Rocksmith 2014 Edition Review
Posted by Katy Ellis
It's a long way to the top (if you wanna rock 'n' roll)
Let's cut to the chase: Rocksmith 2014 Edition will not miraculously teach you how to play guitar like Slash in 24 hours. Learning the guitar or bass takes years of dedicated practice, repetition, self-motivation, and real technique. That doesn't necessarily mean that Rocksmith is useless – it's a brilliant tool, and something that those beginning to learn guitar or bass should definitely invest in. However, it should not be seen as a replacement for a good guitar teacher.
As a concept, Rocksmith is absolutely ingenious. It allows you to pick up a real guitar, plug it into your PlayStation 3 using the accompanying Real Tone jack-to-USB cable, play along to famous rock songs, and observe the accuracy of your playing through note-detection technology. It's an amazing achievement compared to the plastic guitar peripherals of the past, however the technology does fall short of its aspirations at times.
Rocksmith 2014 Edition improves upon the previous game's formula, providing budding musicians with an entertaining platform on which to improve their technical skills and learn new songs. The title completely does away with the Career Mode from the original game, and replaces it with a non-linear menu system, offering a host of rock tracks to learn, video lessons, band sessions, and an assortment of retro-style technique mini-games in the Guitarcade. By not forcing you down a specific learning route, the release replicates the real experience of learning guitar, where you can skip between watching an experienced guitarist show you how to master harmonics and then try them out on a practice track yourself. However, it's a shame that the Career Mode wasn't included as well, as advancing to different venues would provide an added sense of progression.
After plugging your guitar into your PS3 using the Real Tone cable, Rocksmith will ask you whether you want to learn the guitar or bass and rhythm or lead and then will find out what, if any, previous experience you have with the guitar. Despite telling the game that you are an experienced guitarist, the title will only initially throw single notes at you when starting a song, and will gradually 'level up' the difficulty according to the amount of notes that you hit correctly, adding in chords, power chords, and fiddly bits like hammer-ons and pull-offs. You can manually adjust the difficulty of songs using a slider bar, along with the tempo and various other options, but the automatic level-up mode is a good way of slowly improving your play by gradually making riffs more complex.
While teaching you a song, Rocksmith's presentation can be a little overwhelming and messy. Recycling and expanding upon the 'Note Highway' used in the Guitar Hero games, the title's interface displays the full-neck of the guitar down the centre of the screen, on which coloured and numbered notes flow towards the player. Each string is represented by a different colour, and the frets which the notes should be played on are indicated by their number hovering above. While this style is okay when you're only playing single notes, as soon as you progress to harder notes the screen becomes crowded, making it difficult to discern different notes and chords quickly.
Rocksmith 2014 Edition's camera also has a bad habit of panning out too far when notes both at the top and bottom of the neck appear in a sequence, making it nearly impossible to see specific fret numbers during fast-paced riffs and sweep-picking solos. Another problem with the interface is that beginners may find looking between the fast-flowing notes on the screen and their guitar stressful, and that will often cause you to panic and accidentally change your hand positioning unnecessarily. While the 'Note Highway' worked in score-based titles, it's slightly at odds with the relaxed setting of Rocksmith.
The Learn a Song Mode offers you a range of different songs to tackle, from Alice in Chains, Aerosmith, and Iron Maiden through to Paramore, Muse, and Avenged Sevenfold – although never straying too far from the rock genre. The 50 tracks included on the disk aim to show off different play styles and techniques, yet sadly lack the diversity of the song lists found on older editions of Guitar Hero. However, if the track list is not to your personal taste, there are also plenty of extra songs on the online shop to download for a small fee.
If you're picking up Rocksmith 2014 Edition as a complete beginner, the Lessons menu is a great place to start. This section of the game contains a number of video lessons with complimentary practice tracks, ranging from simple videos discussing how to hold your guitar, to practical sessions about restringing and tuning by ear, and also harder lessons looking at two-handed tapping and harmonics. The video lessons fall short of providing details on how to master more advanced skills such as how to sweep pick like Synyster Gates, and can be a bit dull to sit through after a while, but are nonetheless an essential facet to the game.
Session Mode is another cool addition to the game, providing you with your own personal digital band to jam along with. It's not always easy to track down a full four-piece band to practice with – especially when you're still learning – so being able to set a scale and pace for your virtual band mates to improvise to can be really useful, especially when you just want to try out a few country licks, and haven't got a spare banjo accompaniment hanging around. Your virtual band will also react to your play style, slowly increasing in volume as you hurtle into a power chord frenzy, and softening their sound as you slow down to a bridge. There's a great range of instruments to play along with, meaning that you can even compose that epic 80s electronic tribute band that you always dreamed of.
When you're not busy rocking out to Boston or practising solo improvisation and scales with your virtual band, you can always head over to the Guitarcade and complete a few retro-style technique-enhancing mini-games. Each mini-game encourages you to practice a specific element of the guitar, from learning how to quickly switch between strings by shooting bandits on String Skip Saloon, to nailing the pentatonic scales on the Streets of Rage-inspired Scale Warriors and blasting zombies with chords in Return to Castle Chordead.
Arguably the best feature of Rocksmith 2014 Edition is the Riff Repeater, which has been tweaked since its appearance in the original game, and can now be toggled on or off at any point during a song. The Riff Repeater allows you to isolate a specific section of the song which you're having difficulty with, slow it down, break it up, and gradually increase the difficulty until you have mastered it. It's absolutely fantastic for breaking down tricky solos, such as Avenged Sevenfold's epic Bat Country, and gives you complete power over your own progress. Master Mode is another great feature which hides the fret numbers of the notes you should be using, helping you to memorise the riffs of a song once you've maintained a strong perfect note combo.
The main issue with Rocksmith is that, before you can begin to enhance your strumming skills, you must first learn how to play Rocksmith itself – which isn't as easy as it seems. By replicating the 'Note Highway' used in the Guitar Hero series, Rocksmith moves away from the traditional tablature layout of notes that veteran guitarists will be familiar with. Beginners will be able to adapt more quickly to this presentation style than those who have had experience with tabs, as skilled guitarists may be forced to play songs at lower difficulty settings purely because they find the note style hard to adapt to, therefore undermining their actual guitar competency.
It's also important to note that some players may experience audio lag issues if you haven't connected your console to analogue speakers separate from your television. Playing the game through your display's speakers or a HDMI cable results in a slight delay between when you play your guitar and the in-game sound it produces through the TV, which can be particularly frustrating when practicing songs, but is easily remedied once you have the right audio set-up.
Rocksmith 2014 Edition is certainly more suited to complete beginners than experienced musicians, yet still includes a host of brilliant features that will improve your skills when used daily. Despite its muddled presentation and occasional technical hiccups, this is still a great tool, providing you with the ingenious Riff Repeater and your very own virtual band. It may be more of a learning supplement than a digital tutor, but it's still worth a look if you're eager to tighten up your shredding skills.