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Guitarmageddon: Rocksmith 2014 vs. BandFuse Rock Legends

Posted on December 13, 2013 AT 11:30am

School’s Out…Forever

Earlier this week, Chris and Josh reviewed Rocksmith 2014 Edition and BandFuse: Rock Legends, two games designed to make learning the guitar as inclusive as possible by ensuring the experience is fun and accessible for everyone from newcomers to veterans. We’ve decided to go against that touchy-feely sentiment by pitting them against each other in brutal head-to-head combat. After all, guitars aren’t for hippies—except for maybe acoustic guitars, which probably shouldn’t even count as real guitars anyway.

Sure, we could just lazily compare the scores of the two reviews, but those numbers represent the opinions of two editors who haven’t tried out (or even learned much about) the competition. We want consensus. We want someone to crush their enemy and see it driven before him. Today, Chris and Josh will break both games down across five different categories and debate their merits, each editor defending the game they reviewed. They’ll declare a winner in each round and, in the end, an overall victor. Let the showdown begin!

Round 1: Track Selection

I know I’m something of a youngin’, but I was quite smitten with the selection of songs in BandFuse. Total comes to 55, with everything from The Clash, Blue Oyster Cult, and Grateful Dead to My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. I’m not saying that including my number-one unintelligible guilty pleasure song, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” means BandFuse instantly wins this category—nah, I’m totally saying exactly that. Whatchu bringing to the table? Josh
Chris Weirdly enough, Rocksmith 2014 also comes packaged with 55 songs that are similarly diverse, ranging from 1964′s “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks to Paramore’s “Now” from their 2013 self-titled album. As far as soundscape goes, I think Rocksmithhas a pretty wide range of tunes that can appeal to a variety of tastes. Plus, it has the first song I ever sorta-kinda learned to play when I tried to learn guitar on my own 15 years ago: “My Own Summer” by the Deftones.Where I’m fairly confident I have you beat, however, is DLC. We may have the same number of songs on-disc, but because Rocksmith 2014 is the inheritor of everything ever added to the original Rocksmith post-launch, there are some 200 tracks available to download—including, much to my chagrin, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.”
Well, uh, BandFuse is going to get its own DLC store…in January. And they’ve already announced…10 songs for it. Ah, who am I kidding? You win this round. Josh
Chris I don’t mean to kick a man while he’s down, but I can also download Tommy TuTone’s “867-5309/Jenny.” Just sayin’. You might want to get comfortable repeating that phrase, “You win this round.”

Winner: Rocksmith 2014 Edition

Round 2: Star Power

Ah, this is more like it. So, Chris, how many rock legends are in your game? Josh
Chris Er, as far as I’m aware? None. No rock gods or goddesses provided me with guitar instruction. In fact, the people shown in the tutorial videos were framed so that I only ever saw their torsos and arms. Maybe they’re all uber-famous, but probably not. I imagine Julian Casablancas would insist on being seen entirely if he agreed to be in Rocksmith. Home Movies and Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small does appear in promotional material for the game, though!
Psh, doesn’t count. Now, as you might have noticed, BandFuse‘s subtitle is actually, and I quote, “Rock Legends.” I get Slash, Alexi Laiho, Bootsy Collins, George Lynch, Zakk Wylde, and probably some more I’ve forgotten. Look at that: There so many rock legends, I can’t keep track of them all! It’s like that image of the guy struggling to contain his wealth of limes. Why can’t I hold all these rock stars? Granted, I’m not saying these guys are the best teachers—years of hard living have presumably made clear thinking and proper diction a struggle—but it’s still cool to hear stories about how they got into playing and what life on the road is really like. If you want a full picture of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, BandFuse delivers. I believe the phrase is “No contest.” Josh
Chris I feel like you may have created this category just to engineer a “win” for yourself. But if star power is a thing that honestly matters to anyone, I guess there’s none to be found in Rocksmith. Have your win.

Winner: BandFuse: Rock Legends

Round 3: Notation System

Here’s one I’m genuinely curious about, because I don’t know anything about Rocksmith‘s approach. As someone who’s dabbled with teaching himself guitar in the past, I absolutely adore BandFuse‘s notation. It’s basically the standard tablature you can find anywhere on the Internet, augmented with side-scrolling Guitar Hero–esque movement for timing and color-coding to tell you what finger is doing what strings. Since the strings are in the order you’d see them when looking down at the neck and the finger and fret information is super-easy to read, I feel like I can actually sight-read songs—not at full speed or on the highest difficulty levels, of course, but it’s definitely easy to hop into a song I’ve never played before and pick up a riff after looping it a handful of times. I love it because it’s simple, efficient, and I barely have to learn anything new. Plus, I can take my in-game skills and instantly start playing songs I find tabs for online, which is always a plus. Josh
Chris Rocksmith functions much in the same way, though the approach is a little different. Notes appear on-screen floating down a virtual fretboard. At the bottom of the screen is a representation of the guitar’s six strings, each one color coded. So if you see something coming down the 5th fret pipeline, which is labeled as such on-screen, and you see that it’s red, you know that you need to press down on 5th fret of the low E string. It’s not explicit about what finger to use, but the Lessons section does instruct players on the ideal way to navigate the fret board, so I always felt I intuitively knew which finger to use. By the time Rocksmith starts ramping up complexity, you’re not thinking twice about which finger goes where.This might be something of a draw, because your UI sounds totally alien to me, but I imagine if that’s what I had spent time with, it would seem right as rain. I think we can both agree that the notation, based on our respective experiences, is anything but in the way, making both well-designed on that front.
Man, Rocksmith‘s notation sounds completely indecipherable to me, and I’m not a fan of the fact that there’s no explicit finger information, especially if you’re trying to approach absolute beginners. I know that in the end it’ll be more helpful to intuitively know how to navigate the fretboard, but when I want to hop in and play a song, I want to know all the information I need to play it correctly right from the start. Maybe I’m biased, but I feel like you’re just trying to negotiate a draw because you know I’ve bested you. Josh
Chris Nah, it’s just that I never felt that notation and fretboard/finger navigation were an issue for me. Songs start out pretty simply—one note versions, maybe two in quick succession, of the actual, proper technique (say, a chord), so there’s not a whole lot of room to misplace a finger. And by the time things like full-blown chords are streaming down the screen, you’ve learned how best to shift positions. I mean, you only have the so many fingers on one hand that can only go to so many places and do so many things simultaneously. You do have five fingers, right?
Last time I checked. But explicit, clear finger notation could mean the difference between playing a barre chord with your index finger, then adding in a note with your middle finger and using separate fingers for multiple strings, then awkwardly rearranging them to fit the new shape—which would be a terrible habit for a beginner to get into. Plus, once you’ve learned Rocksmith‘s notation, it’s useless for everything in the world but Rocksmith. I agree that this is a close, very subjective category, though, and you’re obviously very passionate that Rocksmith works, so I suppose I’ll have to settle for a draw. Josh

Round Draw

Round 4: Educational Value

Alright, this is the one area I’m actually a little worried for BandFuse. I think the game does a great job teaching practical skills and providing the resources to practice them, but I don’t feel like I got much, if any, of the theory behind it. There’s a section on scales in which Slash just plays a few scales, then you play some yourself. I have no idea why I would want to know scales or how they would help me write a song.It’s a common problem. A lot of the theoretical stuff is addressed by the legends and other instructional videos, but they’re not good teachers, so they frequently talk at such a high level that I have no idea what they’re saying. Like, the first time I learned a chord in the “Shred U” section, it was just a grainy video of a guy playing a chord, zoomed in on his fingers. I had no idea what fingers were doing exactly what, so I had to guess. And there wasn’t even an interactive practice session there, so I still don’t know if I even got it right. I hate to admit it, but I can’t imagine Rocksmith has that many goofs. Josh
Chris See, you’re missing out on what I love most about Rocksmith 2014—that it feels like a teacher giving lessons, but all the lessons are completely optional. If “Holding Your Guitar” seems a little pedantic or beneath you, skip it. But if you want to gain a firm grasp on shifting, picking, sustains, slides, bends, or chords you’ll explore the 101, the 102, the 201, all the way down to the 403 in the case of chords. And even if you blow past the Lessons section and jump directly into learning a song, the game will gauge your performance and recommend a specific Lesson to learn to improve that performance. Rocksmith eases you into everything if you need it, teaches you the vernacular, then slowly increases complexity.
I’m actually a little jealous after reading that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely learned a huge amount about playing guitar from BandFuse, and become a significantly better player, but it feels a lot like something you’d do in conjunction with books or in-person lessons, not something that can nurture you from start to finish. It’s a tool that you have to learn to use. I can imagine that if you don’t discover what settings and tools are the best for learning gradually, you’ll hit a wall where you don’t know what you need to improve to keep going. Well, I suspected I’d lose this round and I have. Don’t gloat. Gloating is unbecoming. Josh
Chris Eh, there’s something to be said about each, I suppose. It’s good to know what you’re getting into, and I suppose what best suits the way you want to learn. If it’s in a vacuum, go with Rocksmith. If you want something to complement your other efforts, BandFuse might be better for you.

Winner: Rocksmith 2014 Edition

Round 5: Extra Features

OK, lightning round time. Anything impressive that didn’t fit into the other categories, throw it out there, short and sweet. I’ll start. Four-player local multiplayer, with support for guitar, bass, and scored vocals—using pitch detection tech licensed from Harmonix, no less. Josh
Chris Session Mode, in which players can jam alongside a virtual band, choosing what other instruments will accompany them—bass, drums, keyboard, et cetera.
A free pack-in adapter for the Xbox 360 that offers an easy fix for the lag that plagues HDMI setups (something I know people complained about in Rocksmith, even if it was a hardware issue). Josh
Chris Guitarcade, a collection of minigames that mask practicing fundamentals like chords, scales, and techniques as playing, say, a platformer that you control with the guitar.
Tours, which give you Rock Band–style setlists of songs that you have to master to earn cash for you career as a digital rockstar and unlock even more tours. Josh
Chris Tone Designer, which is basically a digital guitar pedal where you can alter, edit, or create delay effects, distortion effects, filter effects, and all that jazz.
Wow. Some of your stuff actually sounds pretty snazzy. A guitar platformer? Though I’m definitely partial to my selection, too—especially the four-player multi-instrument co-op, which seems like it’d be great at parties. What say we call this one a tie? Josh
Chris Agreed. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say something that feels missing from Rocksmith is something that makes it feel more like Rock Band, which is exactly what your multiplayer sounds like.

Round Draw

Overall Winner: Rocksmith 2014 Edition

Well, that’s all she wrote. With a score of 2 points to 1 (and a pair of draws), looks like you and Rocksmith came out on top, Chris. I’m not ashamed. BandFuse put up a valiant fight, and I actually think it’s still a close contest. I could easily see the track selection or personal preference swaying someone one way or the other. Maybe I’m just looking on the bright side of a tough loss, though. I’ll let you close this thing out with a victory speech. Josh
Chris I’d like to thank all the headless, faceless men and women in Rocksmith 2014‘s Lessons who taught me how to hold my guitar, where to put my fingers, and never once let me out of a session until I got that rift down—even if it took 45 minutes and eventually left the imprint of an E string on the tips of my fingers. I finally feel as metal as I’ve always thought I was.

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