Rocksmith 2014 Review
Ubisoft crafted a great guitar teaching tool back in 2011 with the original Rocksmith, a riff on the style of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band format that utilized real, actual guitars and impressive note-recognition technology. Rocksmith 2014 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.
If you’re familiar with the 2011 version of Rocksmith, you know what you’re getting into with Rocksmith 2014 – it’s essentially a very capable guitar learning tool with some video game elements sprinkled throughout. The gaming tropes such as 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 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, the game 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’ve mastered 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. 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 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 learn. 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.
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, tremolo, and more.
The most interesting addition 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, but I found myself lamenting the lack of an in-game recorder. You can’t capture your riffs unless you have some sort of game DVR device hooked up. Another thing to note is that there is a bit of 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.
Overall, Rocksmith 2014 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 previous version – 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.