Rocksmith 2014 Edition – Review

Title   Rocksmith 2014 Edition
Developer  Ubisoft
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Genre  Rhythm
Release Date  October 25, 2013

When the original Rocksmith was first announced, I was very excited indeed. As a huge fan of guitar games, and a real life guitarist myself, the prospect of being able to play along with great songs and learn how to play them properly was highly exciting for me. Unfortunately, I had to abandon my electric guitar when moving to university, and so was unable to become a rock god. But now I’ve got a new axe, and Ubisoft have got a new Rocksmith, in the form of Rocksmith 2014 Edition.

The first time you load up Rocksmith 2014 Edition, you’ll be given a brief tutorial on some very basic guitar techniques to help you ease into the game’s presentation style. The rolling “highway” of notes familiar from other guitar games is present here, only this time it’s real notes across the entire fretboard, rather than just five colour-coded buttons. Each string is given a colour, and the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets, along with the typically-inlayed frets beyond the 12th, are highlighted by their numbers being visible almost all the time. The fret number for notes not on these frets are sometimes shown when the note is coming up, but you can’t rely on this, and will have to work relative to the frets. It can be confusing at first, especially if you’re not completely comfortable with the position of the frets, and there were several times where I’d flounder on a song because it suddenly picked up in complexity and I completely forgot where my hand was. But keep at it, and eventually you won’t need to constantly look between the screen and your guitar’s neck.

For beginners, the lessons are going to be the first port of call. Each lesson consists of a video of someone showing a technique while a narrator describes how it’s being done and the correct way to perform it. You can take the lessons in any order, so if you’ve been playing guitar for a while you don’t have to sit through a minute-long video of someone telling you how to attach a strap, but it’s great to see that the developers really thought about every aspect of playing guitar and have covered even the small things. Lessons that teach an actual playing technique will also give you an opportunity to play along and be judged on your ability. The game is incredibly forgiving in these points, and will stop and wait for you to get it right before moving on to the next note or section. It’s a calm, relaxed way of learning guitar at your own pace, and will be incredibly useful to anyone looking to learn.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can head into the ‘Learn A Song’ mode and start playing along. After selecting your song, you’ll have to tune your guitar to the correct tuning for it; Say It ‘Aint So by Weezer, for example, is in E-flat standard tuning, so you’ll have to tune down every string by “half a step”, to use the vernacular. The tuner is pretty decent although, as with most tuners I’ve had over the years, it does have an issue with picking up the high E string from time to time, but that’s only a minor annoyance. Retuning your guitar between songs can get tedious after a while, but it does make a lot of sense.

When you start a new song, you may be surprised to see that you’re only given a handful of notes to play; power chords become just the root note, and solos are reduced to a couple of notes in random places. It’s jarring, particularly if you already know some of the song or feel competent enough at guitar to just throw yourself into it but, once again, it makes perfect sense. As you start 100%ing sections, the notes build up into chords, and the chords start adding rhythm so you’re not just hitting it once where the song requires you to strum continually. It’s a system which gently eases you into learning a song, rather than throwing you in at the deep end and screaming at you when you can’t handle it. Of course, when you suddenly have a new chord thrust at you it can completely throw you, but there’s no scoring system or failure bar to speak of; get stuck and you can just stop, watch the notes, and jump back in when you feel comfortable. Or if you get really stuck on a certain part, you can fire up the “Riff Repeater”, allowing you to change the difficulty of the section and the speed it’s played, so you can keep practicing the section over and over until you nail it. It’s a beautiful system that works like a charm, and it’s so rewarding to finally hit all the notes in a riff and know that you did actually just do that palm mute section from Hypnotize by System Of A Down.

If learning songs gets boring, there are mini-games designed to teach guitar techniques in a fun and creative way. These help you practice your memory of chords and fret placement, as well as how to play slides and harmonics, but in a bunch of different ways. ‘Star Chords’, for example, sees you shooting down enemy ships by playing the chord displayed as quickly as you can, while ‘Harmonic Heist’ has you playing the correct harmonic to steal gems from a museum whilst also avoiding being caught by security. It’s an interesting diversion from simply learning songs, and if you keep playing them for long enough you’ll probably memorise the technique in a few hours, but they’re not quite enough to hold your attention for too long.

For those who want to just jam and mess around, there’s the ‘Tone Designer’ and ‘Session Mode’ to sink your teeth into. ‘Tone Designer’ lets you fiddle with the sound of your guitar using a variety of amps and pedals to get the perfect tone, and it does so remarkably well. Within a couple of minutes just messing around I had found the most obnoxiously-loud combination of distortions to perfectly recreate the tone I used to use in my awful punk band. It’s a robust system that gear heads can spend a long time in, getting the tone ‘just so’. You can then save your tone and activate it during songs, so you can play through The Police’s Every Breath You Take with a horrible fuzz/reverb mix if you so desire.

‘Session Mode’ is an intriguing concept, and one that a lone guitarist will probably appreciate greatly. You can choose from a selection of backing instruments to jam along with, and then set the key and scale that the “musicians” will play in, as well as the tempo, the location and a heap of other settings. Then you hit a button and just start playing. Playing loudly causes the band to play louder and harder, while playing soft quietens them down. If you know your scales and keys then this is a great place to practice your soloing and just mess around, but if you’re only getting started on the guitar, you may be a little lost for things to do, and find yourself flailing around on the fretboard looking for something that sounds right. Still, it’s another fun diversion that’ll keep you entertained for a few minutes at a time between learning songs.

I keep using the term “diversion” to describe everything, and to be honest, that’s the best way to describe most of the modes in Rocksmith 2014. It’s a great tool for learning to play guitar, but it never feels like anything more. That’s fine though; it didn’t need to be anything else. But the additional modes simple don’t feel weighty enough to hold your attention for more than a couple of minutes, and then you’ll be going back to learning songs. And learning songs only gets you so far as a guitarist.

Outside of the colourful ‘Guitarcade’ minigames,  it is visually bland. The menus are accessible and easy to navigate, and they look clean and presentable, but that’s really all you can say about the graphics. While playing songs, a crowd scene opens up in front of you, but it’s mostly just a collection of silhouettes standing perfectly still, which is a little bit creepy to be honest. It’s not a huge concern, given that you’ll be focusing almost entirely on the note highway and which string you’ll be playing next, but there could have been some movement from the crowd. The ‘Guitarcade’ is beautiful, however, and shows off the artistic creativity that the team are clearly capable of. It’s presented in a pseudo-retro fashion, as though you’re playing an old arcade machine, except with bright, colourful 3D graphics and smooth animations that don’t detract too much from the actual guitar playing required to beat the games. It’s great to see the game bust loose and just go crazy, after all the clean and slightly dull menu screens.

A guitar game lives and dies by its audio, and I think it’s here where I start having concerns, since I’m not actually a fan of most of the music available. There are some great tracks on there, panning a bunch of different genres but, personally, I only liked a handful of songs, and soon found myself turning to the DLC to help bolster my collection and mix things up a bit from playing Weezer over and over. The songs are presented well, and there’s a good blend of being able to hear your own playing as well as the real song, but if the tracklist doesn’t appeal then there it’s not going to make a lot of difference. The narrator’s voice started to grate as well, with his smooth-as-butter tones telling you that you’re playing the wrong note becoming a sound that will haunt your dreams. If you like the songs available, then you’re in for a treat, but if you can’t stand most ‘70s and ‘80s rock then there’s really not much here for you, unless you’re willing to fork out £2 a song for the DLC.

At the end of the day, Rocksmith 2014 Edition is a wonderful tool for teaching new and learning guitarists the art of playing a guitar. The lessons are comprehensive and well-presented, while the ‘Learn A Song’ mode is excellent at slowly introducing players to songs and teaching them the exact way to play. ‘Session Mode’ is good fun for a short time, and the ‘Guitarcade’ is a great way of learning techniques while enjoying yourself, but these are really just small diversions to keep you occupied between learning songs. It just doesn’t feel fully fleshed out enough to be considered a game, yet it looks like it’s trying so hard to stand up alongside the Rock Bands of the world. An excellent teacher, but not a great game.

  • Fantastic at teaching people how to play guitar
  • Bright and colourful 'Guitarcade' is a joy to behold
  • Jamming with a band is so much more fun than playing alone
  • Tracklist may be quite off-putting
  • Graphically bland outside of 'Guitarcade'
  • Everything but the teaching tools feel shallow and won’t hold your attention long

Rocksmith 2014 Edition is not a game. The “game-y” elements, such as the 'Guitarcade', aren’t weighty enough to keep you interested for more than a few minutes at a time, and it’s not something you can pick up and play whenever you feel like it. This is a serious tool for learning how to play guitar, and it excels as such. Ubisoft could cut out all the other nonsense and just have the lessons, 'Learn A Song' and 'Session Mode' and it would still be fantastic, fun, and incredibly rewarding to play. The soundtrack won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the DLC is relatively pricey, so you’ll think twice before diving in and snapping up a song pack. But if you’re thinking about picking up a guitar and learning, but don’t want the horrendous expense of a teacher, then Rocksmith 2014 is the best place to start.

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One Comment

  1. Definetely Not Yasser says:

    Does the 2014 edition address the latency issues in the first game and those damn loading times?

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