I was a huge fan of Guitar Hero when it had its time in the spotlight. I was also a fan of the band iteration of the hero franchise but one thing always niggled at me when I was playing these games. I couldn’t transfer what my fingers did in these games to a proper guitar with six strings and play the songs I was a rock legend at playing when I booted up Guitar Hero.
I have never taken any sort of guitar lessons; neither can I read sheet music. Give me some guitar tablature and tell me where to put my fingers I can do it, albeit very slowly. Guitar tablature online however is much like Wikipedia, if you want to use it you better hope the person writing it isn’t making it up as they go along.
This is what appealed to me with the first Rocksmith. This was going to tell me where to put my fingers and teach me how to play the songs I want to play. Only it didn’t. Yes the songs were there. Yes the instructions were there but something wasn’t; it just felt far too restrictive. If I completed a song I had no interest in I couldn’t then just jump into a song I did want to play.
This year the restrictions have been lifted. The clunky Journey mode from last year has been cast aside, to be replaced with the cleaner unobtrusive Mission & Rocksmith Recommends Modes. Well they are “modes” in name only. What they actually are is a suggestion box where Rocksmith recommends three tasks to complete. These can take any form and come from any section of the game. Whether it is to watch a video on how to restring your guitar, to playing one of the Guitarcade mini-games or just simply playing a recommended song.
Completion of these three missions, unlocks a number of items from amp skins, to fret board inlays to additional arrangements of songs. Once completed another three missions are given and rinse and repeat.
What about learning to play the songs? Well this is where Rocksmith not only rises head and shoulders above the original incarnation but also does something very technical and clever -if you sort your songs by recommendation or difficulty. Yes you can sort by artist, year of release or title but that will not help you “learn”.
As you finish a play-through of a song then the difficulty of said song is increased based on how well you hit the correct notes at the correct time. Rocksmith will then re-order the songs based on the level of skill you have shown.
This makes the Rocksmith Recommends sorting function much more intelligent than Journey Mode. Where Journey Mode chose 3 songs for you to rigidly learn and master, Rocksmith Recommends bases its choices on what you have done previously – in every single sense.
Almost master a song but the transition to a B Chord letting you down? Go to your song choice menu and Rocksmith will recommend a song that is similar technically but isn’t so reliant on the B chord. Stay in your original song choice and Rocksmith may recommend a Guitarcade mini-game based on the B Chord, a video lesson or just ask you to riff repeat the section, at a slower speed initially, until you manage to nail it.
Complete the educational aspect and your next song choice recommendation will be based on not only your technical ability but also what songs you have played before, how many times and whether you have “Favorited” them. It truly is a discerning intelligent A.I. Knowing that the next song is within or extremely close to your ability level gives you the confidence to push forward and just have one more attempt at the song.
Now what songs are there? Well you may have seen our other articles leading up to the release detailing the track listing but what is truly special is that Rocksmith 2014 is completely backwards compatible with the original Rocksmith. Not only can you download a 2014 version of all of your DLC at no extra cost but for the bargain price of £6.75 you can also download 2014 versions of all of the original Rocksmiths on disc tracks – This is of course if you have played the original Rocksmith. The DLC, original disc tracks and 2014 tracks meant that on first load of Rocksmith 2014 I had over 175 tracks to choose from.
Aside from the AI and the (possibly) huge mass of songs to choose from, the next thing that has changed really should be applauded. It seems that Ubisoft are no longer afraid to embrace the education side of Rocksmith. Learning and teaching can be fun. Ubisoft have gone balls deep in a mash up of rocking guitar, dashes of gaming with some sneaky learning and end up with one of the best learning tools available for guitar. Notice I say tool rather than teacher, this is because Rocksmith will not do it all by itself, you need to have the will and motivation to keep on trying and improving yourself.
Little tweaks have made all the difference as well. The tuner is now much clearer and has been expanded to cover more than just Standard E and Drop D tuning. Also if the next song you play is in the same tunings as your last song then you don’t need to go through the tuning process over and over again.
Performance feedback is now much more than a score. Now you are told your note streak, your accuracy, your mastery level and a verbal pat on the back if you play well. Whilst forgiving in the main it has no qualms about slapping you in the face if you perform particularly badly.
The Guitarcade mini-games are back with added fun and hidden learning. 8 bit gaming plus further familiarity with the neck of your guitar can never be a bad thing. For the competitive amongst us there are even online leaderboards – Goodbye life, hello blistered fingers.
Riff Repeater is now accessible from within the song rather than hidden away in some other menu; and oh boy is it flexible. Speed, difficulty, how many times you have to play correctly before proceeding, how much leeway it gives you before levelling or speeding you up and most importantly what section the riff repeater starts and ends at can now all be selected and amended.
Everything is now in place and the only thing that can hold Rocksmith back is the cost of DLC. At £1.99 per track it is easy to spend a fortune on this aspect of the tool. If there is more Aerosmith and Nirvana than McFly and Nickelback then I will be more than happy to part with my hard earned cash. For details of the latest DLC incoming then make sure you listen to Daren and Matt on each episode of the Midlife Gamer podcast.
The HDMI lag issues still exist initially for console adopters but a few trial and error adjustments – ignoring the visual and audio cues and changing the lag adjustment settings to about 200 – seems to eliminate any major issues but I can imagine this be frustrating for those not willing to do this. The other (recommended) option is to change your set up to use the standard audio visual cables.
Finally, the Xbox version supports voice commands through Kinect allowing you to speak to Rocksmith and tell it what you want to do. The commands all work well but once again my Kinect suffers from overhearing the game. In the same way as it picks up the commentary from FIFA as swearing, the Kinect picks up the lyrics from songs as commands and if left in the song menu too long it would jump from song to song. Never fear if you suffer the same, the option can be turned off.
Overall, dropping the Guitar Hero-esq “level up to get a new venue” career mode of the original Rocksmith to capitalise on the education aspect was a great move. The interface is far smoother and more geared towards a play what you want style of learning. Is Rocksmith 2014 a substitute for good old fashioned guitar lessons though? We shall see……..
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC Release Date: 25/10/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Rocksmith 2014 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 7 days on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.
For Those About to Rock 2014
And see we shall. Just over a year ago, when I picked up the original Rocksmith I wanted to test the learning aspect of the title. I worked out what songs I wanted to “learn” out of the track listing. Due to the restrictiveness of the actual learning of the original Rocksmith and a lack of time the idea fell to the wayside.
With the release of Rocksmith 2014 and with Ubisoft really selling the education factor it seems like a perfect time for this idea to come to fruition; so……
Over the next 12 months I will aim to learn and master a number of songs. These songs will be chosen on a per article basis due to the fact that we don’t know what songs will be DLC and I don’t want to miss out on a killer song choice.
The song choices for the first article are Goobledigook by Sigur Ros
and/or Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes.
Come back in a couple of months’ time to see how I get on.