Let’s begin with a bit of housekeeping – those of you that have bought or played Rocksmith 2014 Edition on PS3 or Xbox 360 will find an almost identical experience with the current-gen version. All the new modes and functionality used to improve the experience returns, as does the ability to access any song bought in previous titles as long as you stick with the same family of consoles (eg. PS3 to PS4 – no cross-platform support, unfortunately). So, with that in mind, you can probably skip towards the end of the review for critique specific for the current-gen version if you’re thinking of upgrading.
For the rest of us, be it those uninitiated to Rocksmith or have remained with the previous version, Rocksmith 2014 continues to provide a way for budding guitarists to learn how to play and improve their skills. Tutorials cover the basics, including setup and posture, all the way to advanced techniques such as trills, hammering, and bending. Video demonstrations and repeatable interactive sections are well presented, easy to follow, and gives an opportunity for intermediate players to perfect other skills before jumping into the tracklist proper. For someone who was always more of a Rhythm guitarist than a Lead, it meant I could venture into new areas of play without having to start over completely.
So how do players learn to play songs? Surprisingly, in a similar way to how Guitar Hero entertained many a wannabe rock star – through a conveyer belt style interface that sends coloured squares towards a play line to indicate when to play the guitar and on which string. Of course, it’s more involved than the plastic peripherals of yesteryear thanks to six strings and a whole bunch of frets, but Ubisoft’s approach to keeping the player well informed of where to move their hand and what is coming up is helpful from the get go. The included stickers are a nice touch, providing a visual aid as players get used to navigating the fret board.
As an intermediate player, both extremes of the difficulty scale were jarring – beginners are tasked with simple one-off notes initially while the harder settings are riddled with squares and lines – but the way Rocksmith 2014 gradually pushes up the difficulty was something I quickly got accustomed to. Along with a numerical score at the end summing up my progress, the game also gave me list of areas where I could improve. For example, if I was frequently screwing up a specific section, I was challenged with going into the Riff Repeater to get the sequence nailed. Here I was able to go over at my own pace with a wealth of options – increasing the speed and difficulty of the section both manually or automatically. The ability to extend or shorten the chosen segment in Riff Repeater is something I use quite frequently and is probably my favourite aspect of the feature. After all, choice is something I am very much a fan of.
Beyond that, Rocksmith 2014 provides more game-orientated exercises via the Guitarcade, challenging players to hit chords or specific notes to defeat bosses or stop alien invasions. They were a fun distraction, and the score attack mentality will no doubt be appealing to some, but I didn’t consider it something I would consistently return to. The other new feature included in this edition of Rocksmith is the Session Mode, which allows players to select virtual band members to join them for a jam session. With various styles, forms, and instruments to choose from, I found the AI’s ability to match my tone and volume to be impressive. Admittedly though, it wasn’t flawless (for reasons I’ll get to shortly) but the important thing is that it did work, and those looking to test their improvisation skills (or haven’t got any real musicians to jam with) will find it useful.
While the end-game is to improve the player’s skill with a guitar, Ubisoft have packed the game with plenty of reasons to keep playing and explore the wide range of tracks on offer. Unlockable skins and virtual amps from popular brands like Orange and Marshall are available for those who achieve good scores in the various modes, and this is of course on top of the mastery percentage next to each track. The gamer within us will go after the score, all the while unaware that they are getting better at playing the guitar, which is at the core of how much care and attention Ubisoft have put into ensuring Rocksmith 2014 is a worthwhile package for both newcomers and those with the previous edition.
However, there is a downer that potentially derails the entire thing – latency from HDMI audio output. Rocksmith 2014 comes with a setup guide that warns players of this, strongly recommending the use of the console’s optical output for audio for a more accurate experience overall. As someone without an optical-out audio solution, it became difficult to establish whether I was missing notes or had been the victim of latency. Considering this is a product where the focus is on improving musical skill, and timing being a huge component of this, the issue becomes much more significant and the supplied solution is not exactly wallet-friendly. As such, I can only suggest those without optical-out audio to hold off purchasing.
Likewise, if you already own Rocksmith 2014 for last-gen consoles, you can certainly hold off a purchase for these new iterations. The crisper graphical presentation is all well and good, but certainly not worth the full price of admission. Of course, there are the “next-gen” additional features, one being more useful than the other. The Xbox One version includes voice command functionality, but the PS4 includes Remote Play. Considering the guitar still needs to be plugged into the console via the realtone cable, and the fact the screen is far too small to be read effectively, it’s yet another reason why upgrading from the last-gen version to this isn’t worth the money. On top of this, implementation of old tracks has been slow, and while they are on their way it could mean any previously bought DLC might not be available straight away.
It’s a shame because the issues mar what is otherwise a carefully created an extremely useful learning tool for budding musicians. Admittedly, I wouldn’t say this is capable of replacing the role of a professional instructor – far from it, in fact – but the customisable approach to mastering the supplied tracks, which include a good spread of rock classics and modern hits, makes it an easy to approach tool for honing your guitar skills.
- Helpful tutorials to ease in both beginners and experts.
- Mini-games and the new Session Mode are great additions.
- The flexibility of the Riff Repeater is fantastic.
- Without optical-out audio, latency can ruin the experience.
- “Next-gen” features not worth writing home about, and as such…
- … upgrading from the last-gen version isn’t worth the cost.
The Short Version:
While owners of the PS3 / Xbox 360 version won’t have much reason to upgrade, newcomers to Rocksmith 2014 Edition will find a wealth of options within this musical training tool… provided they have an optical-out audio solution. Without it, the latency could ruin an experience that is otherwise well presented, highly customisable, and a great way to improve those shredding skills.
Platforms: PS4 (Tested), Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft San Fransisco