Game Music, Reviews

Assassin’s Creed II: Stuck in the Animus (Review)

December 18, 2009 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook Assassin’s Creed II: Stuck in the Animus (Review)on Twitter

Although some of our dear friends were not as high on Ubisoft’s second outing into the Animus, it’s obvious that the developers at Ubisoft listened to the complaints about Assassin’s Creed. Nearly every criticism was addressed – most of which were improved tremendously. Sadly, Jesper Kyd’s score for Assassin’s Creed II does not fall under the “improved” column.

The soundtrack to the first Assassin’s Creed was actually quite good. It managed to blend Middle Eastern sensibilities while maintaining a futuristic, sinister window through which we could experience Altair’s journey. This score tries to do the same thing musically, but somehow does not succeed in the same. Click for more….

Despite the game’s setting in the birthplace of the Renaissance and during the near-peak of its existence, Kyd’s score seems to ignore all of this (even though Renaissance music is still performed regularly today). Instead of fusing the futuristic, Animus paradigm with the traditional sounds of the region and time period (like he did so well in the first Assassin’s Creed), we are now subjected to an electric guitar bonanza with some voices and out-of-region percussion. For example, the opening theme of “Earth” starts out beautifully with a single angelic voice and acoustic guitar. It is then promptly destroyed by a rock bass guitar and distortion. The soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed II often sounds more like a piece from a rock concept album than it does a game soundtrack scoring either the Renaissance or the dark future through which the Animus presents history.

I am a big fan of Jesper Kyd. His work on Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, and Freedom Fighters (an underrated and brilliant score/game) are top notch. This score, however, is not. The plethora of motets, songs, and sacred music from the Renaissance is so overwhelming that to brush it aside as the Assassin’s Creed II soundtrack has is simply mind-boggling.

Scoring an Assassin’s Creed game is tricky in that one is not scoring for a specific era or situation, but a view of that era from the future. It is absolutely correct of Jesper Kyd and the development team to want a score that reflects both. This was achieved quite well in the original mostly by representing the Animus through modern percussion and ambient effects on the “traditional” sounds used to represent the historic period. In Assassin’s Creed II, the Renaissance is mostly represented through acoustic guitar and voices while the modern era/Animus is represented by electric guitar, electric bass, some percussion, and ambient effects. The problem with both of these is that neither goes far enough in its respective direction to accurately represent its era effectively. The electric guitar and bass often come across like an early-nineties metal band and the classical guitar and voice – though beautiful in their own right – seem oddly generic. It doesn’t feel Italian, it doesn’t feel Renaissance, and it doesn’t feel modern and ass-kicking like the Desmond sequences in the game strive to be.

The iTunes release of the soundtrack clocks in at just under two hours and is selling for $11.99 US. Fans of Jesper Kyd may enjoy this as a piece of music. Kyd is always sound harmonically and a few of his thematic ideas are interesting – in particular, his ascending minoric scale which has several pleasant variations. But, as a soundtrack – something which adds to the ambience and propels me forward through a gaming narrative/experience – Assassin’s Creed II’s score feels as though it is stuck in the Animus unsure over which memory to wrap itself.

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