The soundtrack for Black Flag was designed by American composer Brian Tyler, whose works include The Expendables, Iron Man 3 and the video game Far Cry 3. The latest Assassin’s Creed instalment is based upon Caribbean pirates so the soundtrack needed to generate a nautical authenticity, which it does very well. The overall composition is 34 tracks and is a wonderful blend of extensive orchestral and rock instrumentation. The tracks may have a familiar sound to them as they are strongly inspired by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt with their work on Pirates of the Caribbean. The main opening theme for the game has a strong resemblance to the lively folk jig of the first POC film.
The tracks in Black Flag really create a seafaring atmosphere and vary in timbre to compliment the player’s actions. The three prominent tones vary between jovial jigs, dramatic combat and calm exploration. The jigs are used when the player visits the towns and comprise of Irish folk music using percussive drums, strings and brass. This maintains the nautical feel while providing some light hearted music to accompany a pirate’s errands. When exploring a relatively safe location like a jungle for example, the music takes a more minimal approach. The drums are quiet and light in the background while strings play delicate yet lengthy notes. As tension increases when entering battle, the strings are shorter, sharper and used in repetitive bars. The drums become dominant as they increase in volume and tempo. A key instrument to this soundtrack and other music depicting the Golden Age of piracy is the Marimba. This is a percussive instrument made up of wooden bars. It originated in the West Indies by African Slaves in the 16th and 17th century, making the sound characteristic and relevant to the Black Flag soundtrack.
When sailing the high seas, the music disappears (unless in combat with another ship) and is instead replaced by sea shanties. These are collectable in the game and allow your crew to sing while sailing and include famous shanties such as Drunken Sailor. The singing can be turned on and off by the player. They add a charm to the game and reinforce the authenticity of the setting however if the player is not a fan of drunken chants they can become quite irritating, especially when you find yourself singing along even when not playing the game as they are extremely catchy. When the shanties are turned off, there is no music at all apart from the gentle lull of the waves which although slightly boring, is an accurate portrayal of being a pirate.
Although wonderfully composed, the integration of the soundtrack can be inconsistent at times. The music tends to alter in tone, becoming tenser which makes the player think they are approaching danger when they are not. It then ebbs away again into the previous music which can be confusing. It can also phase in and out randomly leaving the player nothing to listen to but their own footsteps, for quite some time until it kicks in again. With 1 hour 38 minutes of play time, the music can become quite tedious as there are no tracks which really stand out. The tone does change to accommodate battles, but there are no individual songs which really represent a character or a place and they all tend to sound quite similar. Even when listening to the soundtrack when not playing the game, there is no song which really sparks an association.
Overall, Tyler’s composition is outstanding representation of 17th century piracy and has been beautifully crafted to fit around the needs of the game. It produces such an authenticity that it really enhances the setting and atmosphere of Black Flag. Except for a few small inconsistencies, the music is flawless and lends a hand to making this instalment evolve from the other Assasin’s Creed titles.