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Assassin's Creed III: Liberation Soundtrack (Review)

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation Soundtrack (Review)

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Purchase: iTunes

There’s been a big to-do over Ubisoft’s popular Assassin’s Creed series, especially with the October release of Assassin’s Creed III. The game, the setting (American revolution), the concept and the music (Lorne Balfe, taking the reins from Jesper Kyd) were all recognized and praised in their own right.

But for me, the truly exciting piece of the AC franchise is the Vita-exclusive side-story Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. The game takes place in a tumultuous New Orleans, affected by the French and Indian War. The game’s protagonist, Aveline de Grandpré, is a French-African assassin (and a woman!). I am soon to be getting my hands on a Vita, with this game, and I am truly anxious to get started in this special chapter of the AC franchise.

The game’s soundtrack, also composed by a woman (the talented Winifred Phillips), is getting a lot of end-of-year attention. It’s already won one award (Hollywood Music in Media), and has been nominated for awards in various categories at GameZone, IGN, and X-Play.

After the jump, I’ll give you my impressions on this award-winning soundtrack.

There’s plenty for me to say about this soundtrack. First and foremost, let’s establish what this soundtrack is not.

- A morass of ambient drone-tones.
- A series of easily-produced (and more-easily-replicated) musical peaks, i.e. “epic overload.”
- The soundtrack for Mardi Gras — one might be tempted to think, given the setting, that there’d be lots of New Orleans bayou / jazz flavor. Of course, that would be anachronistic, so that isn’t happening.
- Mediocre.
- Dubstep (not that I have a problem with modulated bass synths — indeed, I am a fan. But it’s trendy right now, and Ms. Phillips bucks the trend, using modulated bass sparingly).

With that out of the way, let me tell you what it is I really love about this soundtrack. It is thoughtful and controlled. Seriously … I’ve never thought of a score as exhibiting temperance or restraint before, but that’s what I feel about this album.

Ms. Phillips demonstrates an incredible knack for properly building each musical cue, and indeed, the entire score, towards a proper climax and resolution. It’s not a cacophony of loud and epic, nor is it a boring ambient snooze-fest. It hits that perfect middle ground that is only struck with exacting measures and, likely, a lot of rework after the initial score was penned.

If I were forced to compare the AC3L soundtrack to any others in recent years, I would have to say it has a lot in common with Michael McCann’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack. AC3L is, without question, *less* electronic and synthetic than DXHR. But both are wonderful melting pots of orchestral and electronic, and both have that restrained quality to them, where the full brilliance of the score only peaks out from the fog and the clouds occasionally, to remind you that there is some grand theme behind the whirling sounds around you.

But AC3L goes further into classical territory. There’s a multi-part medley of classical styled chamber music in a single track (track 9, “Society Suite in 4 Movements”). This track reminds me of the “Reaver Mansion” medley from Fable III, though in this case the compositions belong to Winifred Phillips and are not sparse, solo instrument reworks of actual baroque and classical era composers.

Other than that track, however, there is no one song that I am more attracted to than another. The full 70 minute album is best taken as a full experience, and fortunately, the music does not overstay its welcome like some other Western scores tend to do. It’s the perfect length, it sufficiently explores the musical themes introduced in the early tracks, and it offers a unique, refreshing blend of symphonic orchestra and electronic music (especially percussion!).

Fans of Jesper Kyd’s soundtracks for the prior Assassin’s Creed games may be looking to Lorne Balfe, composer of Assassin’s Creed III, to carry the franchise. But for this listener, my belief is that Ms. Phillips is the one carrying Ubisoft’s hit franchise forward in a way that honors Kyd’s style while expanding AC’s musical palette.

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