Weeks into playing Rocksmith 2014 Edition for an hour a day (give or take being too busy), I’ve still got a ways to go before I’ve weaned my guitar from its connection to an Xbox 360. But I have no doubt that I’m getting there. I’m well past the impatience born from beginner’s frustration, and I’m confident that Rocksmith 2014 is every bit as effective as Ubisoft’s guitar marketing—filled with notable guitarists and their ringing endorsements—suggests it is.
I’m not certain how far Rocksmith will take anyone using it to learn guitar—that would require some months of playing it and reporting about my progress and skill development and maybe joining a band, performing a concert, and polling the audience after. At this stage, I’ve managed to learn two songs pretty well (though admittedly uncomplicated tunes: Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” and Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down”), and I feel pretty confident navigating the fretboard without glancing at it before every note.
Like I said, the progress is small and incremental. But it’s progress. No one should go into Rocksmith expecting to come out a pro in just two months. Learning a musical instrument is a years-long process that requires daily patience and practice. The progress I’ve managed to make by using Rocksmith 2014 in favor of a traditional, human instructor, however—and in such short time without spending hours upon hours at its alter each day—again strongly indicates to me that persistent use of the guitar-learning tool will see me (or any player who isn’t just completely devoid of any musical potential) achieve the same results.
Most of what makes 2014 Edition so effective is how it provides the same amount of feedback and specific instruction as a teacher would. Play a song, botch it up, botch it up royally in certain parts, and at the other side of the final note, Rocksmith will recommend chords to practice, specific sections to practice over and over until you get them down, or point you toward one of its quirky minigames that cleverly reinforce fundamentals—like, say, learning bends—to help iron out any wrinkles in your performance. I rarely felt frustrated from the learning experience because of something the game was or wasn’t doing.
There are weird hiccups, for sure. And, unfortunately, there’s also audio lag when outputting sound from the TV. I remember playing a song and knowing, without a doubt, that I was hitting a certain note every time, and that I was in tune—the game checks tuning before every session—yet Rocksmith insisted that I was missing it. Detuning the guitar somewhat remedied this, but I have no idea why. My current theory is that it has to do with the inherent audio lag when playing Rocksmith with sound output from the TV, since it can’t be helping anything. The only workaround to this problem is investing in an Xbox 360 audio adapter to run sound through headphones or an external sound system (or using the system’s pack-in component cables). Outside of this, though, the audio lag doesn’t reduce Rocksmith to unplayable in any noticeable way. And there’s an argument that anyone seriously looking to learn guitar through Ubisoft’s learning tool should probably invest in appropriate audio equipment. If nothing else, there’s a texture to music (and sound in general) that’s utterly lost when output through a television set.
Plus, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a small asking price for software that pretty much supplies all the resources you need to learn something as complex as guitar. Perfectly acceptable 2.1 and 5.1 systems can be purchased for under $100, or barely over. Paying for in-person lessons week after week will wind up just as costly—likely more so. And, again, you’re paying for the long-term investment and promise that Rocksmith will deliver, and everything I’ve experienced myself using it suggests that it will. Like weekly lessons at a local music store, there aren’t any jumps or gaps in the learning process. Rocksmith 2014 takes you from even the most banal of first steps—holding the guitar, adjusting the strap—to complex techniques and song-playing and covers everything in between, but it never forces any of this on you. It’s there if you need it, but it’s always skippable.
As far as I can tell, there’s nothing absent from Rocksmith 2014 Edition that any beginner or novice would immediately want or need, short of maybe your favorite songs among its DLC library. And it’s this robust design, this impressive volume of content that makes Rocksmith shine. The aurally inclined minds responsible for designing Rocksmith 2014 have pooled their collective experiences learning to play an instrument and covered all their bases, creating a product that holds my hand as tightly as I want it to, lets me play on my own unsupervised, and lets me bite off more than I can chew. The end result is a tailor-fit learning experience for every individual player.
|Developer: Ubisoft • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.22.2013|
Speaking as a student undoubtedly on the same level as most people who would invest in Rocksmith 2014 as guitar-learning software and not a music game they can use their own guitar with, there’s nothing about my time with the game—and my development as a guitarist through its use—that leaves me with any doubt about its efficacy.
|The Good||That Rocksmith 2014 can—and will, if you invest the time—teach you how to play the guitar.|
|The Bad||That Rocksmith 2014 wasn’t made by a wizard and can’t magically make me more talented.|
|The Ugly||That Rocksmith 2014 requires players to juggle between a controller and the guitar. No way around it, but it’s still a pain.|
|Rocksmith 2014 Edition is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|