Rocksmith 2014

Music is a vital and integral part of my life. It connects for me to something deep, primitive and fundamental. Anything I am doing is improved with a soundtrack. A perfectly built chord progression can and has brought tears to my eyes or a laugh to my throat. The patterns of expertly crafted music are more powerful, more resonant to me than seeing a perfect sunset, eating a world-class meal or the feel of warm sun on a bright spring day. And the only reason I pick up a musical interest is in the hopes of tapping into that primitive, powerful place.

It’s pretty easy for me to keep track of how long I’ve owned a guitar. I got my first real six string from my now wife, who surprised me with an Alvarez acoustic in the late spring of 1995. It was and is a beautiful-sounding instrument with a rich, deep resonance — a resonance that I wouldn’t really learn how to unlock for months or perhaps years.

Buying me that guitar had been a leap of faith in more ways than one for my then girlfriend and now spouse of 17 years. I knew nothing about playing guitar, and odds at the time probably were that I’d pick at it a few times before admitting to myself that music was not then nor had ever been my forte. After all, playing guitar is not necessarily easy, and it requires time, passion and maybe a little bit of blood, too.

From the moment I was able to coax out a reasonable-sounding open-G chord, I fell into a kind of on-again, off-again love with the guitar. There is something incredibly tactile about guitar, a way it resonates music not just audibly but also for the player, in a very physical way. You feel the tone in the bones of your fingers, up the meat of your arm, almost resonating inside the hollow sinuses of your head. The physicality of the instrument is undeniable, and there is a wonderful soreness — a lingering note of memory in the fingertips after playing — that has captivated me for almost 20 years now.

It is this intense love of guitar as an instrument, as a contact sport, and as a source of passion, that Rocksmith 2014 seems to fundamentally tap into and enhance. Putting aside all else — the vast improvements to the UI, the tightening of the responsiveness, the eclectic playlist, the exceptional implementation of Session Mode and the countless other tweaks and additions that make Rocksmith 2014 a superior piece of software in every way from its predecessor — putting all that aside, it is simply clear at every turn that this is a product made by people with an unrestrained love for the instrument.

I had steeled myself to be a little disappointed with Rocksmith 2014. After all, the original Rocksmith is an acquired taste. It requires your patience and asks that you not look too closely at the many blemishes. It was a proof of concept, a mostly successful experiment that pushed an envelope Harmonix had not been able to accomplish with Rock Band 3’s Pro Mode, and it lived and died on the single idea that people would take out that real guitar that had been languishing in the closet or under a bed and decide that they would finally learn the damn thing once and for all.

And for the most part it worked as advertised. The game coached you through lessons and mini-games, but also forced you to come to terms with tonality and sound in a way that playing Rock Band 3’s picnic-table of a guitar never could. Where previous music games had been strictly about timing and dexterity, Rocksmith placed its emphasis on musicality. It also eased you into the music with a dynamic system that increased or decreased the complexity of what you were asked to play based on how well you were doing.

In short, Rocksmith closed the gap that had always left other high-profile titles trapped in the limited realm of rhythm games. Rocksmith styled itself as a teacher, a way to actually learn an instrument. The goal of Rocksmith was not to be able to have the highest score or 5 stars on its at-times underwhelming tracklist. The goal of Rocksmith was that you could plug your guitar into an amp and play your instrument.

This is all relevant to a review of Rocksmith 2014 because this almost single-minded dedication to all things in service to the instrument carries through to the new version. There is a kind of selflessness, an element of risk to creating something that exists entirely to serve something external. There would be, I think, the temptation in many studios to take technology that allows input from a guitar, and by extension go down the road of simply thinking of the guitar as a kind of controller and music as the platform for a game. Rocksmith, however, chooses a very different path.

There is an important distinction to be made here between something being a game and something being fun, because whether or not Rocksmith titles qualify under a given definition of “game,” Rocksmith 2014 is probably as consistently fun and often moreso than the majority of games I’ve played this year. The software isn’t just a teacher of guitar, it is a good teacher, one that knows the quickest way to get someone to stop playing is to make playing not seem fun anymore.

Everything in Rocksmith 2014 is aimed at moving you smoothly through the options available to you, whether that is learning a song from the set list, practicing chords/scales/techniques in the Guitarcade or working on improvisational skills in the Session Mode. It is in its ability to intuitively understand both what you want to do and what skill level you are at in that thing that you want to do, Rocksmith 2014 shines bright. It’s as though the software is constantly listening to you, taking in feedback and applying that to the presentation.

The user interface, which was disappointing at best in the original Rocksmith, is as good as promised, if not better. Not only is it intuitive, but it clearly directs you to places you might be interested in, these options based off a system that offers skill-appropriate missions. Do them. Don’t do them. The choice is up to you, but in the vast majority of cases when I followed Rocksmith down the rabbit hole it had set up for me, it made things better. Just finished a song, but missed the A5 chord every time it popped up? Here you go, have a practice at A5. Having troubles bending notes precisely? Here’s a guitarcade game that will make you better at it. Want to just jam for a while in a pentatonic minor scale? Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Session Mode.

People learn through repetition, and repetition is by its nature boring if not open disincentivizing. Rocksmith 2014 walks you down a careful line that encourages repetition when you’re open to it — Riff Repeater is chock full of options that encourage development through repetition and at the same time can be set to progress you through improvement and mastery — but backs off when all you want to do is something comfortable and familiar. Sometimes I don’t want to practice my Ionian scales. Sometimes I just want to play “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and really let go.

Regardless of which direction you want to go, Rocksmith 2014 is ready, able and adept at filling the need. It will always be there to gently nudge when it thinks you can do better or could improve, but it never forces the matter, and it always gives you a sense of accomplishment.

During the years since 1995 that I’ve had a guitar, I’ve always played it for a little while and then lost interest, either because I didn’t know how to develop, or I didn’t feel like I was developing anymore. It was directionless, self-taught growth full of learning terrible habits. The few times I’ve tried organized lessons, it inevitably sterilized the experience for me. I want to play guitar because I want to feel the thrill of creating music, and I want to have that sense of wonder and fun.

So, I will say this, and I do not say it lightly: For me, Rocksmith 2014 is not just a good way to learn to play guitar, it’s the best way. It evokes the pleasure, the joy and a sense of growth and adventure in playing music that I only began to experience with its predecessor, a sense I had only felt in brief moments in years of struggling. There is always something to do in Rocksmith 2014, something to learn, something to develop, and it makes those things easy to access, meaningful to the other things I am learning. And most of all, it makes them fun.

What I have to say, ultimately, about Rocksmith 2014 is that in the 24 hours I’ve spent with the software so far, I regularly feel like I am connected into that space. There are moments, and they are not all that rare, where what I have learned to do with the instrument rises to the level that Rocksmith has set, and everything works (pardon the pun) in concert.

Those are very happy moments for me.

Comments

Huzzah! Rocksmith Day. If it weren't for stuff blowing up at work this morning I probably would have ran out and grabbed the 360 version to kill time while waiting for Steam to unlock and subsequently download. Good thing I decided to take tomorrow off rather than today. SOON.

This is going on my holiday list.

The future of education?

Farscry wrote:

This is going on my holiday list. :)

I'm right there with you on that one.

Watching you and Julian shudder with orgasmic joy over several afters after Mr. Banks returned to the chateau with Rocksmith 2014 was a site to behold.

I can't wait to pick up my neglected guitars and go for a spin!

These are the hardest afternoons to be With Job.

Absolutely. I just went on the Steam website to see if my remote download was done, and it shows me that LiquidMantis is playing Rocksmith 2014. Arrgggh.

Boudreaux wrote:

These are the hardest afternoons to be With Job.

Amen, brother.

I never -- ever -- buy games at full price when they first come out, but I admit I'm sorely tempted today.

It is so good.

If I have some musical knowledge (eh, I can hold a beat and count measures), but zero guitar skills, would anyone recommend playing this game as a start to learning how to play?

As long as you're willing to put in the practice you can certainly learn guitar via Rocksmith. I'd highly recommend some outside study as well, www.JustinGuitar.com for example is a great free resource. With the way Rocksmith 2014 has fleshed out it's a much better absolute beginner tool but you still need to put time into technique practice.

Very nice, thank for the review.

I passed on the first release and completely missed this new one. Based on a few other reviews it looks like they did a much better job here. Does it ONLY play with electric or can I dig out my old POS Ibanez A/E and get started?

Thanks in advance:)

0megawolf wrote:

Does it ONLY play with electric or can I dig out my old POS Ibanez A/E and get started?

Thanks in advance:)

I think I heard in a previous GWJ CC that it works with an acoustic but since the game acts as an amp, it's not as good. Plus also something about some techniques not possible on tighter stringed acoustics.

But that was for the previous version. I'm interested in knowing how an acoustic fares on 2014, as I think I'd rather spend the money on the game first and try it out with my electric acoustic rather than but an electric first.

My roommate has tried to encourage me to give Rocksmith a whirl in learning to play guitar, but one of the things holding me back was 1) for some reason I don't want to play on his Playstation, and 2) 'dat interface...not the most friendly.

Now I'm caught on the fence once again, as it sounds like the interface in 2014 is much more improved, when my plan was to steal his copy of the original to use on my PS3 in my room.

We'll see. I have no clue if "playing guitar" will be as frequent a hobby for me as "making a comic" (not very common), but improvement is improvement.

I played a bunch last night. The import of the old RS tunes worked perfectly, and I just plowed right in until my fingers hurt to much to keep going. It's pretty much fantastic.

ccesarano - If you have no musician friends willing to sell you an old guitar they have lying about then you may want to check craigslist. Just a quick search turned up several electrics around here between $75-150. Just make sure you don't leave the batteries in your tuner like I apparently did. Thankfully a new one's only $30 but 30 bucks is 30 bucks :/
====================

rabbit wrote:

The import of the old RS tunes worked perfectly.

I have to wonder if there's some sort of import/mod tool you can use to build a new track-game on the PC? Looking at Rocksmith 2014's song list I'm surprised they have nothing from Deep Purple, Guns/Roses or Randy Rhoads... to name a few

Great review Elysium. I have a few questions...

What version are you reviewing? I'm assuming PC? I heard the console versions had much worse load times previously, i'm wondering if this is still the case.

My biggest gripe with the original Rocksmith was the way it would change the music difficulty mid-song. I would be playing a song and it would start you on easy then you would master it and suddenly the next bar which you expected to be the same thing as before was filled with different music. Then you would mess up the harder bar and it would go back down to easy, and kind of oscillate between those extremes. I'm wondering if this has been addressed in 2014.

Third does the original's usb to guitar dongle still work? Is there any reason to upgrade this to the 2014 version?

Stric9 wrote:

Great review Elysium. I have a few questions...

What version are you reviewing? I'm assuming PC? I heard the console versions had much worse load times previously, i'm wondering if this is still the case.

My biggest gripe with the original Rocksmith was the way it would change the music difficulty mid-song. I would be playing a song and it would start you on easy then you would master it and suddenly the next bar which you expected to be the same thing as before was filled with different music. Then you would mess up the harder bar and it would go back down to easy, and kind of oscillate between those extremes. I'm wondering if this has been addressed in 2014.

Third does the original's usb to guitar dongle still work? Is there any reason to upgrade this to the 2014 version?

Once you are in a song you can go into the riff repeater and set the difficulty for every part of the song, so you can, for instance, max all the rhythm sections but then leave the solo at a lower level.

Once the system senses your doing well with the solo, it will start notching up the difficulty. I don't think you can LOCK the difficulty on an easy setting. Once you start doing well, it will try and make you play the harder bits.

In RR you can set the dynamic difficulty to be static, but I'm fairly sure that's just while in RR and if you choose Resume Song it's re-enabled.

Stric9 wrote:

Third does the original's usb to guitar dongle still work? Is there any reason to upgrade this to the 2014 version?

It does indeed, because I'm using my Xbox 360 cable from the original game to play the PC version of 2014. I switched over to the PC version when it (and all the DLC) was on sale and I got a new gaming PC because of how much faster it loads.

There is one downside though. The PC version requires Ubisoft's Steam-wannabe, Uplay. It doesn't actually do anything for the game, and once you do the initial setup it pretty much gets out of the way, but it's annoying and unnecessary. Not a deal breaker for me personally, but YMMV.

Would active vs passive bass make any difference for Rocksmith functionality?

I'm thinking active would be better for the hotter output, which is the issue I'm facing. But decent passive pickups should be fine too.

[301]