Since the time I first saw Bruce Springsteen perform on TV at the age of 14, I’ve been a huge fan of good ol’ rock n roll. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play my favorite songs on guitar, but my dedication to actually learning how to play the instrument has never matched my fantasies. I had played a small amount of the original Rocksmith and certainly had fun when I played it. It was what I always wanted Guitar Hero to be; a game that let me have fun playing along to my favorite songs while also teaching me how to really play a guitar. Rocksmith 2014improves upon the original Rocksmith in just about every single way.
Rocksmith 2014 is less of a music game and more of a music tutor. The packed in USB cable allows you to plug in any electric guitar or bass and use that as your controller. The main part of the game, playing songs, works in a similar way to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Notes descend along the screen and you play them once they hit the fretboard on screen. Unlike in the original Rocksmith, the fret numbers are displayed under the fretboard so getting your bearings, especially if you’re new to guitar, is much simpler than before. The song selection is much better this time around, featuring a larger variety of rock subgenres from Bob Dylan to Green Day to Avenged Sevenfold. You can also purchase most of the songs from the original Rocksmith as DLC.
Rocksmith eases you into each song, and gradually ramps up the difficulty based on how well you are playing. This is all seamless, and actually occurs as you are playing songs. If you start nailing certain parts of a song, the game will throw in a chord or extra notes until you work your way up to Master Mode, where no notes appear and you play the song from memory. If you’re already experienced with the guitar, you can up the difficulty from the get go, unlike in the original game where you had to play the song repeatedly to access the highest difficulty.
As I said before, Rocksmith is all about learning to play the guitar, not just getting high scores (though there is a Score Attack mode similar to how Guitar Heroand Rock Band graded your performance). It features an impressive archive of chords, techniques and lessons, and caters the experience based on how you play. When you select a song from the menu, the game will recommend lessons, games, or parts of the song to work on to better help you improve your shredding skills. You can jump into these right from the song selection menu, and then get back to the song to out your newly developed chops to the test.
Riff Repeater is one of the best tools for learning a particularly tricky song part. It allows you to practice a select part of the song over and over until you feel comfortable playing it. You can adjust the difficulty and speed, and even have the game gradually ramp both up as you improve your playing. Once you feel comfortable, you can jump right back into the song, and continue on wailing.
Outside of playing songs, there is a ton of stuff to do in Rocksmith 2014, all designed to make playing guitar easy and fun. The lessons and Guitarcade make a welcome return in this edition. The video lessons serve as an introduction to techniques such as slides or bends, and are accompanied with a playable track that you can practice said technique with. Every common guitar technique is covered, as well as quite a few advanced ones. Guitarcade is a set of minigames designed to hone your guitar work, whether it’s playing chords, hitting the right string, or nailing a bend. These games are there to make practice fun, and they succeed in every sense of the word. Playing scales over and over can be mind-numbing, but doing it as part of a game involving a car chase makes it much more interesting.
New to Rocksmith 2014 is Session Mode, one of the most exciting additions for those already familiar with playing the guitar. Session mode allows you to select instruments for a virtual band that you can play along with. This is an absolutely fantastic way to work on learning scales, playing lead, and most importantly, discovering your own style of play. This is where Rocksmith 2014 truly lets you be creative as a musician and you can easily spend hours shredding away in this mode.
Likewise, Rocksmith 2014 also features a robust amp simulator. The game essentially turns your TV into an amp, and you can now choose between dozens of amps (including some name brands such as Marshall and Orange), cabinets, and effects to create just about any kind of sound you could want. Best of all, you can hot key your custom sounds to the right analog stick (up to 3 in total) and switch to them at any point in the game, including during songs.
As in the original game, Rocksmith 2014 features a multiplayer mode where a friend can play along. Playing songs with friends is a blast, and you can even jam together in Session Mode. However, it would have been nice to also compete against each other in the Guitarcade minigames, as the only competitive mode is Score Attack. Also, playing with a second player requires logging in another User, which would be fine, except their progress with songs isn’t saved, so what’s the point in even making that a requirement?
Rocksmith 2014 is not going to be the end all be all way to learn the guitar, but it is without a doubt an incredibly versatile tool for getting you there. Most importantly, it allows you to learn at your own pace, and makes even the most boring parts of practicing (scales) fun (Scale Runner). Whether you’re a total beginner, or have been playing for years, Rocksmith 2014 is sure to help you improve your guitar playing chops.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.