Posted: June 10, 2014
Having played guitar for nearly seven years now in rock, metal, blues, and jazz, I was really needing something that put interest back into playing, like a new piece of gear. I found that in Rocksmith, and played it nearly 35 hours in my first five days of owning it. I love having the callouses back. That being said, the game is not perfect. I'll make a simple rundown of pros and cons for simplicity.
- Definitely inspires you to play and learn songs. Whether you find your own style of playing before or after you learn a steaming pile of songs, it's always good to learn said steaming pile of songs. Rocksmith will definitely help you do this in a fun, relaxed, pseudo-Guitar Hero environment.
- Has a nearly flawless session mode where you can construct your own band that has a wide variety of styles, sounds, progressions, and can play in all the basic modes and scales with all 12 roots. It also has a very helpful and changable neck layout to show you exactly what scale they recommend you use. This is like a loop station +4, people!
- Songs have a fluid difficulty. If the game sees you rock, it'll make the next bit a little bit harder. If it sees you're having a lot of trouble, it'll dial it down. This spans from pretty much root notes only to having every note be invisible. This game has an infuriating way of making you learn songs ;).
- Has a sometimes helpful section repeater for every song.
- Has a MASSIVE amp emulator where you can try out digital versions of generic and some name brand gear to see what you want for a new song or purchase. These are all dependant on the quality of your computer speakers of course, but it's still nice to have a reference.
- You can change your tone in the middle of a song if you despise song's preset tone.
- An interesting pro, this program's DLC and price per song is generally roughly the same if not cheaper than sheet music, and you get a lot more. You get to hear the song, see a visual representation of how it's played, get alternate lead, rhythm, and bass parts, and a preview of how the guitarist got their tone with the amp emulator. Plus you get to beat the snot out of it over and over and score points.
- There are several other little pros scattered throughout, but these are the big ones.
- My worst complaint with the game: Some of the ways this game has you play songs are ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS (yes, I mean to shout), and there's no way to change what frets it wants you to play from what I can tell. Fortunately, the game is just based on tone recognition, so if you can play it on a different string and it's easier for you, do it that way. Problem is, you have to ditch the way the game wants you to play at that point, so there's no on screen reference. For example, Are You Mine by the Arctic Monkies has you sliding all around the neck. I have learned to play it to where I hardly have to move from the second fret. Ultimately, this is kind of beneficial, as you should be learning the way you want to play, and hopefully that's without having to watch the Rocksmith screen. On a similar note, some of the rookie ways of playing songs can actually be harder than the advanced way because you don't know all of what's being played. This is a problem for me as an advanced guitarist because it's easier for me to play by chord names rather than some stepwise building of chords throughout the song.
- The other pretty unfortunate bit of this game is that it has a serious case of death-by-interface when you're first starting out. Everything the guitarist played on the song has to come down this alley at you and convey, in it's entirety, everything about that note: string, fret, duration, slidel vibrato, bend, temolo picking, harmonics, tapping, hammerons, pulloffs, anything that the guitarist could do has to be contained in that one tiny note flying toward you, and it's one of several at a time. The game will modulate this problem a bit by removing some of the extra things like bends and tremolo, but this is still serious information overload, so be prepared to have some difficulty with reading what's happening for a pretty long time.
- The nearly flawless session mode's one flaw is that it changes dynamically with how you play, which in terms of musical expression, is not always the best way to do it. Do you want to rip a screaming solo while the band lays back? Ehh... This will have problems figuring out what you want. Conversely, are you trying to rip a screaming solo, and the band's dying away? This happens too, especially when your guitar is producing rather low output like with tapping. It may be great to change with the band, but when you both follow each other, pretty soon the band stops playing 'cause you're too quiet.
- The riff repeater can slow down parts and manually change difficulty, which is good, but all these parts are pre-determined by the game. If you have a problem with one part at the very end of a solo, it's very likely you'll have to play through the whole solo a billion times to get it right and understand what you're doing, which may or may not be a good thing. Also, and this is infuriating, the slowing down of a song has no metronome or click track that I can find, and past about 80% speed, the audio quality is so bad you can't tell what's happening anyways. Good luck finding a tempo here. You're better off just watching what is happening at slow speed and trying to master it at full speed from there.
- The tone recognition isn't perfect, and it never is. This is extremely frustrating if you're going for note streaks, mastery score, and basic video game statistics. I've missed chords in the middle of strumming a long line of the same chords just because the game herps a derp (It was punk rock. 1/8th note power chords? Don't tell me I randomly missed one lol).
- A few nitpicky things here: On the minigames, the notifications can seriously get in the way of what you're trying to see so you can play the right thing. The score attack sounds are also extremely distracting when you're trying to rock your awesomest.
- And a technical note from one player to another: Always tune up. The game seems to hint that as long as you tune down to the right note (say for drop D), you're good. This is not always the case, especially if your strings are a little too thick for your nut. They can stay just a hair too tight on the playing end compared to the segment after the nut. This means that as soon as you bend or play one of the strings, your tension will equalize and you'll be slightly flat. So remember: Always go below the note you want and come up from below it. This could concieveably make you slightly sharp, but if you're having that much problem with string tensions, you need to get your nut slots widened for your apparently super-thick monster-tendon He-man/Hercules strings.
So, on the whole: Is it awesome? Yes. Will you learn guitar? Yes. Will you learn songs? Yes. Will you happily lose track of hours of your life? Yes. The review officially ends here, but I have a few personal notes for the dedicated reader.
Just remember while you're playing this game, take the time to learn what's comfortable and right for you. Just because Rocksmith says you should play a song a certain way doesn't make it right. You'll love guitar that much more if you find your own voice on it. This game will definitely teach you to play if that's what you're looking for, but always try to put your own spin on what you learn afterwards. For example, the game doesn't recognize if you play more notes than are in the song, so I always add my own licks, fills, and harmonies when my part gets quiet just so I can get a better feel for what I would want the song to sound like. By all means quote songs you love and guitarists you idolize, but don't become a riff junkie who brings nothing new to the table. Put your own inflections on their ideas, because that's what makes your playing interesting.