Review: Rocksmith 2014 Wants To Make You A Guitar God
Ever wanted to shred solos like your favourite rockstars or just be able to play kumbaya around a campfire? Rocksmith 2014 has you covered.
- Worth The Time?If you're serious about becoming a guitarist, then there is no better use of your time
- Things LovedThe comprehensive teaching mechanics. The interface is smooth, responsive and slick. The menus were made as accessible as possible. In-depth tone designer with hundreds upon thousands of potential tones that can be made. High quality Lesson videos that teach you all there is to know about a chosen topic. The Guitarcade is just absolutely amazing and is fantastic for your practice method. The songs on offer cover a wide range of genres and styles to keep things fresh and interesting. The riff repeater feature is well fleshed out with a variety of options that you can use in order to learn specific parts of a song. Session mode is great for practicing or just jamming. Overall, an excellent teaching tool.
- Things HatedWhile the song selection is great, there are too many songs that will prove daunting for beginner players. Tones don't always sound as good as they should. Sometimes your song progress gets wiped for no apparent reason. Bends often don't register as well as they should. Weird audio influctions happen from time to time. The tracks available are not master recordings which is a bit disappointing. The in-game tuner isn't always that accurate. There are no guides available for really intense parts of songs.
- RecommendationIf you ever wanted to learn guitar then Rocksmith 2014 is the best investment that you can make. But be warned that it will take dedication and long-term planning.
- Name: Rocksmith 2014
- Genre: Simulation/Teaching Tool
- Players: 1-2 players
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
- Developer: Ubisoft
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R800 for game and Real Tone Cable, R2399 for guitar bundle with Epiphone Les Paul Junior
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
There is an inborn desire in most of us to create music because music is a wonderful, unexplainable and magical thing. It brings out emotions, charges you up, silences your demons and makes you feel like you can conquer anything. People that have not experienced that rush that music can give you have simply not found the right soundtrack to their lives. But what if you wanted to create that glorious noise rather than simply being a spectator? Most people have “learn an instrument” on their bucketlist, but the sheer determination and commitment that such a task requires causes them to just abandon the concept altogether. Although learning an instrument is a monumental undertaking, Rocksmith 2014 aims to make the process a little easier.
Before we begin, I would like to put down a little disclaimer for why this review took so long. It released last year November in South Africa and I was lucky enough to receive the bundle with the game, cable and a Epiphone Les Paul Junior as a Christmas present. I could have rushed out a review in a week or so, but doing so wouldn’t give the game justice. See, I’m a novice guitarist. I’ve owned a guitar before, but it was insanely budget and I didn’t have any way of learning other than tablature and YouTube wasn’t a viable option at that point. Other than being able to play Smoke on the Water like 100% of other guitarists can, I essentially knew nothing going into this game. My years of Guitar Hero experienced has given me a little bit of an edge even if it’s just for rhythmic patterns and fast fretwork. I went into this game with a clean slate so let’s see just how well this game will teach you guitar.
When you first plug in your guitar and start up the game it asks you the usual guitar related questions. Are you left handed, what headstock are you using and are you more inclined to rhythm or lead playing. It also helps you tune your guitar and initiates a quick tutorial on how to hit notes. The foundation has now been lain and you’re ready to start learning. The first thing most people will do is play a song and here’s where the whole learning thing starts to happen.
When you initially play a song, there will only be a few notes that roughly sound like the original song. If you manage to hit those notes perfectly then it slowly ramps up the difficulty where more notes gets introduced until finally the full song is revealed and you can play it like the original recording. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. To be able to learn a full song you will first need to learn the required techniques in order to hit those notes, the rhythm structure of the song and be able to strum correctly and hit each fret perfectly. Here is where Rocksmith 2014 introduces its more in-depth teaching mechanics.
There are video lessons available that have attractive people with no faces demonstrating how to do a technique on an actual guitar with the game’s, for the lack of a better word, narrator describing how to do these techniques. After learning what is expected of you, it gives you a few practice tracks to see if you can hit the technique or not. If you fail, it just starts the practice track over again until you can successfully hit it. At the end it gives you a big practice track that puts your skills with that particular technique to the test. These lessons are extensive and cover a wide array of techniques ranging from attaching your strap to your guitar, basic chords, hammer-ons and pull offs to more advanced techniques such as tremolo picking, two-handed tapping and harmonics. All of these lessons help you significantly to increase your skills. It may not be immediately apparent when you do them, but they help tremendously in the long run.
The other method of teaching comes in the form of NES style retro mini-games. You might be confused as to how the hell that would make you a better guitar player, but they are a gigantic help. The mode is called Guitarcade and it features games with retro visuals and sounds, but combined with guitar techniques. You will find games such as Ducks ReDeux that has you shoot little 8-bit ducks by hitting the correct fret on the fretboard. This might sound trivial, but it unknowingly teaches you how to work the fretboard and be proficient at fretting all while having fun with a score attack style mini-game. The Guitarcade combines fun with practice and that is a surefire way to ensure significant progress with the guitar.
There are a variety of mini-games available that cover most guitar techniques that are available. There’s a track-and-field game that has you tremolo picking a string to keep your character running, a ninja that slides between towers that requires you to slide on the string, a cop chase game where you have to play scales in order to avoid obstacles and avoid cops and so on. Probably the best game of the lot is Return To Castle Chordead which is a retro “RPG” with cheesy as hell voiceacting and Minecraft style visuals where you have to play chords in order to kill zombies. It’s basically Typing of the Dead for guitar. That sounds stupid, but that game has taught me chords faster than any post on the internet or guitar book ever could.
Now we are on to the main meat of the game. The Learn a Song mode. There are over 50 songs available that cover a wide range of genres from indie to full on heavy metal. It’s an extensive lists of songs and you would probably find something that you like on the list. Each song is split into phrases that have their own difficulty. The rhythm part of the song is lower in difficulty than say the solo and so on. If you increase the difficulty on a phrase then the phrases that are identical to that one are also increased.
I established the whole “incremental difficulty” mechanic before, but there are tools in place to help you learn a song in the best way possible. The biggest mechanic has to be the Riff Repeater. Riff Repeater allows you to take a phrase of a song and bend it to your will. You can change the difficulty of the phrase which means how many notes there are until the final version, slow the section down to near stop, having it increase difficulty as you play. If you then initiate the Riff Repeater then it plays that phrase on a loop with your desired settings. You can then slowly learn how to play a phrase perfectly and memorize the fret locations and so on. You can also combine a bunch of phrases to extend your practicing. The mechanic has an incredible amount of detail and is essential to perfectly learning the song.
When you finish a song then it rates you on the mastery of that song. If you played it accurately, but at a lower difficulty then the mastery rating compensates for that. You could have perfectly played the lower difficulty notes, but you will still be on 15% mastery for example. In order to achieve full mastery you have to be able to play the song on full difficulty without missing a note. There’s also something called Master Mode which is a very interesting mechanic. If you achieved full difficulty on phrases and have played the phrases perfectly multiple times then you will start seeing the notes disappear. At first they will only lightly fade until finally they are gone altogether and you have to completely play from memory. This ensures that you know the song to your best possible ability. If you don’t like that then there’s always the option to switch it off.
This combination of teaching mechanics work extremely well together and at the end cause you to slowly become great at playing guitar. I started out not being able to correctly hit single notes on lower difficulties to playing a song such as Everlong by Foo Fighters without even looking at the screen or the guitar in just a few months. I can confidently play about 15 songs already in the space of 60 days which is astounding progress and that’s all thanks to Rocksmith 2014’s teaching mechanics.
Of course, playing songs are cool on their own, but what about when you want to make your own music? Here is where Rocksmith 2014’s Session Mode comes into play. Session Mode allows you to pick a bunch of instruments of which there are tons of and then jam to your heart’s content. It’s almost like playing in a virtual band. These instruments react to your intensity of playing meaning that when you play slow, they play slow and when you play hard, they play hard. They’re almost like AI that detect what you’re trying to do and adapt themselves to what you’re doing. Session Mode also includes an enormous range of options from what root you want to play in, the BPM, the intensity of the instruments, their volume levels and so on and so forth. The “band” plays based on a scale that you pick and I won’t try and explain scales because that will take way too long.
Session Mode doesn’t include a recording option which is unfortunate because you can come up with a sick riff while you’re improvising and then forget it later on. While it’s not remotely close to playing with actual musicians, it does the job well enough to make you feel like you’re actually creating a song. It’s an excellent practice method where you can quickly fire it up and play for a while.
Now that the main portions of the game has been covered, let’s have a look at the interface. The menus are very slick and do away with clutter so that you can quickly access your desired mode in seconds. With a game like this that requires a lot of time and dedication, quick access is essential to get right into practicing. The note highways are much like Rock Band with the square notes, but across the entire fretboard. Each string has its own individual colour in order to distinguish them. The highway also clearly indicates the fret numbers so that you’re never confused as to what note you’re supposed to be hitting. When a chord is played multiple times it is shown as a transparent bar in order to remove clutter on the screen and lets you focus on what you’re doing. There’s also finger indicators for chords which help you position your fingers in the correct place. Overall, there’s nothing really to complain about when it comes to interface. Everything is there and it works like it’s supposed to.
Rocksmith provides a consistent method of practice and is designed in such a way that it knows what you need to improve on. Yes, the game also tracks your progress through the stairway to guitar god stardom and looks at areas in which you can approve. It then recommends things that you can do through missions so that you can continuously improve. It also gauges your skill level and adjusts the song difficulty on newer songs so that you can jump right in.
Of course, the game also has its negatives. The most annoying problem I have encountered is where my progress for a song gets completely wiped. All my phrases are set to default difficulty and I have to manually restore them which is a painful process. There’s also very weird audio influctions that happen where your guitar will be deafeningly loud and the song can’t be heard anymore. I found that if I pause it and resume it then it goes back to normal. I don’t know why it happens, but it becomes annoying after a while.
I’ve also noticed that bends don’t often register well or they don’t sound like they should. If you want to correctly play a bend then you have to bend it so that it doesn’t sound good at all. It’s a frustrating issue when you’re trying to play a song well and you end up missing the bends for no good reason or making your playing sound atrocious.
While the songs on offer are great, there are a lot that will be very intimidating for beginners because of how difficult they are. The tracks are also not master recordings which means that you can’t switch off individual instrument tracks or lower the volume of say the guitar so that you can see how accurately you’re playing the song. It’s a personal problem I have and won’t really bother a lot of other people, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
For difficult parts of a song like a solo, there isn’t much guidance other than the Riff Repeater and it would have been nice if they provided you with a step-by-step guide on how to correctly nail the difficult parts. It’s not needed of course, but it would have been nice for when you go into more advanced stuff and don’t really know how to approach it.
I’ve been quite hesitant to call Rocksmith 2014 a “game” throughout the review. Rocksmith 2014 is more like a teaching tool for you to use while learning guitar. It’s akin to hiring a guitar teacher or buying really expensive guitar books, but with this you can have fun and learn how to play some of your favourite songs in the process. Rocksmith 2014 isn’t something you buy on a whim or think that it might be like Guitar Hero. This is a long term investment that will eat up much of your life and requires constant attention. Get it if you want to learn how to play the guitar, it’s as simple as that. The game is solid and its mechanics will make sure that your journey is as smooth and painless as possible. Rock on.