Rocksmith 2014 Edition Review (PlayStation 4)November 18, 2014
Ubisoft crafted a great guitar teaching tool back in 2011 with the original Rocksmith, an evolution of the Guitar Hero/ Rock Band format that utilized real, actual guitars and impressive note-recognition technology. Rocksmith 2014 Edition builds upon the very solid foundation of that game, ironing out the kinks in its format while adding plenty of customization and in-depth, focused training missions and video tutorials. That said, it should be noted up-front that this really isn’t a game – it’s a learning tool that has undergone extensive gamification to motivate players to practice. This works very well to ensure that newbie guitarists don’t abandon their instrument due to sheer boredom – if you stick with it, Rocksmith 2014 Edition will absolutely help you become a better guitar or bass player.
If you’re familiar with the 2011 version of Rocksmith, you know what you’re getting into with Rocksmith 2014 Edition – it’s essentially a very capable guitar learning tool with some video game elements sprinkled throughout. Achievements, unlockables, and the very cool Guitarcade mode all work as a veil to distract you from the fact that you are undertaking a massive guitar lesson. The extreme repetition and muscle memory development necessary to become a decent player don’t feel nearly as mundane while playing the game, and it does a great job of pointing you in the right direction and highlighting your weaknesses so that you can overcome them. If you just can’t seem to nail a verse in a particular song, Rocksmith 2014 Edition will recommend that you use the Riff Repeater function to practice it at a slow speed until you’ve got it down. If you’re having trouble with sustain, vibrato, or harmonics, video tutorials will be offered to help demonstrate proper form and ensure that you understand the fundamentals.
Once you’re continually acing a section, Rocksmith 2014 Edition will slowly add more notes until you’re playing the entire song at full difficulty – essentially, the training wheels automatically come off once you’re good enough. It’s a pretty exhilarating feeling when you master a section that was giving you immense difficulty just a short while earlier. One of the game’s greatest strengths is that it keeps you from getting too frustrated. If something’s giving you trouble, there are numerous ways to tackle the problem head-on, or you can focus on something else and come back to it later. If you do happen to get aggravated or bored, the updated menu system allows you to hop right into another song, game or tutorial in an instant. I also loved the fact that the Riff Repeater function is now available at any time, rather than buried in the menu system as it was in the 2011 version.
One of the greatest improvements is the removal of the Journey system from Rocksmith 2011, which essentially brick-walled you from progressing further and unlocking songs and gear until you completed exactly what the game wanted you to. Sometimes this meant replaying a song ad nauseam until the game was happy with your completion level. In Rocksmith 2014, you can learn however you want to. All lessons, songs and tutorials are available from the start, and you can jam with whatever amp tones and gear you want. There’s a much more varied playlist this time as well, with songs ranging from simple pop punk like The Ramones to shredding metal tracks by Slayer and Avenged Sevenfold. Master players can even tackle Joe Satriani’s blistering Satch Boogie. Just like in the original game, you can also just rock out with a virtual amp – and once again you can customize every facet of your rig like the pre and post filters, eqs, delays, amps, cabs, mic positions, and more. This time the amps are actually licensed, so you can jam out to officially emulated versions of Marshall, Orange and ENGL amps. They sound pretty good, and honestly it’s perfect for guitarists who want to practice in their bedroom without taking up a ton of space. And if you’ve ever wanted to try out bass, you can play that here too. You don’t even need a bass – Rocksmith 2014 Edition can emulate a bass sound from your guitar by dropping it down an octave.
The Guitarcade minigames have seen a significant facelift and overhaul as well, and they’re far more interesting this time around. Gone Wailing!, String Skip Saloon and Ninja Slide N teach volume dynamics, string skipping and slides in fun minigames complete with leaderboards. Scale Warriors is a full-blown Double Dragon-style retro beat-em-up, teaching players a scale over the course of each level before letting them unleash the full run on bosses. There’s also games incorporating chords, fretting, bends, tremolo, and more.
The most interesting addition to Rocksmith 2014 Edition is the Session mode, which features AI band members to jam with. You can change the volume and panning for up to four virtual instruments, from drums and bass to guitars, synths and more, with various genre styles. A fretboard will appear telling you what notes would sound good with that particular arrangement, and you can change the tempo and complexity to your liking. The AI band will even throw changes at you now and then that you’ll need to react to. It’s a really great tool for learning how to improvise and create your own riffs, rather than just playing the tracks that come with the game. You can even play this mode with a friend, which is great.
Rocksmith 2014 Edition has been given the standard HD facelift for PlayStation 4/Xbox One, but since the game was never a graphical showcase in the first place, it’s only slightly noticeable. The note highways are a bit easier to read and the 3D games like Castle Chordead look a bit crisper, but the HD update is certainly not reason enough to upgrade alone. Some users may get a bit of use from the PS Vita Remote Play feature – you can’t play the game this way, but you can review a song and practice along with your amp in another room, which is useful if someone else needs the TV for a bit. On Xbox One, there is a Kinect voice command feature, which could be useful; it gets tiresome picking up and putting down your controller between songs while holding your guitar. That is, of course, if it works correctly – I can’t attest to this as I haven’t tested this version of Rocksmith 2014 Edition myself.
Rocksmith 2014 Edition’s biggest problem is that there is noticeable audio latency if you have the console hooked up via HDMI – it’s definitely recommended that the audio signal be routed to an external speaker system or headphones. On the last-gen version of the game, the consoles came with analog cables that greatly reduced the latency, but on current-gen systems there are only digital outputs. At the very least, you’ll need to invest in an optical cable, and possibly a converter box if your speaker system doesn’t support optical. If you plan on playing with just an HDMI cable going to your TV, you should know that the game will be nearly unplayable, especially with faster songs like Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” or Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper”.
Overall, Rocksmith 2014 Edition is an incredible learning tool that more than makes up for its shortcomings with fun tutorials and inventive ways to keep you playing, such as the great new Session mode. The old career mode has thankfully been shelved in favor of having everything unlocked right from the get-go – any amp sound you want or song you’d like to play is available as soon as you pop in the disk, breaking the shackles that its predecessor needlessly forced on players. All told, the game is a big improvement over the original Rocksmith – it really can improve your guitar playing. I would have loved to have such a tool available to me when I first picked up the instrument, and I’m still kind of in awe at the technology on display here.