With the foundation laid, fixes and streamlining are the order of the day
Sophomore AlbumThe second album is always the hardest; it's one thing to create something new and exciting, it's often much harder develop and maintain your new sound without fading away into obscurity. Ubisoft's 2011 antidote for the long suffering rhythm genre was the excellently conceived Rocksmith, wisely picking up the baton dropped by Harmonix and the Rock Band series and running towards it's logical conclusion of an in depth teaching tool which took all the tropes and hooks of a rhythm based video game and combined it with real instruments and learning aids.
The result was the definition of a rough diamond, incredibly valuable and useful for those struggling to maintain momentum with learning an instrument; but at the same time flawed with the growing pains of new software coming in white hot. Rocksmith 2014 is Ubisofts chance to build on the solid foundation set by the first title; whilst cherry picking useful improvements from the mountain of feedback generated by the enthusiastic audience which has grown around the series.
With the foundation laid, fixes and streamlining are the order of the day here. The core concept remains; take any electric guitar or bass and plug it into your 360 with the 1/4 inch jack to USB cable provided in the box and you have just converted your home audio setup into a makeshift amp. Rocksmith 2014 does much more to accommodate different skill levels and now fully leans into it's role as guitar tutor. From the get go newcomers are coaxed into the experience by a variety of videos and tutorials showing you how to hold your pick and tune your guitar as well as familiarising you with the highway format you are about to spend hours staring at.
Once they are sure you aren't going to hurt yourself with your instrument you are let loose on the full experience which has been improved in almost every way. Gone are the slow and unwieldy menus, replaced with bright snappy lists which are far easier to navigate. There is now no arbitrary career to grind through, meaning you don't have to play through tracks you don't like to collect fans or unlock venues, you simply pick an activity and play. The approach can seem aimless at first; until you realise your not there to collect achievements or tick off objectives, you're there to learn and Rocksmith is here to help.
Sitting proudly at the top of the menu is "Learn a Song", where all the 55 songs on the disc are available. If you have a save on your hard drive from the original Rocksmith the majority of those tracks can also be imported for a small fee and any DLC you may have purchased from the expanding store will also be available.
You're there to learn and Rocksmith is here to help.
Back to SchoolThe dynamic difficulty returns starting you out with single note baby steps before it lets you run with the full chords which actually resemble the song you are playing. The better you play the harder the song gets until you are simply playing along with the full track, miss too many though and you will be downgraded until you prove yourself again.
It's here where the real improvements start to show; experienced players are no longer locked into the frustratingly slow learning curve and can simply edit the difficulty of sections or the entire song, riff repeater which allows you to concentrate on a particular section; slowing it down and gradually increasing the difficulty; has been integrated directly into the playing experience so you can pause, riff repeat a section and then go straight back into playing the track with nary a menu or loading screen in sight.
Similarly once you have reached the top of the learning curve for a track Master Mode; which removes the notes on the highway completely leaving you playing along with the backing track; automatically engages fading away the notes for sections you have mastered.
It's these little details that make Rocksmith 2014 a joy to play
It's these little details that make Rocksmith 2014 a joy to play, the interface no longer stands between you and addictive process of learning your favourite tracks, technical elements have been improved so palm mutes, bends and harmonics are recognised much more consistently although they still have issues, some problems can be resolved by retuning, the in game tuner can be a little sloppy in places but the process has at least been streamlined so you won't have to retune between tracks if they use the same tuning.
Then there's the all new session mode where you can put together an AI band who will play along with you responding to how you play, pluck softly and slowly and the drums will drop out to a mere pulse; pick up the pace and the band will move with you, it works really nicely and allows you to work on your freestyle improvisation rather than just the rigidity of the defined set list. You can pick from a variety of instruments to compose your virtual band from mandolins to pianos. Select a key and it will display the appropriate scale letting you know which notes will sound best and letting you experiment. There are a host of other options including BPM and the play style of the AI.
Take FiveIt's not all super serious learning however, Guitarcade returns with a selection of mini games which have you practicing techniques whilst climbing the the leader boards and reaching for high scores. Some are more successful than others but they do help you become more comfortable with your instrument. Scale Racer delivers one of the more interesting ways to learn scales and Return to Castle Chordead has you killing zombies with a guitar in first person by strumming out the correct chords under pressure.
At worst they are fun distraction which can put in the hands of friends instead of the straight laced learning mode and at best they are a fun way to develop specific skills outside of replaying the set list over and over.
While Learn a Song, Session Mode and Guitarcade make up the core pillars of the product, there is still more depth. There are multiple paths available allowing you to play Lead, Rhythm and Bass, Multi-player allows you and a friend to play a combination of the three together. Amp mode has been baked into the menus, strumming in the menus will use the settings applied in Tone Designer where you can access all the authentic song tones from the library and jam out to your hearts desire. Lessons takes directly from Youtube culture with 85 lessons dedicated to helping you learn techniques like bends, accents and slides; complete with video interactive challenges so you can practice there and then.
All of these peripheral elements are baked into Learn a Song mode which might point you towards a particular Lesson, Guitarcade game or technique challenge to help you improve on the song you are attempting to learn.
Certified 3x Platinum
- Improved interface
- Streamlined feature set
- Growing DLC selection
- Actually works!
One Hit Wonder
- Still some quirks with a few technical elements
Rocksmith 2014 Xbox 360 reviewRocksmith has made it, they successfully snuck the first edition onto store shelves placing it nonchalantly next to conventional games. With it's foot in the door it has unashamedly shed many of it gaming roots, no longer slapping you on the back mid song with "100 streak" (This has been stowed away in Score Attack mode) or unlocking a new venue to ignore whilst you concentrate on your finger placement.
Rocksmith 2014 is not a game. The entire experience has moved towards a far more comprehensive and complete learning experience, removing the barrier of the unweidly software, streamlining and intertwining all of its elements to offer a customisable learning aid which you can approach from any angle. Newcomers can be saved many of those "stupid question but..." Google searches with the tutorial videos and lessons, experienced veterans get 55+ new authentic song tones and backing tracks to play with and those not so serious about mastering the instrument can simply download some their favourite songs or jam along in session mode after closing time.
When I look back over my rhythm game playing career one of the sorest points is my Rockband library, a hard drive filling dormant collection of 300 plus tracks which cost more than I am willing to formally acknowledge. Not that I regret it, they provided hours of party game fun whilst bringing together two of my favourite mediums and now they are part of a briefly monolithic fad which had to burn down to allow the rebirth of this gloriously golden guitar wielding phoenix.
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