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March 7, 2014 / Jett

Rocksmith 2014 Review

I owe a lot to the original Rocksmith. With its help, I achieved my lifelong dream of being able to playing the guitar with some form of competency. Sure, I have a long way to go before I can rock a sold out stadium, but I’ve developed a foundation of knowledge and skills to play music today with a clear road map for growth that I can follow with or without the game. Case in point, I was able to learn the song 22 by Taylor Swift without any assistance from the game, which I think was a huge milestone in the development of my guitar skills.

With that said, that original Rocksmith didn’t make the learning process as seamless as it could have been. On a fundamental level, it was a good teaching tool trapped in a bad video game, as its traditional career mode ended up hampering the learning process for players of all skill levels. This time, Rocksmith 2014 cuts any pretense of trying to be the next Guitar Hero to instead focus on being the best guitar teacher it can be.

It’s first dramatic improvement comes by means of subtraction. This game addresses the failures of its predecessor’s career mode by cutting it entirely. Instead, it’s replaced by Learn A Song, which is exactly what it sounds like. You pick songs from the menu and can take them on in any order. Once you’re in a song, the game will dynamically adjust the difficulty of each section based on your performance. However, unlike last year’s game, you have the freedom to control the difficulty of each section yourself as well. Having this freedom solves a lot of use cases where the dynamic difficulty actually acted as a barrier. If you feel like the song is getting too hard too fast, you can tone it down yourself. Or, if you already know your way around the song, you don’t have to trudge through beginner-level note charts to get to more advanced notations.

All of this can be done within the Riff Repeater, which is now built into the main mode. At any point in a song, you can open the Riff Repeater, isolate a specific section and practice it at your own pace. You have the ability to adjust its difficulty, speed and even the game’s tolerance for error. In the old game, nothing less than a perfect performance of a section would trigger the game to raise the difficulty for you, which I found to be overly restrictive as I got better. Instead, you can now have the option to set how lenient the game will judge your performance. Best of all, if you hit a sequence right in the Riff Repeater, the section in the Riff Repeater as well as the actual song will update in difficulty. You no longer have to worry about leaving the training mode and hoping you’ll nail 100% of the notes during the one time a particular riff shows up in a track. This fundamental shift in approach makes the teaching tools much more natural and usable.

This year’s new edition is Session mode. With it, you can perform any song you want with a virtual band that will dynamically play along with you. When it works, the effect is really cool. However, there are two factors that reduce its usability for me. One, audio lag becomes a real factor here. The game recommends that you pipe your audio through anything other than your TV, as its processing introduces a noticeable lag that can make it really hard to play. With practice, I’ve been able to play the main game around the delay. However, when the game’s band needs to dynamically adjust to fit your notes when you’re already hearing things off beat, the mode becomes largely useless if you don’t have the right audio setup. The other issue with it is that it’s not nearly as beginner-friendly as the game touts itself to be. You really need to know how to arrange the band and the key of the songs you’re playing in order for it to adjust itself properly.

Rocksmith 2014 is the teaching tool that the original should have been all along. If you’re really committed to putting in the time and effort to learn the instrument, this is a great way to start or supplement your training regiment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to mastering Pour Some Sugar On Me.

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