Video Game: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)
Game Director: Ashraf Ismail
Composer: Brian Tyler
Let me answer your question right away: yes, I’m writing about a video game centered around pirates… However, to my own defense, you get to chill and plunder with Blackbeard throughout the majority of the game. Not bad, right? No? Fine… Unto business!
As many of you may know, Assassin’s Creed is one of the biggest video game franchises ever made, and it’s still going strong. Despite its lack of innovation, technical glitches, and overall dull combat mechanics, Ubisoft has managed to create a universe so unique and coherent that I can’t help but go back to it every couple of months. I have no shame in saying that this is my favorite franchise of all time. Rest assured, I’m talking about video games, not movies. So what makes me appreciate this franchise so much? Let me answer with a single word: history. Assassin’s Creed has taught me more about history than I care to admit. From an old London tavern to the Sistine Chapel, this franchise has bombarded me with facts and knowledge since my very first playthrough. When Ubisoft said history was their playground, they weren’t kidding. As much shit as the development teams get, their love and thrive for historical accuracy is simply amazing.
Unto other sheep, let’s talk about the franchise’s fourth entry. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was, in my opinion, the biggest surprise of 2013. I was so pissed off that Ubisoft had changed their protagonist (yet again) that I didn’t care for this game when it originally came out. I thought it was going to be a total piece of garbage but I was wrong; one of my best friends kept telling me it was great but I didn’t want to hear him out (I was either an asshole or didn’t want to admit I was wrong). I (obviously) came around, bought the damn game, and finished it a little under a week. Spoiler alert: this is a fucking good game… From its compelling historical characters to its amazing recreation of the era, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the funnest and coolest entry in the franchise. Now, there are a lot of things to say in terms of gameplay, story, and so on, but I’ll just go ahead and talk about Brian Tyler’s score.
One thing’s for sure, Brian Tyler’s score for this game is one of the most underrated soundtracks in video game history (again, that’s my opinion and I’m aware that a lot of people won’t be on my ship if shit ever goes down – pun intended). So, what makes me love this soundtrack so much? For starters, Tyler’s main influence can be traced back (very easily) to Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer’s work on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Just like its inspiration, Tyler’s score contains a lot of action meaning the use of percussions and fast passed strings is inevitable. However, Tyler is a very accomplished composer and has his own style so the soundtrack contains many aspects that we haven’t heard in any pirate game or movie yet. To elaborate on this, I must explain how Assassin’s Creed works (sorry to those of you who know what I’m talking about). To make this short, Assassin’s Creed games are always divided into two major parts: the past and the present. The majority of the game takes place during the past but the present part remains essential to the overall story. Here’s the twist: the past is basically a video-game-like simulation within the game itself. Your main character (in the present) controls the past character in a machine called the Animus which lets you experience memories of your ancestors. Thus, if I was to go in the machine, I would be able to experience my ancestors life. That being said, Assassin’s Creed has a pretty complex story about two brotherhoods fighting each-other over what they think is the greater good but you get the basic idea. Quick parentheses: to those of you who think video game storylines are dull; what about now huh? I digress, let’s get back to the soundtrack.
Depending on the time period (past or present), Tyler uses different instruments to represent the era’s atmosphere. However, there are multiple occasions where he uses modern instruments during the past and it somehow works. Another aspect of Tyler’s score which fascinates me is his ability to maintain an atmosphere even when there isn’t any action. At first I wasn’t impressed about this because every other video game composer goes through the same process but let me ask you this: what’s the general musical vibe of a pirate setting? Usually, when someone thinks about pirate music they think about Pirates of the Caribbean and big percussion sounds with a very intense orchestra playing in the background. But what about the calm part of that setting? How do you place the spectator in that setting’s mood without renewing or copying another musical atmosphere? Personally, I’m still not sure how Tyler pulled it off, but I’m glad he did. My guess is his use of a singular violin, an acoustic guitar, and a couple of small percussion instruments is what made this soundtrack fit so perfectly with the content it was supporting. I could go on and on about this score, but I’ll keep it to this for now.
To all the people who played the game: whether you enjoyed it or not, you have to admit that Brian Tyler captured Ubisoft’s vision very accurately and delivered one of the best (if not the best) soundtrack in the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Interesting trivia: One of the main mechanics in the game is called “The Sea Radio”. Because players have to spend a large amount of time sailing their ship from one island to another, Ubisoft decided to add a function where the player could make Edward (the game’s playable character) have the ship’s crew sing some sea shanties. The function was one of the game’s most popular aspects and Ubisoft eventually published two additional records which contained all of the game’s sea shanties.
So, you’ll find my top 5 songs just below but this soundtrack has a whopping 34 songs so feel free to explore the rest of it on your own.
Song: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Main Theme
Song: In This World or the One Below
Song: The Ends of the Earth
Song: Fare Thee Well
Song: Men of War
Thanks for reading (and listening). See you next time!