I’ve played the bass guitar since I was at school but in recent years it’s been consigned to my garage, as I’ve not had a suitable amp set-up at home; I’ve never really played a six string guitar either. So when Ubisoft gave me the chance to try out Rocksmith 2014, the latest version of their guitar game/music tutor, I leapt at the chance.
You connect your guitar using the Real Tone cable which plugs into your console via USB, takes the analogue signal from your guitar’s 1/4″ output and digitizes it; if you have the cable from the original version then this will work with Rocksmith 2014 too. When I first started playing I found there was some latency between the audio and video, which I realised was most likely caused by my external audio set-up; I was able to resolve this when I found the appropriate option in the game settings, but it would have been nice if this was part of the initial set-up described below. It’s been smooth sailing ever since though.
The first time you start the game, you are asked some questions to help set up the experience; have you played Rocksmith before, what is your skill level, what handedness are you, are your tuning pegs 6-inline or 3+3 and what path do you want to follow? The path is how you choose whether you want to rock out at the front on lead guitar, play a supporting role with rhythm guitar or really drive the rhythm on the bass. As you get into the game proper it’s delightfully easy to change your path at any time in the menus, by pressing select; this is really useful for beginners who want to mix up their learning of picking and strumming styles, which lead and rhythm favour respectively.
I decided to start out with an electric guitar, doing what any absolute beginner would and immediately attempted to learn the lead guitar portion of Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’. Having chosen a beginner skill level in the setup it was fairly simple to begin with, a note here and there but the game dynamically adjusts the difficulty depending on your skill and I soon found myself stretched, but not overwhelmed by the complexity of the song; it’s a subtle but brilliant system which means that as you learn, you’re always pushed to the edge of your comfort zone. When I finished the song, the game told me in a tone halfway between patronising and sarcasm ‘not bad’; I know it was lying, but it clearly has the patience and compassion of any good music teacher. Asides from cynically judging you, the game’s analysis of your performance also feeds back into the Rocksmith Recommends feature.
This suggests ways to improve your performance; these range from practising sections you struggled with using the Riff Repeater, to lessons and Guitarcade games which focus on developing certain skills. The Riff Repeater is just that; you can use it to replay sections of the song over and over as the speed and complexity increases, allowing you to master them. You can access this feature anytime you’re learning a song and tweak the speed, difficulty and loop settings; however if you enter it from the Rocksmith Recommends screen it will set all that up for you, based on what it feels you need to work on.
The lessons and Guitarcade games are available from the main menu as well as the Rocksmith Recommends screen in Learn a Song. There are more than 80 excellent lessons which are interactive, interesting and comprehensive, from how to hold the guitar for absolute beginners to arpeggios for pros, there’s something for everyone. The Guitarcade games are designed to developed the fundamentals in a fun way and include amongst others, a duck hunt style game to improve your fretwork, a racing game to practice scales and something looking not unlike Wing Commander to help you really nail those chords!
The game features over 50 tracks including songs from Aerosmith, the Arctic Monkeys, Bob Dylan, Iron Maiden, the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Radiohead, the Ramones and Weezer to name just a few; not to mention the swathes of DLC from the original game which is compatible with the latest version. The full list of tracks available, is to be found on the Rocksmith 2014 website.
If you fancy playing something original, then Session Mode allows you to lead your own virtual band. By selecting the instruments they will play, the tempo, scale and various other settings, you can really customise the sound of your jam session. As you play the band will keep time with you and the presence of the scale board, which indicates which notes will sound good based on the current root and scale, means even beginners can start plucking away and making something that sounds vaguely musical. I found that I was able to ad-lib some nice blues progressions, accompanied by a kazoo or banjo, some funky bass and an 80’s synth within a few hours of having picked up the guitar for the first time; this is something I’m almost certain wouldn’t have been possible with a music tutor from the Yellow Pages?! To really make the most of this feature, it’s worth getting to grips with the Tone Designer feature too; this allows you to craft the sound of your guitar through pedals, effects, amps and even mic positioning. It’s a little overwhelming at first but if you follow the Current Missions from the main menu, they will teach you a lot about this feature and the principles behind the effects. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun to play with so get stuck in!
So should you buy it? It’s not a game that most would just pick up on a whim, however if you’re thinking about learning the guitar and will be getting an electric or electro acoustic model then yes, you should. It’ll pay for itself with the money you’d have spent on a few weeks of lessons and there’s such variety in the way it teaches you that you won’t get bored quickly. If you can already play then it’s a cracking way to develop your skills and improve your playing, in fact it was when I picked up my trusty old bass guitar that it clicked for me. I switched to the bass path and the dynamic difficulty really showed off what the game was about. Without changing any other difficulty or experience settings, the game quickly ramped up the complexity of the first song until it realised it was on the verge of besting me; by this time I was playing almost the whole bass part of Jack White’s ‘Sixteen Saltines’, a song I’ve never played before, on an instrument I haven’t picked up and played in years. After a few lessons suggested by Rocksmith Recommends, the game added more complexity to the song including some slides. When I finished, the game told me that it was a “brilliant performance” and sounded genuine. I was very pleased with that; however, not wanting to be complacent I went back into the riff repeater… I may be there for some time.
PS3 review copy was provided by Ubisoft.