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Anno 2070 Collector's Edition Soundtrack :: Review by Simon Elchlepp

Anno 2070 Collector's Edition Soundtrack Album Title: Anno 2070 Collector's Edition Soundtrack
Record Label: Ubisoft
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: November 17, 2011
Purchase: Buy at eBay


After four medieval-themed entries into the Anno franchise of city-building RTS games, developers Related Designs and Ubisoft Blue Byte decided to set Anno 2070 in the future. The new game introduced some sweeping changes to the franchise's formula, setting the action in a world threatened by climate change and rising sea levels. The remaining human settlements are split into three factions: The Eden Initiative ('Ecos'), living in sustainable cities; The Global Trust ('Tycoons'), focused on rapid and wasteful expansion; and the S.A.A.T. ('Tech'), a support faction available to the other two. Once more, critical reception of the new Anno title was positive and made a continuation of the franchise likely (maybe set in 3060?)

Since Anno 1701, German game sound design company Dynamedion had been responsible for the series' soundtracks. Delivering lushly symphonic scores, Dynamedion's team of composers also showed itself apt at customising their scores to fit each game's setting, incorporating world music elements into the music for Anno 1701: Sunken Dragon and Anno 1404. Still, Anno 2070's futuristic setting required even more changes to the established musical formula and long before the game's release, it was revealed that the score would fuse orchestral and electronic elements. Dynamedion's composers had certainly gathered experience in concocting such orchestral hybrids through their work on Crysis 2. As usually, lavish care was spend on the recording of this new Anno soundtrack, involving the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra as well as the Latvian Radio Choir. After Ubisoft had given Anno 1404's score a belated, botched digital release, Anno 2070 saw the series return to its tradition of promotional releases. This one however was even bigger than its predecessor: encased with Anno 2070's Collector's Edition came two CDs packed with almost 140 minutes of music.


Anno 2070's two discs cover the game's two factions, each one filling one disc of about 70 minutes. Disc one is given to the Tycoons and not surprisingly, the soundtrack's contemporary, urban elements are more pronounced here than on the Eco disc. Gone are the pastoral compositions of previous Anno titles, replaced by hybrid compositions on which electronic beats and industrial sounds feature as prominently as orchestral elements. Befitting the game's doomsday scenario caused by the Tycoon's mantra of boundless consumption, the music underscoring this faction is much gloomier, starker and more aggressive than anything previously heard in the Anno franchise.

That last characteristic is clear underlined through the new-found importance of the battle tracks on this album. Rather short diversions on previous Anno scores, on Anno 2070 the combat cues on make a roaring return into the spotlight. Aided by the fortissimo sounds of the Latvian Radio Choir, these compositions easily overpower their brethren on earlier series' soundtracks, for all that that's worth. Compared to those earlier pieces, the action cues are also markedly more rhythmically pronounced. Interestingly, the mix of orchestral and electronic elements and the resulting rhythmic structures sound not too dissimilar to Crysis 2 and contemporary action scoring conventions in general: churning string ostinati, slow and building brass chord progressions, and a general emphasis on the orchestra's lower registers are bolstered by pulsating electronic rhythms that increase the compositions' punch. To their credit, composers Tilman Sillescu, Alexander Röder, Markus Schmidt and Jochen Flach merge orchestral and electronic sounds seamlessly — not only on these booming confrontation cues — and create percussive layers that are more complex and involving than on many other Remote Control-influenced game soundtracks.

What's more, the sheer power of several action tracks is downright spectacular, given particular weight through the choir's commanding vocals which imbue the music with a sense of occasion that rarely existed on previous Anno scores. The opening track "Grinding Teeth" sets the tone appropriately, a bombastic Minor key march that might be goose-stepping towards its own doom. The pounding nature of tracks like "Barracudas" (including electric guitar riffs), "Monolith" and "Asymmetric Warfare" is sufficiently rousing, although upon closer inspection these cues don't offer much depth. Particularly the choir material can be obnoxiously straightforward through its constant 4/4 metre. Add to that the shallow melodic material on tracks like "Asymmetric Warfare" and "Global Cure" and the stock orchestral elements on "Worlds End" and "Drone Predators", and you end up with action music that's more about surface sheen than substance. In all fairness though, the music doesn't fare too badly, simply due to the gutsiness of its sonic assault.

On the Tycoon disc, Sillescu and his co-composers balance this militaristic mood with a number of lighter compositions. What's already apparent on the battle cues is confirmed by these less dense pieces. Compared to the trademark sumptuous melodicism of previous Anno scores, the melodic material on Anno 2070 is a lot sparser and shorter, replaced by single motifs that function as melodic cells which are repeated rather than elaborated upon. Long-time fans of the franchise might be disenchanted with this stylistic re-orientation. But the modular, repetition-based approach to its melodies and rhythms is nothing outside the norm for soundtracks depicting a futuristic world.

And to Sillescu's credit and that of his team, these more ambient compositions are suitably atmospheric and paint a more complex image of the game's world than previous Anno titles have. Far removed from the braggadocio of the battle tracks, cues like "Wasted Soil", "Her Headache Is Gone" and "Faceless Fear" aptly underscore the desolation hiding beneath the presumptuous façade of humanity trying to rule nature — with disastrous consequences. Lonely chiming guitar riffs, downcast string textures and synth pads, and wandering piano lines backed by soft electronic beats hint at the loneliness and quiet regret at the mournful state of the world. Only occasionally, on "Modern Times" and "Confidence", does the music voice hope and optimism, the latter cue quite poignantly through a soft horn figure. While these pieces are diametrically opposed to the Tycoon's action material in their emotional expression, they work fine as the opposite side of the coin. Both the chest-thumping and the downbeat Tycoon compositions describe of the same twilight world in which humanity fights for survival with all means necessary, even though it will have to pay a steep price.

But while the concept behind the Tycoon's music is satisfyingly complex, its implementation is not sophisticated enough to carry the disc's considerable running time. As with the battle tracks, the Tycoon's mood-driven compositions reveal the limitations of their underlying compositional approach through the pieces' sameish nature. On a shorter album, this would be less of an issue. But in the case of Anno 2070's first disc, the music starts to tread water after the halfway mark. And while there's no denying the efficiency of both the action cues and the more disconsolate compositions, the thinness and relative transparency of their building blocks become more and more apparent towards the album's end. Those chiming guitar chords sound convincingly downhearted, but they only get you so far if you recycle them again and again.

This feeling that there's just not many particularly engaging or outstanding compositions is enhanced by the subdued nature of the mood pieces. Only occasionally do they let out the grief at their core, heard in the sad solo cello on portions of "Wasted Soil" and the elegiac string melodies on "Defeated!" and "Industrial Landscapes". Both tracks convincingly underline that the inclusion of electronica doesn't diminish the emotionality of the orchestral elements. On the contrary, "Industrial Landscapes" is all the more potent for backing its sorrowful string melodies and brass climax with relentless, elephantine beats, milking this clash of two sound worlds and emotional expressions to harrowing effect. And there's a couple of other highlights on the first disc that showcase the composers' more creative side and hint at the heights this soundtrack could have achieved. "The Black Tide", with its doleful, chromatic string harmonies over electronic beats is a great example of beautifully realised minimalism that is intriguing enough to sustain a whole composition. "Drowning Memories" leads the atmospheric strains of the Tycoon disc into more ethereal waters with a cello solo set against shimmering synth layers. And best of all is "Desolation Waltz", a haunting piece in 3/4 metre, its rhythmic base provided by slow shuffling beats over which hammering piano chords are combined to eerie effect with a music box melody. One of the album's highlights, "Desolation Waltz" is Anno 2070's most creative expression of humanity's plight in the year 2070 and is more inspired than most other compositions on the soundtrack.

Disc two is given over to the Eco faction and not surprisingly, the music grows warmer and more whimsical. Textures are more organic, although Sillescu and his composing team still do an admirable job at incorporating electronics into this changed soundscape to build a bridge between the Tycoon and Eco parts of the soundtrack. What's more important from a conceptual standpoint is how the sonic similarities turn the Tycoon and Eco factions into two facet of the same whole, two options humanity might choose in the future. Also, as on the more industrially-minded Tycoon disc, acoustic and electronic sounds merge well, with the compositions now emphasising the synth elements' warmer side. On several occasions, light beats provide a comfortable bed for soothing instrumental soli, be it for the acoustic guitar on "Cascading Colours" and "Lifelines", the woodwind melodies of "A New Beginning" or the tinkling, cute melody lead of "Daydreaming in a Parking Lot".

Other traits that characterise the soundtrack's first disc dominate this second half of the score as well, and as consequence, the overall impression that Anno 2070 leaves remains ambivalent. Some might have hoped that the Eco faction's lush green pastures would have inspired Dynamedion to return to the idyllic, melodious beauty of previous Anno scores. That's not the case — the melodic content remains tight-lipped and still relies on the reiteration of motifs, all of them pleasant and effective in context, but none of which you're likely to remember once the music's over. Textures remain less dense than on previous Anno scores and build a relaxing, optimistic atmosphere rather than dazzling you with counterpointal structures. As a result, the Eco faction's music has a distinct New Age slant, and one particular cliché about that genre of music applies to theEco disc as well. The music sounds pretty and makes for inviting background listening, but although it's skillfully crafted, it's all rather predictable and after a while turns into sonic wallpaper. There's still some gems to be found, for example "The Last Sanctuary" with its majestic sweep or "Slumbering Hillside" and its simple but touching string material. However, these highlights are offset by other pieces that are too substantial to be mere filler, but which also don't feel like necessary additions to an album that could have done with some serious pruning. The soothing atmosphere of the Eco faction is more readily accessible than the Tycoon faction's desolation. But at the same time, the Eco pieces lack the Tycoon music's emotional and intellectual depth and become increasingly wearisome towards the end of album.

That problem is compounded by the fact that even more so than with the Tycoon disc, there's just not many pieces standing out during the Eco album's 70 minute running time. The Tycoons at least had some thunderous choir vocals and a handful of more experimental pieces on their side, but the Eco faction's music is less varied. The calm inaction and adoration of nature that characterises the Eco faction is heightened into a spiritual declamation of awe on those compositions that incorporate vocal forces, either in the shape of a soprano solo or solemn choir. As on the first disc, these segments create the most fetching moments of grandeur, but here they're more convincing than the Tycoon's choir pieces, due to the lack of one-note martial aggression. Again though, a lack of variety and fresh ideas takes its tall when the choir vocals on "What A Glorious Views" at the end of the album sound almost exactly like those on previous Eco tracks. And attractive as they are, these vocal-driven compositions are merely an extension of the Eco faction's peaceful general sound, not an intriguing juxtaposition that would give create some ebb and flow during the album's extended running time. There's also a handful of tenser Eco tracks that probably underscore the "building-a-city" aspect of the game, but they only bring a limited degree of variety to the table. If only there had been more compositions like "A Future Named Hope", which finally infuses the Eco faction's trademark airiness with grittier material by juxtaposing orchestral staccato rhythms with a vocalising soprano melody line.

One might have expected the action tracks to pick up some of the slack, but in tune with the Eco faction's pacifist streak, there aren't many invigorating battle cues to be found. Not surprisingly, the action writing on the Eco tracks is lighter than on the Tycoon cues, but still focuses on homophonic structures and relatively simple melodies and textures. Easily best of the small lot of Eco battle pieces is disc opener "Project Earth", one of the album's more symphonic creations and probably Anno 2070's best action track due to its convincing development. "Project Earth" also surprises by combining the Eco and Tycoon faction's main themes and leading them to war against each other. Then again, the term 'main theme' is probably a bit of a misnomer when applied to this title.

Different to predecessors Anno 1701 and Anno 1404, this soundtrack is hardly driven by thematic development, likely a consequence of its textural rather than melodic orientation. There is one recurring motif on the Tycoon tracks, a martial five-note figure presented seconds into opening track "Grinding Teeth" on belligerent brass. The motif retains its nature as an effective, but not particularly original war cry on "Asymmetric Warfare" and "Civilian Casualties", although the latter track offers some variation on the melody. More interesting is how "Defeated!" refashions the motif as a mournful string melody. The Eco faction's theme, a simply structured melody with a rising lilt, is heard on "Project Earth" and "Forces of Nature", but doesn't leave much of an impression either. For a score that clocks in at almost 140 minutes, these two factions' motifs recur way too infrequently to really register or provide cohesion.


Anno 2070 resembles another recent high-profile multi-disc release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Both works are composed with obvious skill and are convincing in shorter spurts. But when taken as a whole, both albums become a tiresome experience. Dynamedion's composers redesign the sound of the Anno franchise once more with their expert melding of symphonic and electronic strains. Compared to the lush symphonic sounds of previous Anno games, melodies and textures have been considerably simplified. But the music still fittingly underscores mankind's not-too-distant future and its different facets, ranging from furious battle anthems to romantic adorations of nature. The musical personas that both Eco and Tycoon faction receive are somewhat clichéd, but particularly the Tycoon's music provides some satisfying intellectual depth and gives a multi-layered account of humanity's future dilemma.

However, when all is said and done, the too often shallow pieces and the relative lack of album highlights allow monotony to creep in long before the album finishes. As with Skyrim, less would have been more and as laudable as it is to provide the eager listener with as much material as possible, that approach only holds value if the music actually merits a complete release. A single-disc release containing Anno 2070's highlights would have ranked on par with Anno 1701, as different as these two works are. But in this shape and form, this score is an only partially successful remodelling of the Anno franchise's sound.

Overall Score: 6/10