Ouch, is all I can say… Not about the game, but my fingers after picking up my dusty old axe after a long period of inactivity and the fact that I’ve not been able to put Rocksmith 2014 down since it arrived. Yes, fellow fretbenders! Ubisoft have released the update (we’re not allowed to call it a sequel), to 2011’s guitar/bass playing monster and it rocks even harder this time out.
The original had a strange way of progressing through the tracklist, teaching you to play your real guitar through the use of the specially created Real Tone cable. It also had quite a few flaws that held it back. These issues have been ironed out for 2014 and the difference is highly noticable. Now, notes don’t ring out a couple of milliseconds after you’ve plucked a string and there’s no mucking about with calibration and different AV cables to get rid of any delay, it’s perfect, straight out of the box. The loading times are almost non-existent and you don’t have to listen to the first minute of Titus Andronicus before you can get back into the actual gameplay… Yay!
The progression through Rocksmith 2014 has also changed. No longer are you given a setlist of tracks to practice and perform, with recommendations of lessons you should be attempting. You are given free rein of every mode from the start with some non-invasive suggestions, aiding you in developing your skillset and assisting you to become a better musician.
As an intermediate player, I can honestly say that whether you are a newcomer to guitar or a pro, there’s something here for everyone to get their teeth into. Choose your style from rhythm, lead or combination and get strumming. Whether you’re a red-bearded, Dean playing metalhead, a skinny jeaned, tight v-neck wearing indie fan or a grunge wallowing, plaid clad, child of the 90’s, you’ll find something here to play with. You can also plug in a mic and practice your waili… I mean, singing while you play. It’s a good additon for the multi-talented frontmen out there.
I began my journey by going directly to ‘Learn a Song’ to see how I would fare with the updated mechanics. The list comprises of 55 songs of varying genres but healthily, sticks to a more popular range of titles. Underground music and lesser known tracks from big artists are less mainstream and dare I use the word… Hip, but Ubisoft has played it safe and smart by compiling a collection to cover a multitude of A-side classics including indie, classic rock, metal and even some highly technical, widdling wizardry from Joe Satriani.
My first choice of song was Thunderkiss ’65 by White Zombie. I managed to rip through the song on intermediate with a score of 96% accuracy, thanks to the non-existent latency issues. During my playthrough, I was given one in five notes to play for the first ten bars or so before the difficulty increased. It’s much the same as the last Rocksmith, sending you down a highway of notes with colour coded strings and fret fingering, although it doesn’t just plunge you into a frenzy of notes when it thinks you can move on to harder licks. The change-up is much more subtle and helps with the learning process. Rather than punishing you, it gently gives you a helping hand to get back on the bike.
I selected Cemetary Gates next to test out the airbags. After a melodic, simple introduction, the Pantera track eventually reached a point where things got a little crazy… Rocksmith dropped the difficulty level by a fraction so I could get back into the swing. Soon I was back on track, not as honed as Dimebag himself, but I settled into the song easily enough. On a retry, I purposely failed as much as possible to see how the AI would react. I found that if you struggle during play, Rocksmith will stop the track, slow it down by about 20% and let you start again at a slower tempo, gradually bringing you back up to speed. The riff repeater lets you pick out any part of a song too, letting you practice to perfection before moving on.
Ubisoft seem to have perfected the system and the game flows like an epic John Petrucci solo. It really is an amazing piece of software, with the ability to teach whilst keeping you in control at nearly every step. You can also access some of the difficulty options in the pause menu, so you can play through a whole song on a set tempo or keep the track at your level and progress in your own way.
If you have ever browsed online for video tutorials, you’ll find that you have to pay subscription fees or search-fu sites for specific material. In Rocksmith 2014, you’ll find a treasure trove of tutor assisted, interactive video lessons. Basic instructions on how to wear your strap, sitting positions and gripping your pick to more in depth lessons which cover technical subjects such as string bends and tremelo picking. Tutorials consist of videos that display how to perform a technique, followed by a practical section, giving you the chance to try it out first hand. If you make a mistake, the instructor will tell you where you’ve gone wrong, down to the string you’ve missed or the note you Les Dawson‘ed (look him up). It’s so accurate at identifying your errors, that I had to check that my PC hadn’t transformed into an Xbox One complete with Kinect 2.0…
There are more training lessons in the form of a 90’s stylised Guitarcade. There’s a veritable feast of humbucking homages to gaming of earlier years and each offers another way of learning through play. For instance, Scale Warriors drops you in a Double Dragon-esque style arcade beat-em-up. Hitting correct notes in a scale sends your ninja warriors flipping round the screen, disposing of minions, henchmen and bosses alike. It’s great for scale recognition, building speed and mastering your chops, if you’ll pardon the pun.
String Skipper is a variation of the crusty old classic, Tapper. The aim is to pluck a string that corresponds to the six lanes before customers manage to launch themselves behind the bar and end your game. The highlight of the bunch was a homage to gun cabinet games such as House of the Dead and Time Crisis. Return to Castle Chord is an on-rails shooter with a twist. You pick up power chords from gravestones set at certain points in the game and strum the correct one to dispose of ghouls and ghosts. An excellent way to learn chord progression while enjoying a bout of death and destruction.
Most modes can be played in multiplayer. I’m too terrified to even try at the minute and I’d probably end up in a face-off against the ghost of Jimi Hendrix on my first attempt anyway. Needless to say you can challenge friends, check high scores and jam together at your leisure.
The custom tone editor returns with a bigger host of pedals, amps and sounds for you to fiddle about with. It’s possible to create your own perfect tone with all the options available and is still pretty simple to use. I managed to get a nice crunchy Metallica style tone after ten minutes of playing around.
Finally, I come to the meat and potatoes of Rocksmith 2014. No longer do you have to sit in a damp garage, spending an hour setting up your gear to practice with friends. No my little headbangers, you can now have a virtual jam through the astoundingly smart Session mode. You start by adding your band to the four available slots, choosing from drummers, bass players, guitarists and other specialist musicians.
Do you need a keyboard for 80’s synth rock? Perhaps you want to partake in a bit of Deliverance style bluegrass and need a banjo. They’re all here and can be fine tuned to play in the style, tempo and level of aggression that you wish. Just start widdling away on scales or improvise some magical metal masterpiece about dragons, mountains and rivers of blood. The AI band will take a cue and follow your lead. It’s not perfect to begin with as you have to get into your own rhythm so that the others can learn your playing style and predict what you’ll do. Combine this with the lessons and the way Rocksmith memorises your playing level as you pick, slide and sustain your way through the tracks, it’s almost as if Ubisoft kidnapped the world’s best guitar tutors, mercilessly stole their souls and sorcerised them into programming code to be bundled off on disc to you lot.
I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of buying Rocksmith 2014 as the previous title left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. The problems were many and the tracks were initially a chore to work through. Too much indie in my humble opinion but I’m a metalhead/rocker, so it’s a matter of taste really. Speaking of which, you can transfer 52 of the original’s tracks with all the technical jiggery pokery of 2014 added to each for the sum of $9.99 for a relicensing fee. Your DLC tracks are also transferrable at no extra cost, building your setlist to well over 100 songs if you have them.
If you want to play a music based game for fun, you’d be better off with a plastic guitar or a couple of microphones. Rocksmith is not without hard graft and you’ll shed plenty of blood, sweat and tears trying to master your six string. Amazing piece of software though it may be, it won’t do the work for you. From my point of view, this upgrade has struck a chord (cough) in my very being and I’m happy to say, if you want to learn guitar… Go and buy this NOW! It definitely rocks out with it’s (ahem) socks out?
I’m off to annoy the missus now by repeatedly playing Knights of Cydonia until I get it right. Wish her luck… I could be quite some time.
Rocksmith 2014 is avaliable now for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.