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The Art of Watch Dogs Book Review: Color My World
It takes all kinds to build a city, much more to build the world that Ubisoft’s envisioned, virtually and visually. Carefully compiled by Andy McVettie and Paul Davies courtesy of the game development team’s wealth of work, The Art of Watch Dogs combines art and artistry to bring Aiden Pearce’s Chicago to life less realized. Masterfully designed while all the more vocal, the world of Watch Dogs is something strikingly dramatic and removed, with less to see and more to say than meets the eye.
The Art of Watch Dogs is that and more thanks to the efforts of Ubisoft designers Mathieu Leduc and Sidonie Weber’s exhaustive labors, all interwoven amidst an intricate web of content old and new. In it, the book’s four chapters capture the four cornerstones of Watch Dogs‘ world: its people, its city, its heart, and its ultimate (and explosive) connectivity, all condensed into a myriad of styles unique and grounded.
It’s the city of Chicago that most understands this duality. A city of contrasts derived from both past and present, hacker Aiden Pearce’s Windy City towers over the Lake Michigan skyline, an urban landscape detailed in all but the most subtle energies. The likes of the Hancock Center and Willis Tower loom over the glitz and glamor of Mad Mile, their decadence and power indifferent to the sight of its homeless below. Idle L-train stations give way to the busy streets beneath it, and far from the gaze of its more familiar landmarks lies the rural realm of Pawnee, its still, natural beauty embodying a quiet rivalry with its urban cousin.
And so its dramatis personae carry with them a contrast all their own, albeit in ways less grand. Here we have a variety of characters composing the game’s main cast: Aiden, T-Bone Grady, Jordi Chin, Clara Tille, Delford “Iraq” Wade, all in their respective character models. Some 3D, some drawn, the devotion to detail is impeccable, including a few interesting glimpses of what ultimately stayed on the drawing board. Clara deservedly earns her own share of pages here, more than happy to show off a host of looks befitting her inherently more eye-catching punk rock persona.
What background information of theirs is explored can’t be found compelling, but if it’s clothes that make the man or woman, then they do so in spades for Weber, Watch Dogs‘ art director, who’s so-called “fashion forward” is its own spectacle. A described stylist for a whole population, Weber’s contrasting fashion sense resonates in the most unlikely suspects, like in Iraq’s candid mixture of military and urban trappings.
Pictures are nevertheless content in themselves in The Art of Watchdogs, as are the attitudes they carry. Chicago carries with it a deprecating cynicism wherever it finds itself, whether that be the decaying (and now defunct) Cabrini Green housing projects to T-Bone’s own mad junkyard machinations. Set against Watch Dogs‘ unforgiving weather, scenes are more often covered in rain than sun, their mood conveying the grim reality of the seedy city affairs that precedes them. It all can’t help but seem a bit drab in their frequency, and it all seems to run together after a while, numbing the eye from one dark alley to another.
It’s the book’s domestic portraits that paint a broader stroke much more than its overhyped in-game action shots. Painstakingly drawn to perfection in beautiful watercolor, it’s the Old Town Chicago that comes to life in its most vivid form throughout Chicago’s Loop district. Shops and neighborhoods are wonderfully realized to their fullest extent, feeling lived in as much as their urban street art brings a local color and tangible vibrancy you could see across your own downtown.
What takes center stage is the messages embodied in the “optical art” that Watch Dogs so cleverly takes to an art form. Digital memes and their pertinent symbolism invade and dominate the voyeuristic surveillance state overshadowing the Windy City, some of it evocatively Hitchcockian. It’s Ubisoft’s Big Brother rather than Rockstar’s Hollywood that follows you with its evil eye, and what bizarre distortions of materialism and appreciated retro know-how follow it result in digital art as comical as they are meaningful. Watch Dogs means to warn as it does entertain, and its hellbent on reminding you of it in its own smug ways.
The book itself is fine quality. Standing a foot in height (12 x 9.4 x. 07 to be exact), The Art of Watch Dogs is of the fine paper and hardcover binding you’d expect, though Aiden’s sulking eyes may be nothing special of a cover. Only 144 pages in all, the book’s surprisingly short considering the game’s infamously long development and its own lofty universe. Its selection of content’s a fair payoff nonetheless, but disappointing for one of Titan’s selections.
If a picture can paint a thousand words it seems, The Art of Watch Dogs certainly inspires fewer, if not more articulate ones. Less an artistic companion and more of a visual commentary, Leduc and Weber provide fine work worthy of the game they’ve made, complete with an aesthetic and intrigue all its own. The Art of Watch Dogs is a picture far from pretty, but with something to say, perhaps more than even its game was able to convey. If only there was more of it.