Even from young age I always fancied myself as some kind of rock God. I’d stand in front of the stereo, fake-guitar in hand (usually a cricket bat or tennis racket), and jam to whatever music was blaring from it at that particular moment in time. As time went on, I replaced the fake guitar with a real electric guitar and replaced the attempts at playing along with music with just trying to learn the songs themselves. Things didn’t work out the way I wanted though, and time, school and (eventually) moving half way across the country in order to find a job all got in the way of learning the guitar. So much so that the axe I’d wanted for so long would sit in the corner of my flat, literally gathering dust.
That was until I was given the opportunity to review this year’s offering of Rocksmith; Rocksmith 2014.
The first important thing to mention – and a distinction that Ubisoft themselves are trying hard to get people to realise – is that Rocksmith 2014 isn’t Rocksmith 2. You don’t need last year’s Rocksmith in order to play 2014 Edition – you don’t even need to have picked up a guitar before (although you do need to own one). Rocksmith 2014 takes the original ideas shown in Rocksmith, improves upon almost every aspect, tweaks some of the features, and fills the bank of songs with a vast array of rock-inducing anthems.
Want to learn to play Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’? Sure, it’s on there. Arctic Monkeys’ ‘R U Mine?’. Yup, that’s there too, as well as a plethora of other songs to get your skills up if you’ve never played before, or even just to give you a challenge if you’re already a fretboard master.
When you first start up Rocksmith 2014, you’ll be asked what you’ll be wanting to play. You can play as the lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist or the bassist. What you choose will depend entirely on your current play style, what instrument you have as well as a heavy dose of personal preference. As the guy who would rock out in front of the radio/stereo, I naturally chose lead guitar and immediately got to work learning some of the songs on offer. Each of the songs will start out at 0% completion when you first start them, and this percentage will increase the more you play that particular song – the idea being that as soon as a song hits 100% you can feel confident that you fully know how to play it, without any need for Rocksmith itself. You’ll have learnt the song, which is the intention.
Rocksmith will constantly analyse your abilities and then suggest lessons for you to play through in order to improve your guitar playing abilities. If you messed up a little bit in a pre-chorus phrase, it’ll suggest that you play through that phrase over and over again until you’ve mastered it. Perhaps you kept messing up on a particular chord? Rocksmith will probably suggest that you take a look at the chord close up and figure out where your fingers are supposed to go, and then play through the song again. Basically, if you follow the “Rocksmith Recommends” feature you can be sure that you’re getting the best lessons you can, based on your current ability and whichever song you’re trying to play at that particular moment in time.
Aside from learning each of the songs that are included on the disc, there’s also the ability to play through a series of ‘Guitarcade’ mini-games in order to improve your abilities in a few various different techniques. Maybe you find yourself a little but rusty at picking out specific strings quickly, so there’s a mini-game in the Guitarcade that allows you to perfect these skills, getting a score and levelling up in order to keep you wanting to play (and learn). Each time you level up you’ll unlock something new too. It could be something as simple as an inlay for the guitar track, or it could be something as useful as a new cabinet and tone. If there’s one thing that Rocksmith 2014 does well, it’s keeping the player wanting to play, which is of vital importance when learning guitar.
Maybe you don’t need to learn anything new at all, maybe you just want to plug your guitar into something that will act as both an amp and a set of effects pedals. Well, Rocksmith 2014 has you covered in that respect too. Leave the game on the Main Menu while you’re playing and you’ll be able to play your guitar through any number of the amps that come bundled as part of the package. You can even use the built-in Tone Editor, work out your own unique sound, and then assign that tone to either left, right or down in the controller’s right analog stick. You can then switch through the different tones by simply flicking the analog stick. It’s not quite as precise as an actual switch pedal, but if you want to get all of the benefits of having a huge amp and a range of switch pedals, but without the cumbersome nature of an actual amp, then there’s never been a better option than Rocksmith. So it’s even relatively impressive for people who already know how to wield an axe; you can’t ask for more than that.
There’s even something for those people that just want to play Rocksmith 2014 as if it’s Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Just playing all of the notes that are coming down the track, hitting as many as you can to get that score up, then pass it along to a friend to see if they can beat it. The Score Attack mode perfectly suits this need. You choose a song to play through, choose ‘Easy’, ‘Medium’ or ‘Hard’, and then get stuck in. In a move reminiscent of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, you’re given three X’s, get all three of them (which happens when you completely mess up a particular phrase) then it’s game over for you and the song will come to an end. Get to the end of the song, however, and you’ll be given a plectrum based on the difficulty level that you chose. If you went the ‘Easy’ route, you’ll get a Bronze, ‘Medium’ gets a silver and ‘Hard’ gets the coveted Gold plectrum.
VERDICT: Whether you’re looking to learn guitar, brush up on your existing skills or looking for something to practising your current skills with, Rocksmith 2014 scratches all of the guitar-based itches you could possibly hope for. You’ll find yourself playing the same songs over and over again in an attempt to get that percentage even higher, as well as going through all of the lessons so that you can become better at the instrument that you always wanted to learn. Rocksmith 2014 isn’t a game, but it never really pretends to be one. There are gameplay element that allow it to feel at home in a party situation, but if you want to get the most out of the title, it’s something that you’ll be putting on day after day, even just for a song or two, until you’re shredding with the best of them.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.