TR9 Art Book Review

Posted: Apr. 13, 2013
Article by: Brandon Klassen

Tomb Raider: The Art of Survival is an art book for the new Tomb Raider game from Crystal Dynamics, published by BradyGames, who also published the game's strategy guides.

If you're a Tomb Raider fan and you love art, purchasing this book will be an obvious choice. With that in mind, I'll offer a critical perspective on this book in the video game art book genre.

I love books and art books in particular. To say that I have a library of books wouldn't be overstating my collection. The art/making of book that started my collection was the massive original ILM hardcover, The Art of Special Effects, which I think I asked for, for Christmas, when I was around 10 years old. Among many film, television and video/computer game books, I do have the wonderful hardcover set The Art of Tomb Raider from Dreams & Visions Press. I won't bore you any further with my love for art books, but I mention these things so that you know where I'm coming from with this review.

I've been really impressed with how much love Crystal has given to fans by releasing a CD soundtrack, an art book, by launching a merchandise store, and so much more. I found it interesting that Bethesda launched a store using the same merch company as Crystal shortly after Crystal did it first! Companies are realizing how much fans want these additional items that supplement games today. I definitely don't take the release of an art book for granted. Just look at the inconceivable cancellation of the Portal 2 art book. Thankfully for fans, releasing a full art book is becoming more common, and video game fans have a lot to choose from in the first half of 2013. I just received the incredible BioShock: Infinite art book and I'm very much looking forward to The Last Of Us art book, both hardcovers from Dark Horse.

Introductions aside, I'm torn whether or not to recommend this Tomb Raider art book for a very key reason - it has some of the best artwork out of any book in my collection, but it has, in my opinion, a layout flaw that seriously affects the enjoyment of the art.

The shortcomings of this book aren't unique to it, and aren't unique to video game books, it's just that this book suffers from this one particular problem in abundance. Films and video games are landscape format media with today's television and computer monitor aspect ratios. Film art books have caught onto the idea that if your book is about an art form with a landscape orientation, it's logical that the book will work best in a landscape orientation as well. Video game art books have not yet realized this.

Here's the problem - having a huge number of landscape orientation images, and wanting to present them nice and large, this art book places images broken over a spread on nearly half of the book's spreads. As a result, art is lost between pages at the spine, and you can never enjoy a full look at the complete art piece because you are always distracted by the image being broken in half. It's disappointing because the art is truly extraordinary but I find it very hard to enjoy, and this fundamental problem could have been avoided by simply making the book in a landscape format.

I have somewhat lesser concerns about the book, such as the occasional placement of text on top of the art, or the use of design elements that obscure parts of the art. Another thing that I find disappointing is art that is printed too small. Thankfully, these problems don't occur too often in this book.

I had really hoped this book would be hardcover. The majority of art books for major properties are published in hardcover, as publishers recognize that fans and collectors want a high quality product when they purchase an art book. In particular, the types of binding used for hardcovers are generally higher quality than paperbacks. That said, BradyGames went with the best softcover option available, which isn't at all what you typically expect from a paperback. The cover is a thick, almost plastic-like gloss-coated material with inside flaps, which make for nice outer edges. The pages are very thick and glossy, which are perfect for the rich, vibrant colors in the art.

This book is quite comprehensive and varied with its selection of art, and with 272 pages of material, the amount of art here is satisfying and more than many other art books. The selection of art is well organized into sections for characters, environments, weapons, and objects. Only the objects section is a bit light, as I definitely would have enjoyed a more thorough look at the game's many props. Short sections for the team behind the game as well as very early concept art are also great to have in this book. Providing commentary throughout the book is Brian Horton, Tomb Raider's Art Director. The behind the scenes notes are fascinating and like most fans who enjoy in-depth behind the scenes, I would have loved to read twice as much commentary, which could have been easily accommodated as the font size and line height are fairly large.

My last, minor nitpick is that the paperback edition of the Tomb Raider strategy guide apparently contains some concept art that was not included in either this book or the hardcover edition of the strategy guide. So, if you want all the awesome Tomb Raider art you can get your hands on, you'll have to buy the paperback strategy guide as well. If you prefer your strategy guide in hardcover with the replica of Lara's pendant (which is quite nice), you'll have to buy 3 books instead of just 2, because the hardcover guide doesn't include this extra art. My own feeling is that art belongs in an art book, and strategy belongs in strategy guides. I really dislike having to mention all this stuff in a review because it has nothing at all to do with how amazing Tomb Raider's art is. It does, however, contribute to how fans feel when they look at the merchandise being offered for a property they love.

All things considered, I would definitely recommend this book to Tomb Raider fans and art book collectors, with the caveat of my own disappointments, to which your mileage may vary. There's a lot of gorgeous art here that's not to be missed. If Crystal re-released this book in a special edition with a bit more art and commentary, in hardcover and in a landscape format, I would pre-order it in a second.