Assassin’s Creed—and indeed Ubisoft writ large—has been experiencing a degradation of late: of morals, of quality, and even of reputation. But there is no denying that the company, and its hooded killers, once held a near universal acclaim in the gaming industry.
As a long time fan of the series I witnessed the fall of Assassin’s Creed firsthand. Each new entry was a bit more lackluster, soulless, and out of touch with the fanbase. That same fanbase, too, experienced a fall: I saw it increasingly divided and bitter with each new release. By Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014) I was losing hope in the series. By Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015), I knew it was gone.
Now I’m not here to relitigate whether the Assassin’s Creed franchise is bad; such debates rage endlessly and impotently in forums and comment sections across the internet. I instead ask you to accept my premise and examine with me the irrefutably strongest part of Syndicate: its soundtrack.
Austin Wintory’s Masterful Score
There is a quiet mournfulness to Austin Wintory’s almost entirely instrumental soundtrack. It is infused with a persistent melancholy that seeps into every note, regardless of how ostensibly upbeat or energetic the track. It is a grim reflection of the setting of the game. A wordless cry of despair at the callous, brutal, inhumane society ushered in by the Industrial Revolution and exemplified perfectly in Victorian London. A once noble city now choked by smog, ruled by a social elite far removed from the destitute millions. The center of an empire which spanned the world spreading misery and oppression on every continent. But more than the sad historical realities, the soundtrack is a reflection on the series itself.
What the Music Says about the Game
In its critique of Victorian London, Wintory—intentionally or not—levels the same arguments against the series. Just like the ruling elite of the game’s world, it lays at the feet of Ubisoft a disconnect from the audience it had begun to unabashedly bleed dry. The game’s London, bursting at the seams with overpopulation and unsustainable industrialization—conveyed elegantly by the game’s score—becomes a metaphor for the bloated franchise. A franchise stuffed with half-baked concepts and unrealized false-starts. Above all else the album’s melancholy, elegiac tone perfectly captures the despair of fans like myself. Fans who grew up with the series only to see it crumble to ruins. Without writing a word, Wintory composed the death knell to one of gaming’s giants.
It is hardly surprising that a composer as skilled as Wintory, responsible for masterpieces such as the score to Journey (2012), would compose a soundtrack so filled with meaning and import. Whether it is mere coincidence or a concerted effort that Winotry’s masterful score reflects on the series as it does, the fact remains that his score speaks volumes on the state of the series and its future.
The Syndicate soundtrack forever holds a special place in my heart, albeit a bittersweet one.
Thumbnail image from Microsoft.com