Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review - The Art of Alien: Isolation

Author: Andy McVittie
Published by Titan Books

'The Art of Alien: Isolation is a high-end art book featuring over 300 images from the latest game in the critically and commercially acclaimed Alien franchise. Taking players back to the survival horror atmosphere of the first film, Alien: Isolation features Amanda Ripley as the hero trying to survive on a wrecked space station. This book is the ultimate gallery of the game, a must-have for any fan.'

One of the great things about being an Alien fan back in the day was that we got a great publication to sink our teeth into called ‘The Book Of Alien’, which gave us an amazing look behind the scenes of the film but, more importantly, we got to see the initial designs of the movie, from spacesuits to spaceships, from eggs to aliens, from couches to corridors. This was a great way to get involved in the Alien universe and experience the design process in general.

Because of three decades of exposure to the Alien movie, as well as the three sequels, I was pretty nervous about the Alien: Isolation game, especially after the disaster that was Aliens: Colonial Marines. I got this book before playing the game and, after reading the amount of care and attention that had gone into the design of the adventure and the almost reverent attitude to the design and feel of the 1970s movie, I was somewhat uplifted and finally gave in and got excited about the game. I’ve played it since… but that’s another review.

The hardback book has a very atmospheric cover and looks great, but the choice of landscape is a bit clunky in my hands and not my favourite format. The artwork throughout is a divide between sketching, painting and rendering but what stands out is the number of straightforward drawn art there is. Usually, art books about video games are filled to the brim with renderings and digital art and that can get a little frustrating because art books, in my mind, should be about the designs leading up to the finished product.

That’s what I loved about a lot of the movie art books I own, so why should computer game books be any different? Fortunately, this book harks back to the days of ‘The Book Of Alien’, in which we do get to see much of the designs of the characters, tools and the setting. They even show them against the inspiration the designers took from original film images, from movie stills to drawings, so you can see what they were trying to achieve.

Still, let’s not forget that this is 2014 and we’re talking about a computer game here – there’s still a lot of rendering, especially with the starship design section, but even here it’s great to see the ships in all their glory. I know I’m being biased, and they’re all nice designs, but they still don’t match the Nostromo and it was nice to see the deckplans included. The bulk of setting material, though, belongs to the Sevastopol Station, and this is simply glorious and really captures the mood and atmosphere of the original film. The mix of recognisable designs and new takes on the original lo-fi sci-fi designs is incredible and it’s great to flip through the pages and absorb all of this detail. It’s great because you get to spend plenty of time poring over the images, unlike in the game where you spend all your time fearing what’s behind the next door, or around the next corner. There‘s no time for sightseeing in the game so it’s great to revel in the setting in the book.

I think what struck me the most about this book is the fact that the designers, from the original artists to the devs to the renderers, all seemed to have a clear visual goal in their heads; this is based on a 1970s movie, so the look, feel and tech will be 1970s. The design approach is wonderful and not only captures the analog science fiction atmosphere that I love so much - with the clunky buttons, CRT screens and bitty graphics – it creates a tangible world that looks and feels almost real, and any gamer can tell you that when a game world absorbs you, sucks you into the reality that it’s created in such a way that you have a tangible emotional reaction to it, well… that’s half the game’s job done. It no doubt hits me harder being the Alien fan that I am but the world presented in this book really is that well defined.

The Art of Alien: Isolation is a really good book. I’m not overly fond of the landscape format and, truth be told, I’d have liked a lot more text talking to the designers and artists, but there’s enough here to keep me satisfied. I like to draw and I’m no professional artist, so I like my art books to be inspirational and informative. I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot more original pencil and ink art they could have shared, and I’d have paid extra for a larger book to fit all that in, but what we get here is an excellent and informative book that not only gives you some background to the game but also makes the Alien universe much deeper and richer.

That’s a hell of a thing to achieve for an ‘Art Of’ book, let alone the game itself.