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Gameplay: "Learn A Song"

Rocksmith 2014 – Xbox 360

Rocksmith 2014 box artPlatform: Xbox 360

Developer: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: October 22, 2013

Genre: Music, Education, Simulation

Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10

Somewhere along the line after the popularity of Guitar Hero died down, Ubisoft said, “Hey, why don’t we make a brand new guitar game, but use real guitars!,” and the world cracked open like an egg and musical yolk spilled out.

Rocksmith has been around for a couple of years, but I decided to take a look at its newest edition- Rocksmith 2014. Mind you, the only musical experience I’ve had was public school choir and a little bit of guitar when I was 13. Being young and impatient, I abandoned that guitar because I was not instantly shredding it like Slash. But there’s always a second chance, and because of Rocksmith, boy was it a sweet second chance. Rocksmith caters to your individual needs to help you grow as a musician.

When you first plug in the game, it recommends that you use external speakers for best audio quality, but I use my TV’s speakers and it works just as well. It will also prompt you to sign up for a Ubisoft account to track your progress, but the account is not necessary. The game keeps track of your ‘mastery’ on every song. Rocksmith asks basic questions before you start, i.e., your prior experience with the instrument, whether you will play lead guitar, rhythm guitar, or bass (which can be switched at any time by hitting the back button, which will take you to the ‘My Path’ screen), if you play right-handed or left-handed, and what the head of your guitar looks like.

The menu

The menu

As soon as you enter the realm of the Rocksmith world, there is a lot of things to do, and it can be overwhelming at first. The first objective you may be tempted to do is ‘Learn A Song’, which is quite alright to poke around in, though it would be wiser to start with ‘Lessons’ first. The game zeros in on your playing style and levels you up accordingly. If you play a part particularly well, Rocksmith will take that part and make it more complex. If you aren’t doing well on a certain part, don’t fret (heh heh, fret), there is a wonderful feature called the ‘Riff Repeater’ that will slow down that part of the song and play it on a loop until you nail it. You can also change the speed and difficulty of the Riff Repeater to suit your learning style. Think 100% difficulty but at 50% speed, this allows you to, as the game states it, “put your nose to the grindstone” and master that solo, riff, or verse.

The graphics in Rocksmith 2014 are colorful, rich, and easy to see. Much to the tune (ha ha, tune) of Guitar Hero, each string is color-coded, from bottom to top: purple, green, orange, blue, yellow, and red. Most of the songs are in simple E Standard tuning, however, when you decide to venture out and try some Nirvana or Rise Against, the game will show you how to properly tune your guitar to match the song.

There are several techniques when it comes to guitar playing, and the game addresses this, albeit sometimes after the song is over and you’re left confused as to why a certain note was squiggly or mutilated in some other fashion. In “Stone” by Alice in Chains, a main part of the riff is to pull a string down and snap it backup, which ruffled me because it was a new concept that was being pushed ono me. After the song was over, Rocksmith dutifully suggested I take a “Bends 101” lesson. Rocksmith will frequently give suggestions on how to improve your performance. This is where a lot of the ‘Lessons’ come in (which you really should do first before you start to play songs).

Lessons use real people to demonstrate certain techniques

Lessons use real people to demonstrate certain techniques

There are tons of detailed lessons that will explain these new concepts and help you practice them until you learn the skill. They even have real models in the videos to demonstrate the correct finger movements. After a certain amount of ‘Mastery’ the songs will transition into ‘Master Mode’, and choice notes will fade out, allowing you to play purely by memory. If you flub, the notes will re-appear for you. Sweet!

One of the most delectable treats in this game is the ‘Session Mode’, where you are the leader of a virtual band. With this band, you can jam to anything: jazz, heavy metal, soft rock, etc. And like a nurturing parent, the game will guide you through everything. ‘Session Mode’ isn’t just mindless jamming, either. Much like learning a song, the virtual band will aid you and gently nudge you to try different techniques or putting two parts together. ‘Nonstop Play’ is self-explanatory. You set the length of time, and Rocksmith will provide the playlist. You can play until your fingers bleed if you want to. ‘Guitarcade’ is one of my faves, as it takes classic arcade-styled games and incorporates them into learning guitar.

Scale Racer mini-game

Scale Racer mini-game

The games are bright, colorful, intriguing, and most importantly- they teach. There are 11 mini-games that focus on technique: Gone Wailin’!, String Skip Saloon, Ducks Redux, Ninja Slide N, Scale Warriors, Return to Castle Chordead, Hurtlin’ Hurdles, Temple of Bends, Scale Racer, Star Chords, and Harmonic Heist.

Return to the Castle of the Chordead mini-game

Return to the Castle of the Chordead mini-game

The wonderful part about these games is that they take away the stress of riveted, boring, and repetitive practicing. In addition, there is Score Attack, which is simply a rhythm game that adds points the more correct notes you hit, and boots you off the song if you can’t play it at all. ‘Multiplayer’ is also exactly what is sounds to be. Hooking up a second cable allots you the opportunity to play with a friend, or your grandma, if you like.

‘Tone Designer’ is a way to customize your own tones during ‘Session Mode’ (like a distorted, heavy tone, or a clean, happy tone), or the ‘Guitarcade’ games.

And finally, there is a multitude of a song selection, from KISS to Weezer, but there is also TONS of reasonably-priced DLC: Lynard Skynyrd, The Black Keys, Halestorm, Megadeath, Three Days Grace, Blink-182, Judas Priest, The Offspring, Queen, and Pantera, just to name a few. There are over 200 songs that can be downloaded, as there are song packs by one artist that can be purchased as a discounted price.

Starting off this game, I was clueless, but now I’m learning faster than I ever could imagine. The important part about learning a new skill, especially a musical one, is to keep an open mind, be patient, and have fun. Even if you’re a seasoned musician, or a newbie such as myself, Rocksmith 2014 is a worthy purchase.

Written by Sarus Vakarian

Sarus is an alien princess training under the best of the MemeLords in a town that is South of Southern Canada. She hates Mass Effect, Invader Zim, Tomb Raider, South Park, and heavy metal. Sarus currently has two Hellhounds under her care.
Feel free to add her on Steam under the name: Commander Lara.
Twitter and Instagram: Sarusvakarian.


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