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Assassin's Creed III: Liberation by Winifred Phillips (Review)

posted Nov 4, 2012, 1:09 PM by
To me personally, the score to Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation literally came out of nowhere. Winifred Phillips, who composed the entirety of the video game’s music, has been involved with other such lauded titles as God of War, LittleBigPlanet 2, Legend of the Guardians, Spore Hero, and Speed Racer, the first two of which I’ve played and thoroughly enjoyed. But short of recalling her name from the list of contributors on those works, I wasn’t intimately familiar with Phillips or her musical talent before Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. I can now proudly sum it up in one word: wow. The Liberation score seemingly takes influences from both video game and film score titles, wraps them all up into one, and lovingly forms a uniquely strong coherent, cohesive, and unflinchingly excellent work of musical brilliance.

“Liberation Main Theme” does an effective job of summing up what one is to hear on the album’s twenty-six lengthy tracks, combining tribal drumming, guiding strings, and soaring female vocals to create a distinctly impressive leadoff introduction. Once diving into second track “Stealth,” the many influences of Liberation start to become clear, beginning with Hans Zimmer’s meandering string cues, sharply turning a corner upon track three, “Virtual Pursuit,” utilizing a John Powell Bourne series’ chase scene foundation given its own identity by what is clearly one of Phillips’ strongest suits, her sense and deployment of multi-flavored and layered percussion. This contemporary skill continues to shine as one of the album’s aural highlights given varying attention in the structure of next tracks “The Docks,” a soothing and delicate string composition mired with apprehension, but where percussion is used sparingly, and “Abstergo Ops,” an eclectic ethnic and orchestral piece with jarring male/female leads and chorus, where the percussion simply explodes into an intentional cacophony of obvious skill and almost casual presentation. “Secrets of the Bayou” then illustrates a different type of sound, with ethnic drums, wavering synth, and oriental-sounding flutes, reminding of a modern-day Bloodsport track culled from an imaginary Paul Hertzog score. Then, with “Poverty,” the album’s first real melancholic track makes an entrance, shoveling heaps of layered synth strings upon the listener, a momentary lapse in the excitement of prior tracks but no less entrancing.

“Aveline’s Escape” begins the fast pace anew, with wild percussion and jarring moments that could easily fit the framework of a horror film score, coupled with string flourishes and female chants. “Society Suite In 4 Movements,” one of the album’s highlights, unexpectedly provides a shelter of Elizabethan Renaissance-style keys, harpsichord, and string work of effortless beauty, with the first and second “movements” being more careful constructions of gentle baroque flavor, followed by the last two which exude a romantic ballroom/dance-style sound. “Ride to Oblivion”’s pace then develops into “Mayan Labyrinth,” which is the track most reminding of legacy Assassin’s Creed series score work by Jesper Kyd, but whose eeriness wouldn’t sound at all out of place on a past Tomb Raider soundtrack. With “Chasing Freedom” and “The Hunt,” film score influences again take shape, referencing the Pirates of the Caribbean works of Hans Zimmer yet with a more fruitful and layered approach, and with “Bayou Fortress,” Phillips again changes direction in the slightest, tagging Basil Pouledoris’ work for Conan the Barbarian yet in a suppressed and still impressive manner.

It’s with fifteenth track “Safe Harbor” that the score seems to begin its conclusion, but that’s not to say the emotional roller coaster slows down. Quite the contrary: “Safe Harbor” begins as a beautiful synth and string track yet very quickly becomes ripe with deftly placed piano and flute-led melodic lines, reminiscent of Nobuo Uematsu’s work on Lost Odyssey. “Deliverance” continues this pattern with female-driven lead vocals and an excision of piano, yet an incorporation of dueling high- and low-octave strings. “Cathedral Grounds” will capture the heart of even the most casual Castlevania fan, with its prominent organ and string arrangements, and in turn “Animus” softly heralds Akira Yamaoka’s industrial sounds of Silent Hill weaving between mournful, echoed synth. Soon later, “In the Service of Humanity” paints an epic and legendary vibe over its male and female choral-laden foundations, and then “Virtual Reality Room” boldly closes out the album with a mysterious and beautiful denouement that sheds the heart-pounding pace of previous tracks for the sake of overwhelming escapism and slack-jawed awe.

I’m unable to tell if Winifred Phillips intended all the aforementioned influences to be noticed on Liberation, but regardless, for an album that seemingly wears so many on its sleeve, the score does the unexpected in bettering, and most cases conquering those sounds. With Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Winifred Philips has created a staggeringly impressive work of white-hot excitement and effortless quality and beauty, breathing new life into the music for the Assassin’s Creed series and musical scoring in general for both video games and films. This musical work is simply not to be missed!