Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rocksmith 2014

Dubious Quality Guitar Advisor David Gloier picked up Rocksmith 2014 last week, and here are his thoughts. As soon as Gridiron Solitaire ships and life settles down a bit, I'll be picking this up and putting some serious time into becoming a very bad guitar player (which would represent a considerable improvement from my current level).

A note on David: he's a damned good guitar player. He plays compulsively, collects guitars compulsively, and he is an ideal person to review this game. Here we go.

Has it really been two years since the release of Rocksmith? It has, and how are we not all guitar gods, yet? Have no fear, Rocksmith 2014 has arrived to remedy that situation.

That may be more than a bit of hyperbole, but this version should make you a better player. Rocksmith was an unbelievable piece of technology, and I’m still utterly impressed with what the developers accomplished, but Rocksmith 2014 is a much more complete experience this time around.

The core gameplay hasn’t changed much, but they’ve added so much more…more games, more lessons, more songs, and a more user-friendly riff repeater. The menu system has been streamlined. Gone are the days of having to back out of four or five screens to get somewhere. Loading times are non-existent. You can manually adjust the difficulty level so those that have some experience don’t have to wade through the extremely simplified version of songs just to get up to their skill level. The career path is long gone, but you won't miss it. If you’re driven by scores, a score attack mode has been included to scratch that itch.

You can choose your path and play either lead or rhythm guitar, and you can switch between them at the song menu.

The “Rocksmith Recommends” areas are specific to each song and can be accessed from the song screen. Have an issue with a chord while you’re playing and the game picks that up and you can punch a button to bring that chord up to see how you’re supposed to play it. Missing a bend regularly? Let’s take you to a bend lesson. The AI detects your weaknesses and lets you address it right then and there.
And that’s the difference between this version and the last one. Rocksmith 2014 is less Rock Band with a real guitar and much more of a teaching and practice tool. That’s a good thing. I spent many hours with Rocksmith, but ultimately ended up using it as a song trainer. I’ve got 15 hours logged in with this version, and most of that is in modes other than “Learn a Song”.  There’s just so much here.

The mini-games are back and more entertaining than before. Included are multiple games for each technique you’re learning, which helps vary the practice and keeps it from getting tedious.

Lessons cover a lot more ground, as well, with loads of videos to show you what you need to be learning and practice riffs to work on the techniques presented in the videos. They cover everything, from the most basic (how to attach your strap), to the more advanced (Rock and Roll Master Class.) They even have videos to teach you how to string a guitar and tune by ear. That’s important stuff to teach beginners. The technique lessons are well-presented and I’ve found myself more than happy to go back and repeat ones I’ve already mastered, just for the practice.

If you’re a novice, all this instruction will move you along. If you're experienced, well…they’ve got a little something special for you in “Session Mode”.

“Session Mode” let’s you jam with the band. Pick the backing instruments, a tempo, the root, the scale, the style, etc. and start jamming. It will show the notes in the scale you've chosen at the bottom of the screen, so you always have that template to work with, but it won’t punish you for stepping out of it. The AI is pretty fantastic and seems remarkably organic, far from a sterile backing track. The band follows your lead and actually adjusts to your playing. I spent almost two hours the other night just jamming with the AI band until my fingers just had enough. This mode may be the most amazing aspect of Rocksmith 2014, and those with some experience may find much of their time spent here.

Before I forget, you can also import the songs from the previous version (plus any DLC). It cost $10, but when you consider the licensing fees involved for that many songs, it’s not a bad deal. I didn’t mind, as I liked a lot of those songs. I’m still feeling my way around the new ones, but it’s making me realize I’m much older than the apparent target audience for this thing. Here’s hoping Ubisoft will take pity on some of us elderly guitar players with their DLC releases.

I’m playing on a PC through Steam, and I feel I need to address a few issues for anyone planning to do the same. It seems the game has a difficult time detecting the Realtone Cable from any USB port that isn’t powered directly from the board. The front USB ports on my computer just didn’t get along with that cable. Once I moved it to a board-mounted USB port on the back of the tower, the problem went away. Another issue that I hope they are working on is that the once the game is booted up, you have to tab out, go to the audio icon on your task bar, click on recording devices, click on the Rocksmith cable, go to properties, and manually increase the level. It always defaults back to 17%. (Bumping it up to about 70-75% seems to do the trick.) Then tab back into the game. It’s annoying, and the problem didn’t exist with the last version., but like I said, I’m expecting they’ll fix that issue.

One other issue with the PC version: When you complete a song, it provides you with three “Rocksmith Recommends” options. For some reason you can’t mouse over them and click. You have to use the arrow keys on the keyboard and hit enter to access those items. It took me a bit to figure that one out.

Rocksmith 2014 has obviously put a lot of effort into making this into a much more productive learning tool and have done more than just release Rocksmith 2.0. Improvements abound and you will have lots of fun with them.

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