Video Game Review: Rocksmith 2014 Edition

I’ve extolled the wonders of Rocksmith before on my blog. It’s this absolutely fantastic video game that has the side effect of teaching you how to play electric guitar and bass. Guitar Hero or Rock Band on steroids.

And they just released a new version while I was away on vacation.

50+ new songs, supposed awesome new features–I simply had to buy the thing. I’ve had some time now to play with it a fair bit, and I’m here to give you a verdict. It should come as no big surprise that the verdict is a resounding “BUY THIS GAME” for anyone remotely interested in playing guitar or bass. As before, the set up is simple. You take your electric bass or guitar and plug it into your PS3/XBox 360/PC/Mac. You don’t need a specialty controller–your guitar is the controller. There are more than 50 new songs to choose from (and you can import your old Rocksmith songs over all at once for a $10 fee). There’s everything from The Police to Aerosmith to The Cars to Iron Maiden, plus hundreds of downloadable songs, with more coming out each week. (At about $3/song, if you choose to buy them.)

Notes come down a “musical highway” similar to Guitar Hero. The difference here is that they correspond to real strings and frets, as opposed to colored buttons on a junky plastic fake guitar. You’re playing along with the real song. They’ve removed the part that you’re supposed to play. So you hear what you’re doing, as you’re doing it. However, since we’re not all guitar gods, they adjust the difficulty to your ability. If you’re an absolute beginner, you might have to play one note every few seconds. They fill in the rest with the original part. As you get better, you’re responsible for more and more of the notes. It adds them as the game senses your ability growing, until by the end, it’s all just you.

The game’s added some great features that make this an even better purchase now than it was before.

  • Session mode–You can put together a drummer and supporting instruments. They’ll play base chords, and you get to improvise along with them. The game does a fair job introducing you to the principles of how to do this, so you’re not just tossed to the wolves and forgotten. It’s a pretty cool set up.
  • Mini-Games–The games have been improved dramatically. They’re actually fun to play, and they still do a good job helping you practice guitar fundamentals, whether it’s honing your chords, getting your picking technique down, or learning your scales. Makes me wonder how far we are from a Pianosmith. 🙂
  • The songs themselves offer much more complete information, including which fingers to use, and tips on how to get better on each song. You’re not deluged with information, though. It’s a fine line to walk, and they’ve pulled it off effortlessly.
  • Riff Repeater–the game has a built in way for you to “level up” your playing ability on each song. With old Rocksmith, you had to exit a song, go to a particular piece, practice that, then exit it again to pick a new part of the song to practice. That’s all gone now. You can be in the middle of a song, bring up the riff repeater, and choose what part of the song you want to work on–how slow you want it adjusted, how difficult you want it to be (how many notes)–you name it. And once you’re through practicing, you can go and finish the song, right from there.

Really, one of the biggest differences is the absence of waiting. With the old game, there were a ton of load screens and tuning checks and menus. Those are drastically diminished, so you can just play. There’s even a mode that lets you pick how long you want to play for, and then it goes from one song to the next with no wait between. Fantastic.

Now, a disclaimer. This game doesn’t make learning the guitar easy. It’s still a skill that takes lots of practice and work. So don’t think you’re going to get the game and go from a know-nothing to a know-everything in a week or two. I’ve been playing it pretty steadily for two years now, and I’m to the point where there are some songs that I have down solid, but there are plenty of harder songs that I still really struggle with. What the game does is make it possible to learn in a fun manner. It’s perfect for me, and if you have any experience learning a new instrument, I think you’ll really enjoy this game.

In the end, I’d say this is a game for pretty much anyone interested in playing the guitar. It’ll start with the very basics and go all the way up to advanced technique. If you’re already a pro, I suppose it might not hold as much interest–though the sessions mode and the tons of amp choices might persuade you. It’s not cheap, but compared to the cost of taking lessons, it’s a real steal.

Anyone else out there already playing it? Let me know what you think!

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