Learning to play an instrument takes dedication, practice and hard work. It can be a slow, frustrating process that is ultimately rewarding. Rocksmith 2014 seeks to build on the original Rocksmith, making learning guitar an easier, more enjoyable experience without the same grinding.
The set up is really rather ingenious. Rather than playing with the awful plastic instruments made famous with Guitar Hero, Rocksmith 2014 makes use of real electric guitars (or bass guitars). The cable jacks into your electric guitar (that you presumably have somewhere, collecting dust) and connects directly to the console. That said, they do recommend connecting it through your sound system before connecting to the console for a better sound experience. Regardless, you are learning to play a real instrument, guided from the point of being an absolute beginner to a guitar master.
In order to achieve this, the game provides a range of missions or goals, taking you through all the different approaches given to teach you how to play. This adds a level of gamification to the experience, as well as giving the player some ideas about what to do next to improve. That said, the order in which these quests are presented can be a bit counter-intuitive.
You would think this would be the start of the game, but in actual fact it’s not even part of the opening quests/missions. The lessons are further down in the menu options, seemly relegated to the realm of something boring that you probably wouldn’t be interested in. While you can already get through a bunch of game content without doing any lessons, they are definitely integral to advancing. For example, I honestly didn’t know how to move between the frets until I did the lesson which explained the dots and how to quickly tell which fret was which. This may be obvious to those who have any background in guitar, but for an absolute beginner such as myself, this was really helpful and important.
The lessons generally take a two-part approach. The first shows a video of an actual human being holding a guitar and showing the things that you will need to do. This can be really helpful if you’re confused about how to actually hold a guitar for maximum comfort, or how to position your fingers on the frets. Following the video explanation, there is usually a practice track to test if you can apply the new skills taught in the lesson. You can later return the lessons and just repeat the practice tracks in order to achieve 100% on them.
I found the lessons very helpful and wished the game had placed a bit more emphasis on them. They might help avoid some frustration people would feel. I only tried out the lessons when I’d hit of a bit of a wall at learning a song. I worry some may have just given up at that point and would claim that Rocksmith is simply too difficult or scales too quickly, instead of taking the time to complete a “boring” lesson.
Learn a Song
This is the mode where I spent most of my time. You select a song you wish to play and the game starts you off with a very basic version. I was playing an average of five notes per phrase at the beginning, most of which were limited to one string only. As you progress through the song, Rocksmith adjusts dynamically, making it easier or harder depending on your ability.
There is a wide range of songs from a variety of time periods and genres. These also require different guitar tunings, which means that you may need to retune your guitar frequently in order to play the songs of your selection. However, tuning is easily explained on screen with the game picking up your current tone and telling you which way to turn the pegs in order to tune correctly – it only lets your progress once your instrument is in tune. This can be a bit irritating at times, but it’s still a lot easier than doing it without the game.
After playing a song for the first time, Rocksmith 2014 analyses your performance and gives you three tasks to complete to help you achieve mastery. These may include lessons (which is how I first attempted the lessons and found them to be helpful), reviewing a chord in the chord book, playing a game in the Guitarcade (one of my favorite parts of the game) or using the riff repeater function. Riff repeater lets you select a specific phrase and slow it down so that you can master those measures and repeat them as many times as necessary to gain that mastery. You can see me using riff repeater in this video:
Guitarcade is a series of old-school arcade style games that you play with the guitar. These are designed to teach you technique without feeling like you’re learning technique. They are an awful lot of fun and range from really basic to incredibly complex. It may just seem like you’re shooting at ducks or killing zombies, but you’re actually getting some fantastic fretting skills or learning chords. In this way, Rocksmith 2014 earns some serious bonus points for making something normally really boring, such as technical exercises, and making them into one of the best parts of the whole experience.
As you get better at the games, you unlock new mission, gain stars and generally feel like practicing your technique is about leveling up in a game instead of the grind of leveling up as a musician.
Score Attack is more reminiscent of other rhythm games. You can chose to play the game on easy, medium, hard or master, although master only becomes available after you get gold on hard mode. You play through the song and get a higher score depending on your streak of perfect notes. However, you are only allowed to fail three phrases. There is even a backing track of a crowd cheering for your awesome performance.
I was a bit surprised that the levels of Score Attack did not match those of Learn a Song. Sometimes, 50% mastery as far as Learn a Song was concerned meant you would play something on easy and sometimes it was medium. Often, easy seemed surprisingly difficult on some songs – chords I hadn’t yet encountered using Learn a Song appeared and I would fail due to pure shock value.
Based on the achievements for Rocksmith 2014, it appears that Score Attack is one of the main things people are meant to enjoy. Sure, it’s fun, but I honestly preferred the Learn a Song and Continuous Play modes more – I just wanted to play the songs and try my best and improve through practice. The joy of learning a new instrument was enough for me; I didn’t need to try to achieve a high score or worry about failing too many phrases.
Session Mode was billed as your chance to be a rock god. With backing instruments in the form of drums or guitars, you could build your own band and be the leader, shredding out with solos of your own. The concept of it is pretty awesome and it certainly was some fun. However, much like real bands I’ve played with, I’m not sure if it was because they didn’t listen to me or because I simply wasn’t skilled enough, but we never really seemed to play well together and take things to the next level. The game told me that my band mates would respond to what I played, but they never seemed to. It just seemed like an opportunity to noodle around a bit on the guitar instead of playing pre-set songs.
That said, I’m sure experienced guitar players would enjoy playing around with the numerous options for bandmates and probably have more fun doing their own thing. For those who get Rocksmith 2014 and aren’t absolute beginners, this will add necessary content to round out the experience.
Rocksmith 2014 allows for three career tracks and, unlike its predecessor, caters for bass players. I tested this out, linking up a guitar and bass to see what the game had to offer for two people looking to play together. I was rather impressed – each profile has different mastery levels. Just because the bassist is far superior to the guitarist doesn’t mean that the song will sound uneven; each player gets a track that is suitable for their mastery level.
Multiplayer allows two players to learn a song together, or do a score attack. The screen is split horizontally, ensuring that players are never confused by the other’s instructions. Despite sharing room on the screen, it wasn’t confusing or irritating. In fact, it adds to the collaborative experience of making music together.