Watch_Dogs, the newest game from Ubisoft, has been one of the most eagerly awaited in recent memory ever since it’s reveal at E3 2012. The open world game has a very strong focus on technology, with an emphasis on hacking, and the ways that these technologies are affecting us in reality. This has lead the visual style and design of Watch_Dogs to be very grounded in reality, which when compared to the more otherworldly and bombastic visuals many other games feature may not instinctively seem like content befitting of an art book. The team behind Watch_Dogs have clearly set out to tarnish this expectation however, as they deliver a plethora of visual delights many of which can be easy to overlook when studying games and offer insight into aspects of world building many art books have a tendency to neglect.
The presentation of this book is quite spectacular, with high quality paper and materials that we should all expect from art books, but also a very high quality visual presentation. The entire layout stays in keeping with the visual styling of the game, with distinctive typography and geometric patterns filling each page with additional details that are entirely unnecessary, but add greatly to the feel of the book keeping you invested in the Watch_Dogs design mentality. The four quite vaguely titled chapters add up to a total 144 pages with small introductory texts at the beginning of each and even smaller segments of supplementary texts dispersed throughout the pages giving context to some of the images within. The text can hint at the inspiration behind a characters fashion sense or simply point out the teams pride on the composition of a specific piece and its influence on the final build of the game.
The first chapter delves into the character design, which has a few details of note. Most immediately notable is the prevalence of body modification, something not commonly seen casually fashioned by important game characters. Though an arguably small detail, this immediately begins building charters as a believable part of this underground world of hackers and rebels acting against mainstream trends. Each character has a very distinctive and vastly different style, hinting at their personalities whilst never making them appear out of place in their surroundings.
Even with a relatively small cast on display Watch_Dogs shows a strong diversity within its characters. Unfortunately the images contained within the book are almost entirely centred on the finalised design of each character with shots of character models and concept art of their final designs and little more. The protagonist of the game, Aiden Pearce is offered a slightly more in-depth look with early sketches and samples out costume variants, but somewhat ironically the character is by far the least visually interesting of the cast and even within these additional pages of content does little to surpass the typical everyman design so many player characters are confined to. It would be nice to see additional pages given to more characters, and would have been especially nice to see designs from much earlier in development offering examples of drastically different takes on each character.
The second chapter begins to look at the games environments within the city of Chicago. Despite the games light sci-fi themes, the design of the world stays immensely grounded in reality, with the city looking completely believable and free from anything that appears out of place or unrealistic. This must have come as a fairly daunting task for the design team, as recreating a real world city with a dedication to realism could mean a wealth of uninteresting and uninspired imagery; however the team behind Watch_Dogs appear to have intensely focused on creating a palpable atmosphere for the city.
Each image uses a variety of elements to create locations that are bustling with life, or give the impression of a lived in and worn location. The concept art builds the impression of a fairly bleak city, and at times even solemn quiet. This atmosphere seems to be very largely at odds with the world Aiden and the other hackers largely inhabit. This world, fittingly referred to as The Underground, is the topic of the third chapter within the book and this is the chapter where Watch_Dogs truly begins to shine.