Music games have been disappearing for years now, and you would expect that a company that already has many franchises under their belt would keep away from making something that’s been ignored so much. Despite this, here we are with the second edition of Rocksmith from Ubisoft.
Rocksmith in itself was far from what we had been getting used to. It’s no button-masher, it doesn’t require a separate controller, and it is not a simulation. Before Rocksmith, no one had ever seen a tool that helps you learn an instrument like this. Rocksmith was good, but Rocksmith 2014 is superior in every way.
Rocksmith 2014 is simply amazing. You will be treated to one of the best ways I’ve ever encountered that helps you learn guitar and bass. I’ve tried quite a few ways during the years, and unless I can find a way to free up some time to learn from someone else at my place, in a school, or at theirs, Rocksmith 2014 will be the closest to that experience for me. Be it for the lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, or bass player, you will be helped by the different sections within the game to become proficient at your chosen role.
The best part of the game is the Learn a Song section. As the title says, it help you learn songs that are included with the game or that you purchased through their store. The selection is already quite varied, and you should find something to please you. They also release DLC songs and song packs quite often, so you will end up finding your favorite rock artist, or at least one you like. While Learn a Song is mainly about learning the song, you will not do so from the start. The game is made so that you will learn how to play the songs through a comfortable difficulty for you. As you play the song and get better, the difficulty will change and you will learn more of the song properly. All the notes you learn are part of the mastered song, so it is not like you will not use them again, but a single note might evolve to become a chord as you become better with the song. You also have different filters that let you rearrange the song selection based on what you select. You can even set some songs as favorite to have an easier time finding them.
The second option is Session. Session let you play with an actual virtual band. You can use a pre-existing type of band or make your own. You can adjust the tempo at which it plays, the music style, and the key. The band will start following you as soon as you play the first note; as you go, it will improvise with you and play what should sound the best with what you are playing. Of course, it’s nothing like a real band, but it is a great tool for someone looking into composing their own little piece on a guitar.
Under Session, you will find the Nonstop Play. It’s self-explanatory, really. You set the playlist of songs you like to play. You set how long you want to go for, and then you start. You’ll play until the amount of time you set is done. Once you’ve done that period of time, the game will offer you to play one more or to stop there.
Lessons will bring you the much-needed knowledge on how to properly play, and techniques to do so. They include videos, practice tips, and practice songs when they are necessary. Not all videos are about how to play your guitar; they also touch on how to properly care for your equipment and how to properly use the guitar. Each of the lessons can be repeated and redone as many time as you want.
Guitarcade is its own thing. It’s a way to practice, it’s a way to learn, and it’s a lot of fun, little mini-games that will just make you lose track of time. It’s very diversified, and also contains a leaderboard. Each technique mini-game pertains to a specific technique you will use while playing a song. Be it learning how to quickly change from fret to fret to hunt down ducks, or how to change string to prevent cowboys from reaching the bar and stealing the booze, you will have one mini-game for each technique. Some are a lot more elaborate as well, and they are a great help to get better. It is definitely not something to ignore if you want to learn faster. You will also have a score attack section which is a section that will challenge you to reach the highest score possible on songs at a pre-set difficulty level.
There’s a multiplayer section that exists. Unfortunately, here “multiplayer” refers to another friend playing with you at home instead of through a network. As such, unless you have a second guitar and cable, you will not be able to go into that section.
There’s also a Tone Designer. It allows you to use different tones in songs either by using a tone from a song you currently own, or making your own one. As you play, you will unlock more tone pieces for you to play with and other customization options for your game.
These are all the modes or options you have to play with in the game. You also have a shop and a link to your Uplay account, which is normal in this case as it is a Ubisoft game. That said, you might want to link your account properly, as it will reward you with the special points you get in Uplay for completing specific challenges in games you own. These can then be used to unlock things within the specific games. For Rocksmith 2014, that includes an exclusive song.
The game also feature a great tool call Riff Repeater. This tool lets you pause a song and go back to specific sections to learn them. You can either just replay a specific section or several of them. It will show you where you didn’t hit notes, and lets you repeat it until you have completed the section. It will even get higher in difficulty as you redo the section. You will be able to adjust the speed and other different elements to help you learn it at your own pace. Ultimately, it will help you get better, and is one of the best ways to learn a song completely.
The other parts of the game are the different challenges and missions you can complete. For example, each song will have different goals for you to accomplish, while the game itself features several missions that will bring you to all the different elements in the game and give you more information on them. Think of it as an advanced road map with a great way to experience everything. It will explain things like pedals and tones. It gets you to try each Guitarcade technique mini-game. It will give you missions to reach 85% accuracy in songs, or ask you to play songs from a certain time period or with certain tuning.
All this combines to give you quite the experience. The game has improved a lot on the previous one, and it shows. Their detection system and accuracy are a lot better. Tuning is also a lot easier now, and you can even properly calibrate the guitar you are using to the game, which is quite useful for people that already have their own. The game also allows you to choose your path as lead, rhythm, or bass player. It makes an interesting difference to be able to choose which way you want to go. It’s hard to quantify a gameplay that is entirely based on the real score of songs you have access to. Otherwise, while I can say for sure that the responsiveness of the game with the guitar of your choosing is definitely working properly, there’s also no way to rate controls. One thing that is disappointing, though, is that you need to keep the PS3 controller nearby for navigation until you get to what you want to do for the moment. But with everything it does, it’s still lacking. While you will most likely do all the lessons, there’s no set plan for you to follow. You can do the missions, but they are more generic, and they won’t guide you to how you should spend your time to learn properly. The game also lacks an environment to teach you how to read a sheet of music. It’s all good to learn how to play a specific song, but unless you bring the game with you or you have an excellent memory, you will unfortunately not have the skills necessary to read sheet music.
There was no latency problems from the get go, and the options let you adjust it quite easily if it’s a problem. You might get annoyed by all the tuning you have to do, but if you always play songs using the same tuning, you will not notice that. The loading time between each operation is usually short, and you get to play any songs almost immediately.
Graphic-wise, there’s not much to say. The game is made the same way the Guitar Hero series was set. You see the strings and the fret at the bottom of the screen, and you play the notes when they get there. Each string will light up once a note for that string appears. You will also have an indication of which note exactly you need to play. The rest is a venue of sort; there’s nothing much to see on the screen, and it’s not like it matters. You will be much more preoccupied with playing the notes than noticing anything there. There’s quite an improvement to the interface, though; it’s much smoother and easier to navigate. There’s no story to this game. You are not on your quest to become a rock star by playing different venues with specific songs. It’s a guitar-learning game that does just that – lets you learn. That also means there’s not really much for the sound effects outside of changing the tone and what you are playing.
It’s a worthwhile game to get overall. Just the number of hours you’ll spend learning the songs will make you play for the next few months. You will also be able to take part in the 60 day challenge, which is a challenge that requires you to play at least 1 hour every day for 60 days. It’s hosted by linking your Uplay account to the game and signing up on the Rocksmith official website. It will track your progress and everything you are doing. Don’t forget that you also have a Session mode, letting you release the artist in you. It’s something non-negligible if you want to practice something you are trying to create, or just want to see how you would sound in a band if you were playing random things. You might perhaps get discouraged by the steep price to pay to play this game; after all, unless you already own a guitar that can be plugged in an amp, you will have to buy one. The game is sold packaged with a guitar if you choose to do so, but you can use any. You also need the special cable for this (called the real tone cable), which can be purchased by itself, with the game, or with the game and the guitar. DLCs are also available, letting you buy more songs for you to play on top of what’s already offered. The shop also includes an import tool that lets you import all the songs from the previous game to this one. All your downloaded content from the previous version will also work directly in Rocksmith 2014.
So if you want to learn how to play guitar up to a certain point, if you think you have what it takes and the patience to get into this long process, definitely pick up the game. Be warned though; as with learning anything, you will need to practice often and for long period of times before you have the skills necessary to play outside the parameters of the game. While you will know how to play the chords and how to play songs, it will not teach you how to read sheet music or how to compose music. Maybe that will be the next feature Ubisoft will integrate in this franchise – then it might really become the fastest way to learn guitar.
This review is based on a retail copy of Rocksmith 2014 for PS3. It is also available for Xbox 360 and PC.