It was to no one’s surprise that after Assassins Creed 2 success Ubisoft decided to keep showing many charms of the game’s protagonist, Italian nobleman Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. AC2 — a sequel I’d argue to call perfect — earned trust from fans and critics alike in many ways. Of course, one of the reasons has been Jesper Kyd’s unmatched soundtrack, an album so good, that almost 10 years after its release, many players (and the developers of the sequels) consider it synonymous to the spirit of the entire saga. Did AC: Brotherhood repeat that success? Yes, but not in the way I presumed it would.
Not much is needed to be written about Jesper Kyd. The Danish composer created musical foundation for the AC universe that’s been steadily replenished with new soundtracks by a plethora of other composers with varying success. However, I consider his efforts to be superior, mainly because of his ability to create original and distinctive scores, something I found the AC universe to be lacking in most of the later releases. Many of Kyd’s scores only need a few seconds to listen to to be recognised and remind us of entire experiences, and AC: Brotherhood — a story of resurrecting the Assassin Order and fight against the enslavement of humanity in the centre of Italy — is no different.
Magic’s gone, youth’s gone. The beauty of Firenze alleyways moved over for dirty, run-down, poverty-stricken districts of Rome. Ezio is no longer a boasty youngster, but an adult guy with a sense of responsibility. The player partakes in his journey right into the heart of Italy’s Templar operation and their influences in every single institution we come across in Brotherhood. Needless to say, it got darker. Kyd responded to the new direction with onomatopoeic sounds (wooshes, screeches and rattling of many kinds), menacing choirs, murky vocalizations, deformed whispers and hissing (Countdown), and electronic implementations resulting in great textures. Some of those elements are used to genuinely menacing effect, especially when visiting ancient underground ruins dripping with atmosphere, like in Roman Underworld, a great example of goosebump inducing voice-work that hisses into your ear. That said, background music and ambience is one of the most notable elements of this score.
Grace and charm shine in City of Rome or Echoes of the Roman Ruins, tracks that laud the dying beauty of Roma Aeterna, giving the listener a moment to relax.
Melodics were changed, too. They were moved from brisk themes of Venatian rooftops and speedy escapes from fathers whose daughters were seduced by the protagonist. Grace and charm shine in City of Rome or Echoes of the Roman Ruins, tracks that laud the dying beauty of Roma Aeterna, giving the listener a moment to relax and preparing him for the rest of material, which may be challenging pretty often. Opera-esque dread of Borgia – the Rulers of Rome goes along ambience-based Borgia Tower (resembling great background pieces from Assassin’s Creed) and Villa Under Attack, a battle piece hosting Cesare’s theme. Heavy, synthetic tolling in The Pantheon can overwhelm, while The Brotherhood Escapes is one of the best action pieces written for video-games to date. Countdown comes close and, with its raspy hisses and clock ticking, unfolds into a minimalist-like piece with repetition and steadily diversifying instrumentarium. It lives up its title with no doubt as it works great with time-based quests in the game.
The score is thematically modest, mainly because of the game focusing on one location and heavily showcased antagonist.
Talking memorable themes, the Borgias were given a very distinctive, growling theme and Cesare — the main antagonist — a one based on male choir chanting, appearing throughout the score in a various tempos. Borgias influence was highlighted by previously mentioned Borgia Tower. I’d say the score is a bit modest thematically, but then again, the game focuses on one location and a heavily showcased antagonist. It does not need to be a kaleidoscope of colourful soundscapes, and while it’s not a downside for illustrating music, it may be for a standalone composition. That I think is the worse side of this album — static mood, some overwhelming and clunky pieces, a lot of murky background music make that album not so easy of a listen. It departs from AC2 here, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While there are some aspects that make Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood a bit worse from its predecessor, this music boasts with dense atmosphere of a city ruled by leaders rotten to the core and determination to take them down. From background music perspective, it soars above other compositions thanks to the exceptional selection of peculiar sounds and gloomy sound textures. The score is coherent, even though monotonous at times, but when Assassins Creed is itself, when you need to dash, jump and slash, Kyd pumps you up with seriously rhythmical tracks to strike down more enemy guards and yet another link in the Templar’s plot. It’s worthy and natural continuation of Assassin’s Creed 2, although it may bore some. What we can’t deny it, is its hefty, well-developed and thought out character — something that many of following Assassin’s Creed soundtracks can only dream of.