Book Review: Awakening: The Art of Halo 4

Awakening: The Art of Halo 4
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 11/06/2012
Page Count: 192
Cost: $34.95
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When a new developer takes over a franchise with a fanbase the size of Halo, there’s an understandable amount of doubt involved. After all, any sort of work be it a book, movie, or video game has a vision that is driven by those that originally created it. So when Halo 4 was announced and it was revealed to be under the wing of 343 Industries, who had crafted Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, many fans were left wondering how they could possibly measure up to the groundwork laid by its predecessor, Bungie. In fact, I found myself wondering that as well.

Part of appreciating a new direction in a series is learning about what leads up to the creative decisions that go into it. Why does a character look a certain way? Why use a certain locale as a setting? Answers to questions like these can help a fan understand why their favorite franchises get shaped a certain way going forward. Which leads us to Awakening: The Art of Halo 4.

It’s tough to pinpoint what makes a good art book in the eyes of fans, because they may all be looking for different answers. But generally speaking, you want something that is not only visually impressive, but won’t entice the viewer to put it away after flipping through it one time. Things like interviews and such help, though even better is having commentary on each of the pages to offer context to what the reader is actually seeing. I was glad to see that Awakening was able to offer commentary from the artists alongside the illustrations that were effective at highlighting how passionate they were about their work. At first glance, it really does seem structured as an open letter to fans, showcasing what the next entry in the Halo franchise has to offer and why you should care.

As you flip through the book, aside from noticing the obvious facts that it’s hardcover and consists of almost 200 full color pages, you’ll see that it’s organized into five chapters. Each chapter has a different theme, though is organized into sub-sections so that if there’s something specific you are looking for or would like to learn more about, you can easily find it. The first chapter, following a nicely written introduction, focuses on Halo 4’s varied locales. The sub-sections of that chapter are named after the chapters in the actual game, each one highlighting areas that you would visit in that specific point in the campaign. It’s these pages in particular that are the most breathtaking, as each page is like a painted portrait all its own with brief descriptions and commentary dotting each one. Some have additional drawings that flesh out some of the smaller details, like how Requiem came to look like a Death Star or some of the minute changes between the various shrubs in the jungle. Shrubs!

The next chapter covers the characters belonging to the UNSC faction, with primary attention given to Master Chief and Cortana. I found the Cortana images to be the most fascinating, as there were so many concepts crafted for her design, which is interesting for such an established character. There’s also a breakdown of minor character designs, other Spartan armor, and even the various weapons and vehicles that they use. Some of them, such as the warthog, had their interiors fleshed out as well. It’s probably the closest thing to an official blueprint that you’re ever going to find.

Chapter three delves into the Covenant faction, and it’s a bit of a short chapter. Since there are no significant characters of note here, you instead get to see a diverse selection of alternate appearances for Elites, a few selections about the Jackals and Grunts, and a brief look at their weaponry and vehicles. While this chapter has some incredibly eerie looking close-ups of the game’s enemies, I was surprised that there wasn’t nearly as much liberty taken with coming up with new looks for these characters.

The fourth chapter is another short segment that focuses on the Forerunners and their technology. I hadn’t known what Forerunners looked like prior to seeing this, so I enjoyed seeing what they came up with. There are a lot more pages dedicated to their weaponry too, which makes sense considering that a lot of it is new to this game. Details for each one were more abundant as well, so if you always wanted to make a replica, you’re in luck.

The fifth and final chapter centers around the multiplayer aspect of the game. The majority of it consists of more environmental shots, showcasing the various maps at their most artistic level. It was interesting to learn that some of them even had backstories to them, loosely tying them back to the main campaign. The commentary used here highlights cases where assets from the main story had to be recycled. Following the environment pictures, are designs for the armor variants that can be used to customize each player’s individual avatar.

Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 as a whole is put together very nicely. It’s full of artwork that will not only be of interest to fans, but will fascinate casual readers, especially that of the environments. It’s also organized in a very thoughtful manner, categorizing things into chapters in a way that makes sense, while also allowing the page progression to flow in a linear fashion. The commentary is a nice touch and although some more extensive information on each piece would’ve been welcome, I’ve seen art books that have done a lot less. Hardcore fans probably already have their hands on this book, but if not, it would make a great centerpiece for Halo merchandise collectors. And unlike Doritos and Game Fuel flavored Mountain Dew, it’s guaranteed not to get stale.



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