Thanks to DK Publishing for providing a copy of this book for review.
Having just finished reading and reviewing the revised Halo Encyclopedia I at least felt a touch more confident regarding my basic knowledge of the Halo universe going into this review. At the start of the Encyclopedia’s review I fully confessed that I was a complete noob when it came to the Halo universe outside of the games, and to be perfectly clear I still am a noob as it will take many readings of both this guide and the Encyclopedia to let the information sink in. And so, like the previous review, it’s important for you to know that this is all written from the viewpoint of a gamer that’s still largely unfamiliar with the mysteries and wonders of what Halo has to offer outside of its games.
Despite the fact that many people seem to believe this is merely an updated Encyclopedia, the layout of the pages, alphabetically organised entries, compact design and focus on the games and not the overall universe all clearly indicate that this isn’t a book intended to be read from cover to cover, though it can be, but rather a reference book to be kept close at hand while your playing the games so that you can quickly and easily look up an entry that caught your eye in the game. I went back and played through a considerable chunk of Reach’s campaign with this book by my hand and found myself quickly looking up entries on weapons and enemies as I encountered them, simply so I could learn a little about what alien I was shooting in the face and about the weapon I was using to shoot it in the face with.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. The book is spread out across a total of 207-pages, providing information on the enemies, locations, characters, weapons and technology of every Halo game. Unlike the Halo Encyclopedia, the Visual Guide deals specifically with information from the games, rather than the universe as a whole, though it does often refer dates, locations and events from outside of the games within its entries. However, since my knowledge of the universe is still shaky at best I often found myself getting a little annoyed at the constant mention of dates and events, usually resulting in me consulting the Encyclopedia so that I could read the entry with better context. it’s still possible to pick up a very basic concept of the universe outside of the games by reading the Visual Guide, but I still feel that those without a decent knowledge of dates, locations and events from around the Halo universe won’t get the full experience out of the guide, and so I heartily recommend picking up the Encyclopedia as well if you really want to expand your knowledge.
Since this is a reference book, the amount of information available here doesn’t quite match up to the Halo Encyclopedia, but since this is a more focused book, dealing only with the games themselves, it still delivers an absolute wealth of information within its hallowed pages. Within its pages you won’t find a detailed breakdown of the Spartan program, for example, nor a timeline of events throughout the Halo universe. But having said that the Visual Guide actually contains quite a few bits of information that the Encyclopedia does not, as well as quite a few entries that are strangely missing from the big book. For example the Visual Guide lists Miranda Keyes as Catherine Halsey’s daughter, a fact that the Encyclopedia fails to mention in its pages. The Visual Guide also contains entries for some weapons, ships and more that are absent without leave within the Encyclopedia, and in some area’s, specifically those regarding Noble Team and all the different armour variants, the Visual Guide provides more information and detail.
The compact page layout is coupled with a compact writing style, delivering the most important facts and stats in bite-size pieces of text that can be easily read within seconds, further enhancing the concept that this is the perfect book to use while playing the games. Every entry in the book is in alphabetical order and is also color-coded with one of four corresponding colors to make quickly looking up an entry a breeze: UNSC entries are gold, Covenant entries purple, Forerunners a greyish-blue and the Flood are brown. On each a couple of images, a brief description and then multiple box-outs offering various facts regarding the entry, along with a handy statistics box which tells you which games this character/location/weapon etc. appeared as well as information such as height, weight and age for characters, or what manufacturing details for weapons. And finally most pages also come with a less vital, sometimes random, but always interesting little fact as well, such as the Energy Sword is only allowed to be wielded by Elite aristocrats outside of the military.
The guide isn’t entirely mistake free, though. Just a few pages into the book is a mistake in the form of the entry for the Assault Rifle, where the book states that the rifle didn’t appear in ODST. This is incorrect as the assault rifle did appear in ODST being used by many of the marines and by the player during Buck’s flashbacks. Ultimately I failed to spot any other errors, though hardcore fans may be able to discover others that alluded me.
As you might expect from a book with the words, “The Essential Visual Guide,” emblazoned across the cover, presentation plays a large part of this book, and it’s perhaps here that its biggest weakness lies. The book comes in at just over 9-inches high and 7.5-inches across and sports a thick hard-back cover, making it a nicely compact book that can easily be carried around. Unlike the Halo Encyclopedia, though, the book uses images taken entirely from inside the various Halo games, totalling over 600-images. For the most part this is decent enough, but because this book focuses on all of the Halo games many of the images are taken from the early games and look rather blocky and/or blurry when blown up to fit the page correctly. The layout each page takes works perfectly for the writing style and easy reference, but from a purely aesthetic look it’s nothing that special. But this is a relatively minor complaint.
Easily one of the biggest strengths of this book, though, is the little number printed on the back of the book which clearly states an RRP of just £10 makes this book an absolute bargain! You can even find it cheaper online, with the likes of Amazon offering the book for a mere £7, making it even better value for money.
If you want a complete overall view of the Halo universe then the Essential Visual guide isn’t the book for you, but coupled with the Encyclopedia it makes a formidable source of knowledge. Without the encyclopedia it’s still a damn fine reference book, though I feel that those without a solid working knowledge of the Halo universe may not get as much out of the book as those that do.
+ Fits in quite a bit of information, including some not included within the encyclopedia.
+ The layout makes this the perfect reference book; easy to navigate.
+ It’s cheap!
– Presentation isn’t that great.
– Those without a working knowledge of the universe may find constant date, location and date references a little annoying.
As a reference book for the Halo games this book is hard to fault. It provides plenty of information on the various characters, locations and tech that you encounter during the games, and at such a low price it’s well worth picking up. But if you want a more overall view of the universe, then the Encyclopedia, despite numerous errors, is for you. But if you simply want a book stacked with stats and facts, and happen to like the Halo games, then you should already be ordering the Essential Visual Guide.
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