Assassin's Creed (AC) is a behemoth of a game franchise. The first game was released in 2007 to high expectation yet mild reception, but the 2009 sequel sealed it as one of the most successful intellectual properties in the industry. Since then, Ubisoft has been churning out a new game for fans on an annual basis, and while the games have never reached the sales numbers that Call Of Duty once boasted, the fact that we're on game 8 over a 7-year period (excluding various standalone DLCs and handheld console games) says a lot about the franchise's appeal. The music has always been an integral part of the AC universe, often responsible for bringing the cinematic open world structure of the games to life through a greater focus on instrumentation and rhythm. Jesper Kyd laid down the thematic groundwork for the series, but on the fourth game, Ubisoft brought in Lorne Balfe to help tackle the growing scale of the gameplay and narrative. Since then, more and more composers have been getting involved with contributing to the overall soundscapes of the games, with 2014's AC Unity having three different voices mesh together to create a single sonic world. Chris Tilton, Sarah Schachner, and Ryan Amon are the forces behind fleshing out 18th century Paris at the height of the French Revolution. Tilton's and Schachner's music have been released separately as Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, respectively, with Amon's efforts not making the cut. Therefore, this review will only address their score releases.
To put it simply, any fan of Tilton's work, or of Fringe in particular, will have plenty to love in Vol. 1. He brings his signature string writing to the table alongside a wealth of rhythmic percussion and ostinatos. The music is dry and has a lot more air to its sound, and thus brings a more dramatic flavor to the game's proceedings than the action-oriented music by Schachner. Tilton also utilizes thematics a lot more in his melodic structures. Arno, the game's protagonist, gets a really delicate and lovely motif to symbolize his family and home in Versailles, which is a nice contrast to the bombast and fervor of Tilton's main theme and action set pieces. "On Father's Watch" showcases this and is performed beautifully with piano and fluttering strings, as does "Versailles For Sore Eyes." These cues also contain some fantastic minimalistic rhythms in the undertones that create a warm depth to the music. In addition, Tilton's action spectacle is really great throughout, as his Unity theme gets weaved in and out of blaring brass and synth textures alike (hear "Unity," "Arno's Return," and "Battle Royale"). Kyd's original theme also receives a nice cameo rendition in "Nothing Is True" and "Origins Of A Revolution."
Sarah Schachner's Vol. 2 is a lot more rough than Tilton's fleshed out stylings, but the music never fails to entice and excite. She has been working with Brian Tyler over the past few years as an additional composer and arranger, so it's no surprise that her sound is very much in the same vein. Her work on 2013's AC IV: Black Flag helped land her a pivotal role in Unity, and she goes all out with the French setting and really adds a fresh layer of instrumentation to ground the setting and make it its own character. "Dark Slayer" is her album's highlight, with an incredible build and structure that cranks everything up to 11 after her cool interpolation of Kyd's theme kicks in and everything breaks loose. Organ, male chorus, riveting violins, this one has it all. The rest of the score more or less follows suit and even though there's less of a defined narrative arc and more of an all out balls to the wall action score, the music hits all the right notes to completely satisfy in that regard. In that sense, it is the perfect pair with Tilton's finesse.
These two fine composers focus on their personal strengths to execute a varied yet homogenous sound that directly fuels Ubisoft's sprawling adventure story. Wether you prefer a more traditional sound with a thematic infrastructure or a contemporary set-piece driven roller coaster ride, Chris Tilton and Sarah Schachner deliver both in spades. Assassin's Creed Unity is thus one of the most rewarding listening experiences of the entire series, as the wealth of musical colors allows something for everyone to enjoy.
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