As a self-taught guitar player who can strum a few tunes averagely but has lost the motivation to play over the last few years, Rocksmith 2014 is a breath of fresh air. In terms of skill progression I was getting nowhere by reading guitar guides and was stuck in the mindset of an incompetent rhythm guitarist playing nursery rhymes to my daughter and blasting out strum-heavy renditions of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ and ‘Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer’ during the Festive period. Already, in a short period of time, Rocksmith has changed that.
Rocksmith isn’t like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The fact that you need to use a real guitar to play is the first indication that what you’re about to encounter is more than just a game that you’ll conquer in a few weeks.Depending on your current skill level as a guitarist, you could actually still be playing Rocksmith in years to come thanks to a comprehensive set of tutorials and songs, as well as a brilliant Session mode that gives you the tools to create your own music. Learning the guitar can be an extremely rewarding experience and Rocksmith provides everything you need in order to enjoy what can be a tough process.
The game begins when you plug your electric guitar into the PS3 via a Real Tone USB cable, which you must buy in order to play. During the set-up process you get to choose a skill level from ‘beginner’ to ‘very experienced’ which determines how far the various modes will push you. You then get to pick whether you’d like to play Lead, Rhythm or Bass guitar, meaning you could, if you’ve got the patience and motivation, become a master of all three styles
Ubisoft recommends that you use a speaker system for audio to ensure the optimal experience, rather than running it through your T.V. as it may cause lag. However, I ran it through the speakers of a Sony Bravia T.V. and experienced no lag whatsoever after following the tips to disable image scaling and turn off all processing effects. Lag was a big issue in the original game, so it’s great to see that Ubisoft has resolved the issue.
Rocksmith offers a wide range of game modes and a superb set of tutorials that teach you every aspect of playing a guitar. Through video tutorials you are taken through many different guitar techniques such as picking, string bending and palm muting. After each video, you then have to practice the technique and pass a test as a per-requisite to move onto a more complicated version of the technique. Get it wrong and Rocksmith talks you through where you need to improve. Indeed, feedback in this latest version is so much better than the original as Rocksmith recognizes where you’re going wrong and purposely sets challenges to fix it, or points you in the right direction.
In fact, Ubisoft has evolved the series greatly from its predecessor and has learned a lot from past mistakes by making the 2014 version much less linear and giving players freedom of choice. Consequently, you can pick and choose the techniques that you want to hone in on rather than working through a rigid set of linear tutorials, or you can jump into any of the songs and learn them immediately rather than being taken by the hand through a career mode.
Learning to play a song competently is one of the joys of playing the guitar and in Rocksmith beginners will soon be strumming along to the likes of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” while experienced guitar players may get more out of perfecting lightning fast solos from the likes of heavy metal band Mastadon. Whether you’re impressed with the setlist or not is really going to depend on your taste in music and bands. The setlist stands at 55 songs from the likes of major artists like The Police, The Kinks, The Who, Queen and Kiss but I didn’t know around half the songs.
Consequently, it’s unlikely I’ll spend much time trying to learn a heavy metal song, for example, as it’s simply not a genre I enjoy. However, all past Rocksmith DLC is still compatible and they’ll be plenty more on its way, and it’s fair to say that the setlist is nice and varied in order to teach you a range of techniques, chords and the chance to play with different tunings.
One of the highlights about ‘Learn A Song’ mode is that it constantly encourages and helps you to improve by giving you feedback, suggesting areas that you need to improve and pointing you to tutorials that will help you progress. It slowly introduces you to each song, making you play single notes before dynamically adjusting the difficulty based on the way you play. Note detection is spot-on and one step at a time you get better and better. You may, for example, be encouraged to repeat a riff over and over again at a slower pace or told to re-check a certain chord, or go and play an arcade-style mini-game to improve your dexterity and speed.
The interface has been refined too and ensures that you don’t need to be able to read sheet music or tablature. Instead you follow patterns and icons as they scroll down before hitting the six strings on the bottom of the screen. Though it can be a little overwhelming when notes are moving so quickly during some of the faster tempo songs, there’s always the option to slow things down to practice. In fact, Rocksmith allows you to customize to your heart’s content which banishes the frustration you can sometimes feel from trying to nail a song in the likes of Guitar Hero.
While the Guitarcade mode offers a more light-hearted guitar experience offering games where you’ll have to shoot the likes of spaceships by hitting certain notes with perfect timing, it’s still all about teaching you technique and honing your skills so you can play the songs and eventually get the most out of the brilliant Session Mode. Here, you can choose up to four instruments to jam along with you, choosing the tempo, scale and tunings of other guitars, drums, or keyboards that will play along with you in synch. While this mode may be appealing to experienced players, even a beginner who can strum a few chords can get a feeling of what it might be like to play in a real band. There’s even the option to play Session mode alongside a friend in multiplayer.
The biggest compliment I can give to Rocksmith 2014 is that I’ve already seen an improvement in my guitar playing. Before I picked up the game, I knew quite a few chords already but my rhythm and technique wasn’t great. Within two days, I can now competently play ‘Don’t look back in anger’ by Oasis on its hardest setting, and have very quickly experienced that unique sense of accomplishment that comes frequently when learning the guitar.
I’ve experimented with different amp sounds and pedal effects in the brilliant Tone Designer mode, learned how to properly play Barre chords and bend notes effectively; and there’s still a hundred-and-one things that I want to master. Consequently, there’s no doubt that Rocksmith 2014 is going to continue to set me on the path to guitar mastery thanks to its wealth of options, tutorials and songs. This is much more than just a rhythm game: Rocksmith 2014 is a masterfully put together and fun learning package that will change some people’s lives for the better by introducing them to the joys of playing guitar. If you’ve ever thought about playing the guitar or improving your skills, now is the perfect time.