Rocksmith 2014 improves on last year's offering in almost every way.
By Jess Colwill on November 29, 2013 at 4:42 pm
To think it’s been more than a year since I reviewed the original Rocksmith. It’s not required reading, but if you’re interested in Rocksmith 2014, it’s probably not a bad idea to go back and read my review of the original since, in essence, it’s the same game and many aspects of the review will be a comparison between the two, with highlights of the changes. But let’s dive right in.
Rocksmith 2014 has done everything right. That’s the bottom, top and middle line. It’s taken everything I didn’t like about the original and added, modified or otherwise changed it until the game became an almost perfect iteration of the original Rocksmith. Almost perfect.
Alas, like with so many good things, when you fix one problem, others stem from the result. Take the song selection, for example. There is a far more varied and interesting song selection this time around, and 2014 allows you to import the songs from the original game, effectively doubling your setlist. Add the DLC on there and you have an official metric butt-tonne of songs.
Sounds great in theory (and in practice). But in theory, communism works. And so does this great list of songs. But with lots of songs comes lots of different tunings for your guitar to be in. Which means when you’re really getting into the swing of things you might find yourself having to stop and retune your guitar into Drop D, for example, only to have to tune it back after a single song. And then back to a different tuning after that.
I had debated whether to even mention this as a problem in this review, as there really isn’t anything that could be done — it’s part of the reality of a long and varied setlist. Ubisoft have helped out as much as they can, listing the tuning required for each song when you select it — so if you’re savvy to this, you can make your playlist entirely out of songs in a single tuning for your convenience. But it can be annoying.
As well as a better selection of songs, there is an entirely new mode of play as well. In the original Rocksmith there was the bass emulator, which meant you could learn some bass-ics (see what I did there?) on your regular six-string. This feature still exists, but as well as that, you can also choose between lead and rhythm guitar as well. This adds a whole new dimension to the experience, allowing you to learn either the upfront lead with the shreddy solos, or for you to take more of a support role with chords and the riffs that make up the backbone of the song.
In my review of the original Rocksmith I mentioned the Riff Repeater feature, a feature that was absolutely essential to nailing down any song. I also mentioned that it was tucked away under a multitude of menus. The Riff Repeater is still there, thankfully, but no longer tucked away. In fact, the path to learning a song is far easier than before.
When you select a song you’d like to learn in depth, the first screen you see has a series of checkboxes called “Rocksmith Recommends”. “Rocksmith Recommends” is a series of objectives that you can master in order to learn any song better. They might be as simple as, “Challenge yourself to beat your previous score” or as helpful as, “Learn this riff back to front and upside-down, dammit!”
The result is a more in-depth experience, as well as a more streamlined one, all at the same time. Learning a song has become about nailing the different elements, the chords required, the riffs you have trouble with; rather than just playing a song over and over. But these new elements are easily found and explored and Rocksmith learns from the way you play in order to recommend the next step that is best for you.
“Rocksmith Recommends” is also a larger set of missions designed to guide you through the experience with vague commands like, “Play a song in Drop D tuning,” or “Play a song from the 80s”. It’s totally ignorable if it’s not your thing, but if you’re looking for new things to try, it can usually point you in the right direction.
The only technical problem I’ve had with the game so far is a weird bug where the game slows down entirely. Not just the songs, but the whole game. The, uh, narrator even announces all the titles in sloooooo-mooooo, for example, and all the sound effects become distorted and slow.
This would normally be only a minor bump in the road requiring a restart of the game — annoying enough, but easily resolved. Unfortunately, like so many games lately, Rocksmith 2014 uses the dual Steam/uPlay system. With uPlay being as temperamental as it is, sometimes quitting the game means you won’t be able to re-launch it for whatever reason, meaning you’ll have to restart your whole system just for this one bug. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, and you have to do a full reset, it’s enough to ragequit entirely.
On Ubisoft’s advice I changed from my sound card to my on-board sound, and that has seemed to fix the problem. Unfortunately, testing the fix is difficult because I’m waiting for something to not happen, so I’ll update the review if I find it hasn’t been effective after all.
Finally, my one piece of criticism in terms of the gameplay is with regard to the difficulty. I found, and I had other friends say the same, that the original game was pretty hard — because, I suppose, it is teaching you a real-life skill. It seems Ubisoft have heard this and modified the difficulty somewhat to make it more accessible.
The way the game ramps up the difficulty, though, is annoying. It needs to be… smarter, I suppose. Let me explain my problem: You choose a song to learn. It starts off pretty simple — maybe a little too simple, but it’s just getting started. Your notes are few and far between, which helps you get a handle on what the song is doing. You hit all the notes that come your way, so the game levels up your difficulty… just in time for the chorus.
Suddenly, you’re in a completely different part of the song, with different chords, but because you did SO good in that easy part, they’re coming at you a mile a minute, packed with tricky chords you can’t begin to wrap your fingers around. The difficulty needs to be more modular, perhaps. It needs to say, “Okay, you did great in this bit, so next time you play it, it will be harder. But this next bit is different and harder, so just try it on the lowest difficulty first.”
It sounds like a small thing, but the playability of the notes really is the essence of the game, and there were times when I had been plinking along just fine, only to be suddenly staring at the screen with my jaw on the floor as a rainbow of notes came whooshing at me. If I can’t play the notes, I can’t play the game. If I can’t play the game, I’ll never learn the guitar!
That said, however, Rocksmith 2014 is great. The series continues to impress and there are only a few hiccups left to be ironed out. Maybe Rocksmith 2015 will be absolutely perfect. But until then, Rocksmith 2014 is a solid continuation of the series. Even if you couldn’t get into the first one, I would give 2014 a shot, as it’s far more accessible to new players and advanced players alike.
- Great list of songs, including songs from 2013
- Improved Riff Repeater feature makes gradual learning easier
- Rocksmith Recommends feature is great for getting into it
- New lead and rhythm guitar capabilities
- Difficulty-adjusting could stand to be more intelligent
- Possible bug with sound cards
Rocksmith 2014 is currently on sale on Steam for $37.46 until December 3 (normal price $49.95). The RealTone Cable necessary to play — and a guitar! — are not included.
This review copy provided by Ubisoft. Screenshots used also provided by Ubisoft.