The Uncertain Musical Fate Of Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed III is going to introduce a lot of changes to the series. It will feature a new setting, a new time period and a new protagonist. And one of the biggest changes has yet to be fully explored — the game's soundtrack will be crafted by an entirely new composer.

Jesper Kyd, the composer responsible for the music in the first four Assassin's Creed games, will be handing the musical baton to Lorne Balfe, who worked with Kyd on the soundtrack to last year's Assassin's Creed: Revelations. As any longtime Assassin's Creed player likely agrees, this is a substantial change.

Assassin's Creed's stark, dry visual design and techno-retro aesthetic have always been two of its most defining characteristics, but Kyd's music has always been the soul of the series for me. Let's take a trip through the musical progression of the first four Assassin's Creed games.

"Jerusalem" - AC I

Kyd's soundtrack for the first Assassin's Creed is probably the least well-remembered — it was somewhat cold, a mix of middle eastern instruments, chanting, open drones and strings. I was one of those weirdos who loved Assassin's Creed despite and sometimes because of its flaws, but I don't have much memory of the soundtrack. I do, however, remember that it fit in very well with the open, wind-swept sound design. There was a distinct sense that this composer got what Assassin's Creed was about, from a gameplay standpoint. It was a game about sitting perched atop a high spire, surveying the horizon before making a leap of faith. Kyd captured that.

"Venice Rooftops" - AC II

Assassin's Creed II was better than its predecessor on every level (except, perhaps, for how much easier it was) — Ezio was a personable and relatable protagonist, the cities were gorgeous, and the game had much more variety. But the thing that really won my heart was the soundtrack. Two games later, Assassin's Creed II remains my favourite soundtrack of the series.

This theme, which plays while running across the rooftops of Venice, flows through may of Kyd's compositions for Assassin's Creed II. That ascending four note melody, those driving drums and guitars… it's great stuff.

"Home In Florence" - AC II

This kind of track is exactly what set the second game's soundtrack apart from the first one. A shifting, serpentine groove reminiscent of Steve Reich, eventually giving way to wide open pads with sharp, dancing harp notes… all the way to a deep, romantic string part. When this started paying for the first time in Assassin's Creed II, I thought, "Wow, shit. They are really going for it here." It almost sounds like Mass Effect, and perfectly blends the game's old-world and sci-fi sensibilities.

"Rome" - Brotherhood

Brotherhood was an interesting soundtrack. I didn't warm to it as immediately as I did Assassin's Creed II, but over time, I came to enjoy its dark overtones. It features more grandiose choral work than Assassin's Creed II, and is on the whole much darker — strange voices chant in the background, and Ezio's journey through Rome feels much less certain than anything in the last game.

"Borgia Tower" - Brotherhood

This music plays when Ezio is infiltrating a Borgia tower, looking to stir up some trouble (and light things on fire). This is some sinister stuff, dark and pulsing, very different than anything from the other games. I still remember when "Countdown" was playing and the whispering, scary music started up and I thought "Man, what the hell is going on?"

"Assassin's Creed Theme" - Revelations

Here we have the main theme for Revelations. The soundtrack was a joint effort between Kyd and Balfe, and I have to say, I don't find it as interesting or memorable as the music from the first three games. It's not bad really, and it still feels like "Assassin's Creed Music," but it lacks that vision that Kyd so often brings to his other soundtracks. The Revelations soundtrack is the main reason I'm somewhat apprehensive about Balfe taking the reins for Assassin's Creed II

Assassin's Creed isn't the only franchise Kyd has left behind — he's also left the Hitman series, for which he was the primary composer for years. It's always nice to see artists embracing change — Kyd's music will be heard on plenty of upcoming games, including Borderlands 2 and Darksiders II, a soundtrack I've enjoyed so far.

For his part, Balfe has been a team member for go-to-soundtracker Hans Zimmer on films like Inception and Sherlock Holmes, as well as Zimmer-scored games like Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis 2. This is an opportunity for him to step away from Zimmer and create his own themes, so I'll be interested to see what he does with Assassin's Creed.

It is, of course, too early to say what that will be; all that seem certain is that it'll likely be markedly different than Kyd's work on the first games. That's fine; good even — with a different setting, vibe and protagonist, different music seems appropriate. Furthermore, Balfe is a skilled composer with a lot of experience, and he's worked on some soundtracks I really respect.

But there's no denying that with Jesper Kyd gone, Assassin's Creed will now be a substantially different experience. Here's hoping that Balfe can step into Kyd's rather large shoes and usher in a new era of sneaking, stabbing and soaring.

Top image: Wildcat_ZA on Photobucket


Comments

    That was an incredibly long introductory paragraph on the home page.

    I think that AC2's soundtrack is one of my favourite game soundtracks of all time, it's up there with LA Noire's.

      I thought LA Noire's was much better from a musical standpoint (note that I listen almost exclusively to music composed before the 1950s). Its slightly jazzy feeling with an absence of words created a sort of relaxed and yet wistful atmosphere, helped by the key of B flat minor (actually had to think about which key for a bit, haven't done theory in a while). This is ideal for the music because of the darker tone it sets. Jasper Kyd's music, while much more layered, lacks proper structure (see Jeruselum 2:12 for example). While its purpose is completely different as it is ambience music, it trades the soulful beauty of the simplicity found in a small ensemble with a sort of westernised modern take on the middle east. LA noire made me listen to the track just to marvel at the melody, while I don't recall any of the AC soundtracks (despite playing all).

    Least remembered? That's insane! I've been playing ac right from ac1. I would sometimes stop playing, and just sit and listen to the soundtrack - falling asleep in my chair. The soundtrack was as equally amazing as the game.

    To be honest, i reckon it was the best soundtrack. Then again, i didn't really pay attention to the others. My favourite track is "the library". They play it a few times in the first game, although it's actually part of the revelations soundtrack.

    I think the middle eastern instruments did it for me.

    Can't believe Ezio's Family didn't get a shout out - fantastic track just like the others already here. Also i don't know if it's just me but i really enjoyed the Revelations Theme Song. It seemed a nice change of pace and was appropriately placed in the game i thought to send off for Ezio and Altair.

    Put them all together.

    And also, I remember all of them except the AC1 ones, in AC1 the soundtracks weren't as noticeable as the others.

    AC2 imo had the best ones, Enter new area (NEW MUSIC).

    I wasn't very keen on Revelations' soundtrack. I'm not musical in any way so I can't really describe why, but I definitely didn't enjoy it as much. 2 and Brotherhood have great soundtracks. Some of my favourites were actually from the present day sequences, particularly Desmond's theme in Brotherhood.

    Didn't know that Kyd wasn't going to be composing 3's soundtrack, but I hope it turns out well.

    *Loved* AC2's soundtrack - it was so distinctive and it fitted the game perfectly.

    I hadn't heard Kyd was leaving the series, it's a shame. Hopefully the music will be just as excellent.

    OH GOD WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN!!

    One day I dream of a trilogy that manages to be a whole auteur aesthetic experience all the way through.

    I loved ACR's score. The tracks done by Kyd, that is. Listening to ACR's score is like putting two drastically differing music scores in a playlist, hitting shuffle, and then listening to it. Balfe's ACR music isn't terrible, but it isn't that great either, and it makes zero effort to mimic Kyd's style and instead sticks to his Remote Control comfort zone.

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