Rocksmith 2014 Review

Everyone wants to learn how to play guitar at some point or another. I definitely have as I’ve taken lesson before and whenever people aren’t around, I will noodle away on the nice little classical guitar I’ve had for years. Now every person’s way of learning a musical instrument is different but overall, your best bet is to get your self a good teacher and take lessons.

However, if you’re someone like myself who has a really weird and ever changing schedule, lessons might not work for you. Sorting out times and days when you can go, having to skip weeks, etc, etc. Lessons, while incredibly helpful, can sometimes end up being a bit of a pain. But if you still want to learn, what are you options? YouTube? Not for me thanks. Trying to learn from books hasn’t really worked for me either, for my personal learning style, I needed something more interactive. When Ubisoft Canada offered a chance to review Rocksmith 2014, I jumped at the chance.

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Rocksmith 2014 is a guitar (and bass) teaching program developed for video game consoles like Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as Mac and PC computer platforms. It comes in two forms. One is a basic set that includes the program disc and Real Tone adapter cable (so you can plug your guitar into the system, note, you will need to be able to plug your guitar into the system to use it). The other includes an actual electric guitar, an Epiphone Jr. model. Rocksmith 2014 claims to be able to be able to teach you guitar if you use it an hour a day for sixty days.

So… can it?

After having it for a review period of around 30 days, I can honestly say there’s a solid chance that their claim is accurate.

rocksmith-2014-edition-18277The first thing you’ve got to do is take out the notion that Rocksmith is a game. It’s not, it’s a guitar teaching system. To compare it to a game like Guitar Hero is not really a good base. While Rocksmith does share some aesthetics with Guitar Hero and Rock Band (the use of colored bars for notes for instance), Rocksmith isn’t miming guitar, it’s teaching you how to play it using familiar ideas and an incredible variety of techniques to get you up and playing. There are straight a head lessons, mini games to go along with lessons (like strumming a note in time to keep an animate figure up in the air) and popular songs to keep you motivated.

It’s in the songs that I think Rocksmith has found a real key element.

Let’s face it, when you buy your first guitar, the last thing you want to learn is Greensleeves or some other ancient song you’ve never heard of. You want to play something by The Ramones or Rush. Rocksmith has taken the lessons and uses the songs to implement them. So for instance, when learn how to play basic notes, after you do the initial lesson, you can choose a song and then play at the lessons difficulty to the song. So you can play along with Rush for instance but only one note, in time. Eventually you work your way up to more notes and chords and soon you’re playing along with the music.

rsBut beyond that you can also play with others (depending on your online services), practise through various methods and just even have a crack at playing the song on their lonesome with little instruction. For those who dig gear and creating their own sounds, that’s available too, as there are a mass amount of pedals and effects and amps and pre-amps ready to be used at your finger tips. Think you’ve got a better sound for a Ramones song? You can go into set up and change the sound of your guitar to the sound you want. Or you can just play it like Johnny did, it’s up to you. The guitar sounds like an actual guitar through an amp, adding to the overall experience.

My experience with Rocksmith 2014 was an incredibly positive one. While I don’t think it is better than an actual, good, human instructor, for someone like myself, it’s the next best thing and I was probably using it in the worst set up possible. Rocksmith recommends that you hook up the audio from your platform (in my case, an Xbox 360) to a separate unit like a home theater system as opposed running both audio and video through the tv. In my current set up, I don’t have that option but I didn’t find any of the lag that they warn you against. In fact the only issue I had with the set up was it took me forever to tune the guitar but I think that had less to do with the program and more to do with the guitar sitting in the back of a cold FedEx truck all day before it got delivered to me. The guitar itself, a solid junior model. If you have big meaty hands like mine, you may want to stick with just the game / cable edition of Rocksmith and purchase an adult model guitar for yourself.

In Rocksmith 2014, Ubisoft has done what Guitar Hero could not. Teach you  how to play guitar. This will not be for everyone. Some people will need a more hands on approach to lessons and you can never beat the lessons of someone sitting right beside you who can teach you alternative methods for strumming, posture or pointing out that your holding the guitar upside down but put it this way, I’m convinced enough to continue using it after my review period is up. I might not go for Ubisoft’s sixty day challenge but I really like the idea of learning how to play guitar within the next calendar year.

If this sounds like it is up your alley, you can find Rocksmith 2014 available at a majority of electronic and video game retailers.

 

Brent Chittenden

Brent Chittenden is a freelance writer with a gift for the geek. Currently a writer with A Journal Of Musical Things and a podcaster with True North Nerds, he's also written for Comic Book Daily, Explore Music and a dozen other places. Currently, he is the co-host of the True North Nerds podcast. You can find out more at www.facebook.com/bcchittenden

4 thoughts on “Rocksmith 2014 Review

  • January 31, 2014 at 9:26 am
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    Glad you liked it. I’ve been addicted to this “game”. I’m about 4 years in of playing guitar and since the release of this game last October, I’ve seen my skills significantly improve. You didn’t mention the great artists content available on disc and up for download like the wonderful Radiohead 5 song pack that I’m addicted to. But I think Paranoid Android is the song I’ve focused on learning the most which fortunately comes on disc. Enjoy and I hope to hear updates about your progress.

    Reply
  • January 31, 2014 at 7:24 pm
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    The guys at my favourite game review site (Giant Bomb) were completely flabbergasted that the original Rocksmith … worked. It sounded too good to be true in its pre-release hype.

    After your review, sounds like it would be useful to me. I’ve never really gone past just chording along or playing simple leads.

    Reply
  • February 1, 2014 at 9:24 am
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    Glad to hear you’ve had fun with it, Brent. The wife got me the cable for Christmas, but RS and RS’14 had been sitting on my Steam account for months, waiting.

    I’ve been a guitarist for most of my life, a good guitarist for a few of those years, and a teacher for half the time I’ve been playing.

    While I can say that my playing has gotten worse, when life gets in the way, RockSmith has also gone a long way to get me back in shape. I’ve personally been using the library as motivation, and a form of technical-drilling.

    From the other end of the spectrum, RS2014 has features that let you break the song into phrases, and drill those phrases at different difficulty-levels (which do, at least *look* like Guitar Hero operates), and more importantly for me, speeds.

    While I know every technique behind the “Alive” solo, or “Beast and the Harlot”, I don’t have the time to learn/memorize every note by-ear, like I once did.

    Gone are the days of dropping the needle on “IV” picking up the guitar, and piecing out “Black Dog” three notes at a time, before dropping it again.

    So it’s great to have “No Rain”‘s bouncy little solo waiting for me to dig in, at 90% speed, and have it be note-for note, aside from the human-element (plus narcotics) in the studio recording.

    The little issues I have with it are occasional accuracy problems, with the program “hearing” everything correctly in busier songs, and slowdown, when there are dozens of notes onscreen at a time. The added difficulty adds processing, adds lag, adds inaccuracy, adds “meta-gaming” the system moments, adds difficulty…

    …the other hiccup for longtime guitarists is that the visual representation of the strings seems wrong. While the “colours” map what you see from a “behind the neck” view, every notation-system from classical Treble staves to TAB, bases the position on pitch. “Low-E sounds low, so it’s on the bottom.” is true everywhere else, but here. So for sight readers, the game is confusing for five minutes at low-difficulty, which then goes away… but comes back with a vengeance at full-difficulty, staring down a solo with what can only be compared to doing a metric-system conversion, on the fly.

    Otherwise, it’s a fantastic tool.

    The original RS is actually more like GH/RB. It documents your “journey” as a band musician, playing sets at increasingly less louse-ridden dives. The set-design is actually great – I swear I’ve played at nearly all of these places.
    Play well, and you get encores, which might unlock new songs, which might contain new playing techniques (versus 2014, which hands you everything at the start, and is basically a rehearsals simulator — including a daydream hallucination of a stadium).

    The audience in the original, however, feels copied out of an N64 hockey/wrestling game. Personally, I found it worthwhile to own RS and pay the cash-grab “song-importer fee”, for updated versions of the tracks from the first game. The hours I put into spacing out with “Outshined” alone, might be worth it, compared to cost per movie ticket, or cost per single-player game.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2014 at 8:16 am
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      You can actually invert the strings in the settings. I prefer low E (red string) at the bottom so I play this way. Makes chords MUCH easier to read

      Reply

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