Sunday, 19 October 2014

Review - The Art of ALIEN: Isolation

Inline image 1With the launch of the frankly amazing ALIEN: Isolation and associated books, Farsight Blogger will be featuring a few reviews and articles regarding the 1979 Ridley Scott classic. Expect a review of the game itself in the near future.

We kick off with this review of The Art Of ALIEN: Isolation by Richard Williams.


Author: Andy McVittie
Publisher: Titan Books

Yet another solid offering from Titan publishing bringing together a great collection of production art for Alien: Isolation.

The book is nicely divided into fairly obvious sections (characters, environment, weapons, etc) which I appreciate as I don't like art books to be all over the place without decent consideration to layout. The character design is nice with clean lines and there's also plenty of it. In fact one thing this book does right in spades is to show the iterative process of designing a game and what you'll find in this book is plenty of stuff which never ended up being used. As I've said in other reviews I really like to see that kind of material, the 'game that never was', and especially when the quality of art is as high as it is here.

Not surprisingly there is a goodly portion of environment art. I say not surprisingly as Alien: Isolation is a first person perspective game which means that almost all of your time will be spent looking at your surroundings (typically whist cowering behind a work surface, if reviews of the actual game are anything to go by). Therefore the ships and, particularly, Sevastopol station provides the lion's share of concept art. The style is appropriately dark and moody with a keen attention to detail which is just a joy to see. I also really appreciate the handful of examples of concept art from the original Alien movie, linking this work firmly with its source material and demonstrating how close to its roots the game designers were determined to stick.

There's a short but fantastic section on the weapons and equipment that players will use and, again, this is where we see a lot of material that never found its way into the final product. This can sometimes go against the game creators as it can leave you thinking 'well damn it, that sounds like something I wish they'd left in'. In this case the idea that players would have to jerry-rig and craft their own weapons, an idea which was dialled back for the finished game. Is that a problem for me, though? No, I get to see top-notch concept art so I'm happy.

The section on the design of the eponymous Alien is great but obviously the vast majority of that work was done a long time ago. What this book adds is to show the alien more as more animated and animalistic in a range of poses.

Aside from the art there are other elements to consider. First of these is the landscape layout of the book. I'm not a fan of this format as it makes the books on my self jut out and the uber-organised side of me (a normally very small part of me) would far rather have all my books looking neatly the same. Especially since this book came from the same publisher of my other favourite concept art books. Would it have killed them to make a book which fit with their other publications? would it? WOULD IT!? ahem. Sorry. Faux rant aside this is a minor gripe and by no means a deal breaker, I just mention it in the hope that publishers out there are listening.

There is also the descriptive text. This is a mini science in itself and I'm glad that Titan seem to have the formula down pat. Not so much that it gets in the way, not so little that you're not learning anything. The text in The Art of Alien: Isolation provides plenty interesting nuggets regarding the design and development process which makes interesting reading without leading away from the purpose of this book, namely top notch art.

Do I have any problems with this book? Only a couple and the landscape format of the book is one of them. Other than that there is the fact that artists are not thoroughly credited on the pages. Sometimes the artist gets a mention in the accompanying text but largely there's nothing to say who drew what. As a guy who likes to chase up artists I like online to see what else they've done I find this a little annoying. But only a little. But that really is it. I could make my usual complaint that I would like to see more artwork (because you know there's a lot more in an archive somewhere) but this book is the usual size for an art book and so I think I've just got to accept they're never going to give me all the goodies.

So, should you buy it. Two questions; 1) are you a fan of the Aliens franchise? and 2) do you like concept art books? If the answer is yes to either then you can buy without worry as this satisfies both interests handsomely. If the answer is yes to both then you've probably already bought the book without reading this essay of a review and are just as happy as I am.

- Richard Williams