

Review by Richard Williams

by Andy McVittie

Publisher: Titan Books


Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I speak highly of Titan Books, the publisher of The Art of Watch Dogs, and once again they have created a solid offering. However I can't say that this is their finest concept art book and, unlike with previous books such as The Art of Assassin's Creed 3 and 4, I found the deficiencies quite glaring. But that's not to say that this is a bad book. There is still much to like and I'm not unhappy that I bought it.

The book is broken down into four chapters; characters, locations, 'The Underground', and 'everything is connected' (dedicated to the hacking side of gameplay). Of the four chapters it's the locations which dominates, both in terms of quality and in sheer quantity. Roughly twice the size of any other chapter it is also this books most enjoyable section and, I feel, even its saviour. But to begin the first chapter, 'Dramatis Personae', is a straight forward highlight of key characters. There is a lot of wasted space in this chapter which could have been used to show the development of what are, I'm sure, very interesting characters. Sadly what is included is almost entirely finished 3D renders with only a tiny amount of 2D work (my personal favourite). The handful of key art pieces are welcome but aren't enough to save this section from feeling like a disappointment. Less graphic design work and more character design is what's needed here.

Then we're on to the location work which is, I was relieved to see, excellent. While there is still a fair amount of unused page around a number of the pictures it is far less of a problem throughout this chapter than the rest of the book. There's a great mix of locations here from the historic to the futuristic and both types display this books best art. The contrast between pristine and grimy helps to give this vision of a future Chicago a more realistic edge and you can tell that the artists had fun with their subject matter. I particularly enjoyed 'The Mad Mile' and 'The Loop', which nicely show off the polar extremes of developed and deteriorating. However I find myself most drawn to 'The Wards' and 'The Docks', the really seedy areas. These kinds of places require design that has a real breadth and depth of detail and it makes for much richer art, when done properly, which this most certainly has been. There's also a small selection of logos and signs included within the locations section which rounds it out a little better.

The next chapter, 'The Underground', is both hard to describe and something I personally didn't like. More like a graphic designer's resource book than a concept art book this section is filled with the signs and symbols that can be discovered throughout the game which are related to the underground hacktivist group 'DedSec'. This book couldn't really not include this section, since it is a key part of the game, but it's not the kind of art that I enjoy.

And lastly we have 'Everything is Connected' which is all about details regarding the hacking elements of the gameplay. However, aside from a couple of key art pieces and some designs for items which can be hacked, this is almost entirely a selection of screenshots from the game. Therefore I think art lovers won't find themselves well served here.

So how to conclude? Clearly there is plenty to find fault with here; the unused spaces, the heavy graphic design elements, concluding on screenshots, and the lack of detail and design development of the characters. But there are also some parts of The Art of Watch Dogs which work very well. The location work is outstanding, vibrant and very enjoyable, not to mention abundant (which I seem to have mentioned a few times). The descriptive text is also good; unobtrusive, clear, and succinct throughout the book.

So who would most enjoy this book? Lovers of location art will find plenty to appreciate here. People who work in graphic design might also find the work here interesting as a reference book. But really, aside from those two groups, I'm not convinced many people will find this offering ticking too many boxes. More for the collectors than the casual appreciators of concept art.