Weekend with the Review Pile (Videogames Edition)

Somehow, I wound up with a big stack of books and comics based on videogames here next to my desk and today I'm going to try and get through as many of them as I can. So it's capsule review time again.

Now, full disclosure-- I am not a videogame guy. At all. Especially not the intricate kind of RPG where you move through a variety of interactive scenarios to play out a role in a story. So for some of these, I enlisted the help of some folks who do play the video games these books are spun out of and could tell me if the books were worth it for fans.

Anyway, here's the roundup.


Max Payne 3 - The Complete Series by Dan Houser, Sam Lake, and Fernando Blanco.The blurb: Bridging the gaps between Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and 2012's critically acclaimed Max Payne 3 from Rockstar Games, Max Payne 3: The Complete Series reveals formerly hidden moments in Max's life story, from a young cop on the rise to the man whose battles with the criminal underworld cost him everything he ever held close.

What I Thought: Titan Books, which is where all of this week's video-based bounty came from, does these remarkably well-put together comics hardcover albums. The thing I can never quite figure out, though, is the editorial direction. Because in terms of what they choose to publish, they're all over the place. Their batting average with me is pretty good-- rarely, if ever, do I get something from them I actively dislike-- but I do occasionally get one that leaves me scratching my head and wondering.

Generally, one of these comics albums from Titan is a nice bang for the buck with a lot of good material, like, say, the A1 Annual or the James Bond Omnibus they sent me a couple of weeks ago. (Both books are recommended highly and unreservedly, by the way; I don't have anything to say about them other than "THESE ARE AWESOME!!" which is why neither one is getting a capsule review of its own.)

And sometimes, like with their Simon and Kirby Library or Flash Gordon newspaper strip collections, they are doing a great service to the entire comics community by reprinting classic material in an archival hardcover.

But other times, we get a head-scratcher, and Max Payne is one of those. It baffles me why this little nothing of a comic gets the same kind of loving, stellar treatment Titan gives to to Alex Raymond or Simon & Kirby when it just doesn't deserve it. This book collects three stories that originally appeared as webcomics, and are meant to be supplementary to the actual main story line of the game.

The thing is, for someone like myself who has no interest in the game, the book's got nothing to recommend it. It doesn't really work on its own. It's basically Max sitting in a bar remembering all the different things in his life that have gone wrong, reminiscing about when he used to be a good cop and was married and had friends and then everything went to hell and everyone he cared about got killed.

What action there is occurs largely in flashback. it's all beautifully crafted but if this is what the game is like, it's so relentlessly depressing I have to wonder why anyone would want to play it. I thought the hero's name was a pun on "Maximum Pain" because he was an action badass, not an alcoholic in a depressive spiral.

Seriously, this is the comic for people who think Scott Snyder's Batman is too fluffy and upbeat. And since the resolution of the story is basically, "Max will solve all his personal problems in the game MAX PAYNE 3, check it out!" it doesn't actually resolve anything. At $9.99 for 52 pages, even in hardcover that strikes me as vastly overcharging readers for what they get. It's strictly for hardcore fans of the game; newcomers will be lost and the book itself is such a relentless downer that after getting to the end I can't see any reason why anyone would want to go play the game afterward. For alcoholism and depression I can go visit my relatives.


Assassin's Creed: the Ankh of Isis Trilogy and Assassin's Creed: Hawk by Eric Corbeyran and Djilalli Defaux.The blurb: For the Ankh Trilogy -- This first ever collection of the three-volume graphic novel from Ubisoft collects together the exhilarating story of Desmond Miles’ abduction by Abstergo. His subsequent flight from their grasp leads to Desmond joining the Assassins in their fight against the Templars. Betrayal leads to Desmond “recovering” the memories of his ancestor, Aquilus as he searches for the power of the mystical Ankh and savage Barbarian tribes, led by the deadly Assassin Accipiter, prepare to attack.

And for Hawk: When Desmond Miles is called away on an urgent mission, he entrusts fellow Assassin Jonathan Hawk with File 24. Hawk sets out to search for the Scepter of Isis – a powerful ancient artifact, lost in time. Through his Assassin ancestor, El Cakr, Hawk travels to Egypt in 1257, where the Scepter lies in the hands of the new Sultan. Pursued in the present by the formidable Templar agent Vernon Hest, Hawk finds himself in a race against time…throughout time.

What I Thought: These were more to my liking. Titan scores again with the nice hardcover presentation-- you can just take it as given that these are all classy hardcovers done in the tradition of British comics annuals. Some people don't care for it-- I recall some online bitching about how fans don't care for Marvel putting out Avengers collections in this kind of edition-- but I like it.

Even better, I could follow what was going on and there was an actual story worth putting in a book in the first place. I preferred the Ankh collection because it was a complete piece and Hawk ends on a cliffhanger, but overall I thought the story was entertaining. I don't think I'd have bought these for myself, though, because I just am not at all invested in the game, so to review these two volumes I also enlisted my student Cal, who actually plays Assassin's Creed. Here's what 13-year-old Cal had to say.

"The art in the Ankh Trilogy and Hawk is truly amazing! And the story rocked me with its action and intense story line! you can't look at a page and not get sucked in to the story with all the amazing art and it's easy to read and follow the story. The time jumps are sometimes hard to navigate-- this story is about a guy who goes back to his past lives to fight members of a cult all through history. But I could keep up and game fans will totally get it."

"All in all, I love it! Having said that I'm not guaranteeing it for youngsters who don't like violence because there is some. Like the game, it can be graphic and sometimes there is blood so it's not for all ages. But for people who are okay with some violence this is the greatest thing ever."

So there you go. A full-throated endorsement from an actual Assassin's Creed gamer, and my additional completely game-ignorant assessment that this is a pretty fair fantasy-action comic that can stand on its own. I think I'd get the trilogy and skip Hawk, though, because the Hawk story is only a first installment and I'm certain it will be collected in a similar omnibus edition to Ankh once it's completed. The Titan omnibus editions are definitely the way to go.


The Art of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag by Paul Davies and The Art of Battlefield 4 by Martin Robinson.The blurbs: For Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag-- The recently announced Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag sees a sea change for the game franchise with a harsh new setting in the Golden Age of pirates. With intricately detailed environments and finely honed and evocative historical re-imaginings, The Art of Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag includes the game’s vast nautical gameplay, and its amazing range of locations, characters and action.

And for Battlefield 4: One of the most popular first-person-shooter franchises of all time, the critically and commercially acclaimed Battlefield series has sold over 27 million copies worldwide and been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades – including ‘Best Shooter’ and ‘Best Multiplayer Game’ and ‘Best Graphics’ in 2011. The high-octane series has been praised for its sandbox design and immersive multiplayer gameplay, as well as its gritty storylines and spectacular attention to detail. Its most recent entry, Battlefield 3, winner of over 60 industry awards, has been branded as “an unforgettable, world-class multiplayer suite that’s sure to excite shooter fans” by IGN.

Titan Books’ The Art of Battlefield 4 will give readers an in-depth look at DICE’s enormously anticipated action-packed new game, featuring exclusive concept and development art, as well as detailed creator insights and commentary throughout, showcasing the chaos and the carnage of war on virtual front lines.

No fan of the Battlefield series will want to miss out on this visually stunning high-end book - which will thoroughly showcase the art of war.

What I Thought: I've talked about Titan's "art of" series of high-end coffee-table hardcovers here before and I don't really have a lot to add. They're gorgeous books that I would never consider spending $35 apiece on unless I was a rabid fan of whatever the books are celebrating. Offhand I liked the Assassin's Creed one a little better because I think paintings of pirates and ships at sea are more interesting to look at than paintings of Marines shooting it out in a bunker.

But your mileage may vary. Certainly both books are showpieces and have stunning graphics throughout.

As it happens I have a friend down at the printshop, Ryan, who is an avid gamer as well as a graphics and layout person himself, and he had expressed an interest in seeing these books. So I gave them both to him and said he could keep them, they were just review copies, but with the caveat that he had to tell me what he thought.

A couple of days later I asked him and he shrugged. "They're really nice books," he said. "But I think I agree with you, I'd never pay that kind of money for one. You'd have to be a super fan, or else a guy who's doing game graphics for a living... it's really hardcore tech stuff a lot of the time. I knew what they were talking about and I even do that kind of work sometimes, and I was bored. But, pretty pictures."

It turned out that he gave the Battlefield book to Kenton down in the poster department because Kenton actually plays that game, and when I asked Kenton about it he said much the same. "I dunno, man, I was done with it in an hour. It's not the kind of thing I'd go reread."

So two fans and a non-fan ignoramus, all three of whom work around computer graphics and design, agree that we just weren't that interested. Not terribly promising. As such, I feel safe in saying these are for superfans only.


This is getting long enough that I think I'll stop here. There are other books in the pile that have nothing to do with videogames and some of them are very cool indeed, and certainly worth bringing to your attention.

So we'll pick it up with those, next week. See you then.

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