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'The Art of Titanfall' review: Beautifully capturing what next-gen has in store

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The Art of Titanfall

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Labelled by reviewers as the game to change FPS on next-gen, Titanfall is preparing to set-out on every game dev’s dream journey: creating that next big thing. UK based Titan Books‘ latest art book release The Art of Titanfall seeks to prove just that: Titanfall is what next-gen wants to be.

But by no means did Titanfall‘s conception and development come easily. Created by ex-Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella — the beings responsible for Call of Duty: Modern WarfareTitanfall will be the first game released by their brand-new development company, Respawn Entertainment. For West and Zampella, this game isn’t just another game, this could very well mean their and their company’s future and livelihood. If Titanfall comes in any way short of its colossal expectations, it will most likely mean their end.

Not only does that mean the game needs to run better than most to succeed, it needs to look better than most as well.

Concept

It may come as no surprise that the team behind gaming’s biggest multiplayer series of all-time decided their first solo title should focus on specifically that — online. However, Titanfall isn’t just your run-of-the-mill online FPS, it’s a fully imagined world that sets out to create a new style of storytelling.

In this futuristic world, you play as the elite group known as pilots battling it out in a chaotic, devastated landscape. As you the online game progresses, bits and pieces of the story begin to fall into place — sometimes accidental, sometimes ensured.

“And then they also react to the players; they’ll [computer AI Grunts and Spectres] comment on the players,” explained lead designer Justin Hendry in an interview with GamesBeat. “They’re there to make the players feel more important. If you jump on an enemy Titan and rodeo them in front of grunts, you’ll hear them [say stuff like] ‘Oh, shit!’ If you save them, they’ll thank you.”

Clearly, Respawn Entertainment isn’t looking to create just another multiplayer title, they’re looking to redefine it.

Even at first glance it’s obvious that The Art of Titanfall proves the game is more than just another FPS. With over 192-pages filled with everything from concept art, to character, vehicle, and location designs, to final models, the art book gives a larger look into a world built like a layered onion.

Characters, Creatures, Spacecraft and Vehicle Designs — Oh My!

At first glance, it’s a pretty typical looking art book. However, there are a few key factors that make TAOT stand proudly on its own. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include the character designs or creatures.

First off, they’re human characters. There’s nothing much you can do to spice them up, however, it’s the future and they look like they just stepped out of the latest COD game. I mean, couldn’t we even do some Total Recall kind of jazz and add a couple transparent rain jackets or Google Glass-looking spectacles on them at least? Oh, well. I think they realized it, though, seeing as this section only was only given 12-pages of coverage.

As for the creatures, they’re absolutely amazing! Here’s the downside: there are two-pages of them. Straight out of Final Fantasy-styled, creature artist Tu Bui deserves some credit for his stunning work on these designs, and, unfortunately, you only get to see very little into his process.

That’s the gripe, here’s the hype: everything else.

As a fan of the old Mechwarrior titles, the Titans were the first section I flipped to. These behemoths are intense. I could feel the 12-year-old Mechwarrior geek inside me hyping up. Based on the mechs alone, this book is amazing.

How often do you play something and barely give a second thought about the weapon you’re holding or the mech you’re jumping into? I’ll answer for you: rarely. I can’t honestly recall a single game I ever really paid much attention to the things I used so often aside from maybe a quick, “oh, that’s neat.” The titan’s really get a showing-off in this book, and I began to think that maybe I haven’t been paying attention to the things I really should.

Skip forward a few pages to the spacecraft designs and I was even more mind blown. These guys made an entire star fleet, each vastly different from the other. From futuristic helicopter-looking vehicles, to a WWII inspired plane, to a battleship straight out of Starship Troopers, these spacecraft designs are hands-down the only time I’ve ever been enthralled by aircraft design.

Hitting the mark 80% of the time, the first half of TAOT pretty much nails it. A fantastic, ethereal look into a tedious, arduous process that gives a new more appreciative look at what we barely ever pay attention to in an FPS — you know, unless it’s terrible.

Locations

Accounting for more than half the book, this is where Titanfall‘s art shines. Absolutely stunning, the locations are some of the coolest designs I’ve seen made for a game yet. Even maps that look like the same old grey and brown structure labyrinth offer a new concept, often times garnished with a desolate, hopeless feeling.

From a futuristic take on Southeast Asian islands (lagoon; pictured above), to an even more drab Middle Eastern-style map (Nexus), to [my personal favorite] desert filled with gargantuan, other-worldly mammoth bones and mythical creatures. The locales are each wildly different from the last but still somehow all fit perfectly with the others.

With influences spanning to everything from Star Wars, to modern day FPS’, to John Woo films, this is one of the most phenomenal collaborations of artists out there today.

Sincerely, these locations are some of the greatest I’ve ever seen compiled into a game. If there is one reason for you to buy this book, it should positively be the in-depth look at these locations.

Overall

As the first art book released for a next-gen game, The Art of Titanfall fits the description to a T. This is a brilliant glimpse into the world of next-gen design, allowing readers to see how much further the industry has come to fully realizing their original idea.

While reading The Art of Titanfall I couldn’t help but call to mind an interview I had watched recently between Chief Arino (GameCenter CX) and Space Invader creator, Tomohiro Nishikado — mostly the concept art he displayed. He spoke about his intent for the original game design, which was originally called Space Monsters. He created monsters. They weren’t invaders, they were monsters. Alas, Taito decided with what they were able to show visually, it would be better suited as invaders.

You see, at the time, it wasn’t easy to decipher between a monster design or an alien, or even really a gun versus a knife. You built a game with a limited number of blocks and prayed people could identify what you were attempting to convey.

As I looked and recalled, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat floored by how far we’ve come. It’s extraordinary to realize that we can actually see the team of artist’s original meaning — this is the world they’ve made for us as complete as you’ve ever experienced it before.

In the forward by lead artist Joel Emslie, he reflected on his childhood with his father. As a plumber, his father worked on things “that no-one but mice and spiders would ever see.” As Emslie continued, you could understand his emotional connection between his and his father’s work.

Although he spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours to get to the final design, the early designs weren’t created for anyone to see — they were only simply the foundation. However, just like his father insisting on using a higher quality pipe for his work, Emslie ensured that Titanfall was something exceptional from the very first stroke.

There’s more to The Art of Titanfall than you’d think just by reading the title. Sure, it’s an FPS. Sure, it’s the first gaming art book of next-gen. What this book really is, though, is a place holder in gaming history. When artist’s look back at the different generations, this is the book they’ll pick-up for Xbox One. This is where it all changed, and if that isn’t blow-your-mind awesome then I don’t know what is.

With 192-hundred pages filled with some of the neatest conceptual designs available, The Art of Titanfall is a beautiful and fascinating look into next-gen’s most anticipated game. Top that off with the not-so-typically low price tag, TAOT is absolutely a buy for any artists, current/future designers, or even simply someone looking forward to the game.

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