Edutainment strikes back with Rocksmith 2014. It hasn’t made me into a Rock God just yet, but it definitely has the potential.
Rocksmith 2014: On the plus side
As 2013 winds to a close, I reflect on the things I wanted to get done. Launch my own site (check!). Make untold millions from it (Erm… not yet!). Learn to play guitar.
There’s a thing. In fact, it was a thing that I wrote about on Lifehacker all the way back in February, noting that I’d be using a mixed method of learning — or at least that was my plan.
Hannibal would hate me, because that plan didn’t come together. Largely because I didn’t practice anywhere near enough, but also because I became disheartened with guitar, thanks to one of the tools recommended to me.
That tool was Rocksmith, a “game” that teaches you to play guitar. Or in my case, left me feeling profoundly rubbish at playing guitar. I could handle the repetition, and the finger strain, and even the bum notes, but there was something about being bad at a game while trying to learn a skill that absolutely rubbed me the wrong way with Rocksmith, and that’s why I credit it with part of the reason why I’m not a Rock God just yet.
Oddly enough, Rocksmith 2014, the followup game in the series just might get me that rock immortality that I crave. The harsh edges that met me with failure over and over again with the original title have been significantly streamlined, which means that, for one thing, lessons are rather more freeform in their approach. I’m not stuck on just a few tunes and a lot of failures; I can experiment with lessons, guitarcade games and a plethora of song options.
Indeed, it’s actively encouraged, with goals to meet that invite me to explore each teaching nook and cranny. As I do, Rocksmith 2014 is subtly building up a picture of my talent — a very small picture, of the type you need an electron microscope to see right now, but a picture nonetheless — and adjusting the difficulty of its challenges as I go.
That’s highly inviting stuff, because it encourages me to play more, and while Rocksmith does have the trappings of a video game, it’s still an educational experience with an awful lot of mechanical rote learning and muscle memory to build. That’s also helped along by the Riff Repeater, which used to be its own section in the original game, but now can be kicked in at any time. I’m writing this with rather sore fingers because I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes learning sections of “Every Breath You Take” over and over and over again.
It’s that kind of repetition and feeling like I’m making progress that the original game really didn’t offer me.
The Guitarcade games — the more game-centric part of Rocksmith 2014 — are both a fun distraction if you’ve got a taste for retro gaming — not that I know anyone like that, obviously — while keeping to Rocksmith 2014’s core promise of teaching you guitar.
Rocksmith 2014: On the minus side
The original Rocksmith had issues if you were plugging directly into a console (I tested with the Xbox 360 version, for what it’s worth) via HDMI as it relates to input lag. That’s still very much present in Rocksmith 2014, and while I’ve been gritting my teeth and living with it, I can sense my skills improving to the point where I’ll have to sort out some complicated analogue cable solution each time I want to play.
You can import the songs from the original Rocksmith if you own a copy, but this counts as a DLC purchase. I can’t help but feel for a game that’s meant to both make the original obsolete and encourage you to play that this is ever so slightly miserly; at the very least Ubisoft could have made it a one-time DLC code with new purchases or similar.
Also, I’m totally not a Rock God, adored by billions just yet. That’s a minus, even though, strictly speaking, it’s not Rocksmith 2014’s fault.
Rocksmith 2014: Pricing
Rocksmith 2014 is available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, with the console versions typically selling at around $89.95; the PC version pricing appears to fluctuate a little more than that, as I’ve seen it anywhere from $69.95 to $89.95.
Rocksmith 2014: Fat Duck verdict
If Rocksmith was to blame for extinguishing the last vestiges of my interest in learning the guitar mid-year — and it was — then Rocksmith 2014 has to be credited with reinvigorating that particular passion. That’s no mean feat in and of itself.
I can see where you could top out on the skill levels and even the interest in learning the available songs, so it’s not exactly a one-stop learning experience. That’s a healthy thing, though, because it never hurts to explore alternate sources of education. As a primer, and a fun way to learn guitar, it’s excellent.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to some serious power chords.
Strums guitar, snaps string