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The music for the first two Age of Empires games was largely period-appropriate. While the ensembles were small and the composition simplistic, the music was authentic and beautifully fit to the games. For Age of Empires III, composer Stephen Rippy (with assistance from Kevin McMullan, his brother David Rippy no longer in the picture) has crafted a score of cinematic proportions. The soundtrack is graced by the Northwest Sinfonia orchestra and choir (conducted by the curiously named Joe Crnko), as well as the soloist talents of the composers and Chris Rippy. The sound is lush and expansive thanks to excellent recording and mixing by Reed Ruddy (for those disappointed with the mix of the music in game, it has been spruced up considerably for the soundtrack CD).
A few tracks harken back directly to previous material (the opening "Noddinagushpa" presents an excitingly military rendition of David Rippy's classic theme), but many tread wholly new territory. The Age of Empire soundtracks have always featured whatever the European equivalent of Americana is, but now Americana itself enters the music. Expect to be transported to the jungles of unsettled Florida, the rough woods of the Colonial frontier and the barren plains of the American West by this immersive music. Aside from the "mood" tracks, several pulse-quickening battle pieces are included. More dramatic is the underscore for the story of the Blacks. Several themes, most notably the nebulous Black family theme are woven throughout these tracks (another highlight is the spooky theme for the Circle of Ossus). The score is rounded out by some period pieces ("Niceterium" is authentic and amusing) and ends with a somewhat modern guitar-driven piece.
The bonus DVD features some footage of the recording sessions, the original game trailer, some 5.1 surround mixes of fourteen tracks (I'm not hooked up to a surround system, so I can't attest to the quality of these mixes, but on stereo speakers they sound excellent), and five bonus tracks. The first four bonus tracks represent more of the excellent underscore, though not all of it; one wonders why, with a bonus DVD available to fill, the entire game's score was not included. The last of these bonus tracks is a "Sumthing Different Remix" of the Age of Empires main theme, and the title should speak for itself. Computer-savvy collectors should be able to extract these tracks and insert them into the main soundtrack's playlist.
The soundtrack to Age of Empires III is the biggest and most ambitious yet. Prevalent throughout the music is a strong understanding of the American historical psyche and a talent for pleasing the ear. It's an all around oustanding entry by Rippy and McMullan.
Stephen Rippy has done a good job composing this music and it was really great listening to this album. The pieces are the completed parts that we hear in the game. The Main Title: Noddinagushpa was the best being the well-improved theme song of the Age of Empires series. Well done!