Rocksmith 2014 Review: Become a rockstar
I've always enjoyed the rhythm/music genre. Throughout most of 2005 all the way to 2010, I relished in becoming a lead guitarist in games like Guitar Hero, and then tried my hand at many instruments with Rock Band. I won't lie, I loved it. It was the closest thing to the feeling of being on a stage, albeit using cheap, plastic toys instead of real instruments. Then Power Gig tried its hand at offering a real guitar (a smaller scaled one) but ended up being an abysmal experience that barely worked. I was ready to write off music games that used real instruments as controllers. It seemed gimmicky, and I couldn't see it working as intended. It's also largely the reason I skipped the original Rocksmith.
Rocksmith 2014 has completely restored my faith.
What is Rocksmith 2014?
At its very core, Rocksmith 2014 isn't as much a music game as it is a teaching tool. Sure, there are 50 songs for you to actually perform, but the software is very much built toward guitar beginners. That's certainly not a bad thing, because the staggering amount of classes, tutorials, and training exercises it offers rival any guitar class, and for a really cheap price comparatively.
Being good at the guitar certainly doesn't take away anything from the experience. You may not get as much use out of the myriad of exercises, but instead, you can hop directly into each song's score attack mode and try out your guitar skills on various difficulty levels. Trust me, you're really playing guitar here.
Rocksmith 2014, like its predecessor, also allows you to plug in your bass guitar, and has separate tabs specifically for the bass. Don't have a bass? No problem. Rocksmith 2014 can simulate a bass sound using your guitar, and all you'll have to do is just play the first four strings.
Rocksmith 2014 comes with an extensive amount of guitar basics, including everything from re-stringing and tuning your guitar (two very basic yet essential skills) all the way to learning chord progression, palm muting, and power chords. For the uninitiated, Guitar 101 classes will familiarize you with pretty much every aspect of your guitar.
While scrolling through the song list, you'll also find Guitar 101 recommendations based on the song you picked. For example, if a song heavily uses solos with chord progression, you'll see a recommendation for Chord Progression 101 to help you familiarize yourself and improve your skills. It's yet another genius way to get players better at the art of guitar.
Pick up that guitar and learn some songs
The game is excellent at judging how skilled you are at playing guitar. When first starting out, songs are super easy, with not a power chord to be seen. However, as you nail those notes perfectly, Rocksmith automatically adjusts the difficulty on the fly. If you're doing really well, it's not uncommon for the game to switch to power chords mid-song, and that's awesome.
The best part is that unlike Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the notes you're strumming are literally part of the song, which means what you're hearing through the speakers is you! It might not sound great starting out, especially if you're just beginning to learn guitar, but once you nail a song, you'll undoubtedly feel like a rockstar.
If you do want more of a 'game' experience, you can turn on Score Attack, which I mentioned above. Instead of the progressive difficulty adjustment, you'll pick from various difficulty levels depending on your guitar skill, and literally perform the whole song from start to finish.
The song selection is definitely geared toward classic rock enthusiasts, with some pop-punk artists like Paramore and Green Day thrown in for good measure.
Guitarcade is like a whole separate game, and that's rad
Probably one of the most clever additions to Rocksmith 2014 is Guitarcade. If this mode had its own separate release, I wouldn't be surprised. It's jam packed with different games that will improve your guitar skills without you even realizing it.
Scale Racer, for example, has you escaping from the police on a busy highway, and you have to switch lanes by correctly playing the right fret, depending on which chord key you chose in the main menu. String Skip Saloon, on the other hand, is a Root Beer Tapper style mini-game that has you strumming the correct string depending on which lane has a customer in it.
Each game also comes with three objectives that constantly update, like those you find in mobile games like Jetpack Joyride. It keeps you hooked as you constantly improve your scores while simultaneously improving your guitar skills.
The great part about this is that each mini-game focuses on a different guitar skill, such as bends, chords, scales, harmonics, etc. So playing through each of them will get you good at those particular skills.
Guitarcade is a delight for your eyes and ears. Rocking a stylized 8-bit/3D retro style combined with a chiptune soundtrack, you'll get lost in its charming visuals.
Getting used to the note highway
If you've played the previous Rocksmith, you're already a step ahead of everyone. However, if you're coming from games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, seeing the note highway might be a little strange at first.
Notes still come in from the top of the screen, but now you have an entire fret board, as well as separate notes per string to worry about. It can seem daunting at first, and I have to admit that even as an experienced guitarist, I found myself confused. Don't worry though, because like I mentioned before, the game eases you in most of the tracks, making it pretty manageable to learn where your fingers need to go.
Sessions are a cool idea, if a bit lacking
If you want to jam out, you can do that in Session Mode. Here you can set up a virtual band, pick their instruments, set the key, speed, and style, and then just start playing and the band will follow along with you. If you play soft or hard, the band will try to match it, as to make it sound natural.
However, since you have no real way of telling your band when to switch chords, or a method of programming multiple chords, I found myself rather confused, and didn't really use it as much. It's certainly a cool idea, and those patient enough to fiddle around with it might get more use out of it, but it's not as fully featured as I would have liked.
Audio set up can be a pain
If you're playing on consoles, chances are you don't currently have your audio set up the way Rocksmith requires. A majority of you will have your sound coming out of HDMI, which unfortunately makes the guitar sound lag just a split second after you pluck it. For musicians like myself, this was incredibly frustrating, and trying to keep the correct rhythm was often hard when I kept hearing my strumming slightly delayed.
The only way to get optimal sound requires a bit of tweaking. You'll need to use the red and white audio cable outputs instead of HDMI to get the sound to come out lag-free. For someone like me, who made the switch to HDMI-only and doesn't even have the original Audio/Video cables for my Xbox 360 anymore, this was pretty problematic.
However, if you're on a PC, that lag is completely gone. For that reason alone, I highly recommend picking up that version if you can, as you'll get the far superior audio quality that way.
For guitar beginners and aficionados alike
Rocksmith 2014 is easily one of the best, if not the best, guitar simulator I've ever played. Feeling like a rockstar with plastic instruments in hand is a thing of the past. Rocking out to "Walk This Way" while hearing my guitar actually come through the speakers was a surreal experience.
If you're an aspiring guitarist and have an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PC, do yourself a favor. Stop wasting money on expensive guitar lessons, and instead get Rocksmith 2014. The wealth of knowledge included more than pays for itself, and you'll find that learning to play an instrument is easier than you've ever imagined.
[Played on both Xbox 360 and PC, Primarily reviewed on PC]