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Let’s rock.

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    Rocksmith 2014 Edition

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Let’s rock.

    For the budding musicians of the world out there, learning how to play guitar can be a fun, yet at-times laborious process. Learning the art of guitar playing takes months, the very difficult feat of perfecting it many years; and all the techniques involved like plucking, picking, tickling, down- and up-strokes, tapping and sliding can initially feel frustrating, yet satisfying once you’ve got them down. Most guitarists have their own ways of learning, be it self-taught or by someone else, and one method that proves rather effective is through the use of computer or video game programs. The Rocksmith series of games, which started out on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 was one such program that proved a handy learning tool, and an updated version on the same consoles as well as the Xbox One and PS4 (the version I have been using for this review) is Rocksmith 2014 Edition.

    Before I discuss the game itself, I should also mention that I’ve never (to date) played the original Rocksmith game, so unless it’s for the improved 1080p HDMI graphics, I am unsure if it’s worth upgrading to Rocksmith 2014 if you already own that game. However, Rocksmith 2014 apparently retains all the features from the original and once you own it, there’s no practical need to go back to the original version. I’ll also mention that I’ve had no previous kind of actual practice or lessons on guitar just apart from a few simple riffs I practised on a friend’s bass a little over 10 years ago, so I went into the game with the beginner players’ setting, and the game configures the layout of songs to learn and lessons according to your skill level, which you pick the very first time you boot the game up. Lastly, the game lets you learn all three major guitar types ¨C lead, rhythm or bass; I’m learning the bass guitar so this was what I used for my playthrough.

    Rocksmith 2014 Edition is a rhythm-style game that has a similar feel and presentation to the well-known Guitar Hero games, with the major difference being that this is played with real instruments rather than custom-built accessories. It is a pretty costly game to set up, though; besides having to invest in your own real guitar, it also requires a special cable that connects the guitar to your PS4 via a quarter-inch jack into a USB port. For me that cost 83 GBP ¨C almost twice the cost of a modern AAA video game. Having a strap and set of picks is also ideal. Another minor issue with the PS4 version is that the game goes with optical audio outputs, so there can be some minor delay with plucking a string and the audio feedback playing on your television. You can still manage to play the game this way without too many major issues, though to get the best form of audio feedback it may be best to go with a setup that the game recommends upon starting.

    Once you have that all sorted and out of the way, you can begin exploring the many modes that Rocksmith 2014 Edition has to offer. As I had mentioned, the game will configure an ideal learning plan based on how experienced you already are with playing guitar or bass. Its primary Learn A Song mode comes with over 60 pre-loaded songs, all by well-known rock and pop music artists that are laid out in order of how easy they generally are to learn. The beginner player starts out with the Ramones’ classic tune ‘Blitzkrieg Bop‘, involving a small handful of frets to repeatedly move between while plucking the bass’ E and A strings, before it’s onto songs that involve more complex riffs, including the likes of R.E.M’s ‘Losing My Religion‘ and Rush’s ‘The Spirit of Radio‘, then onto some songs that require re-tuning your instrument, for example ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger‘ by Oasis and ‘Rock and Roll All Nite‘ by Kiss.

    When a song is loaded up, the aim is to play as many notes accurately as you can. You’ll see coloured blocks and lines advance along a track that represents your guitar’s fretboard, with numbers displayed alongside them as an aid to let you know which fret to hold down. The colour denotes the string(s) to pluck ¨C in the bass’ case red for E, yellow for A, blue for D and green for G. On your first playing of a song, you’ll play the more prevalent notes, and on subsequent playthroughs additional notes are thrown in as a means of helping you improve your performance on the song.

    When the track finishes, the game assesses your performance and notes your accuracy percentage and your longest streak of perfectly-played notes during the song. It proves a very good way of improving your playing skill, and additional modes can be accessed, such as a ‘Riff Repeat’ mode to allow you to practice on a song riff as often as you’d like. The more you practice and do well, the song’s percentage will be continually bumped up, making it feel encouraging and rewarding to pass the 100 percent mark on the songs you learn. You can play them at different difficulty levels if you perhaps feel that the game might be advancing a little too quickly for you, and additional trophies can be earned for such achievements like achieving a certain song mastery percentage on a certain difficulty, or successfully playing a song on a ‘Master Mode’ in which you can’t see the notes appear on screen and you have to play the whole thing from memory!

    All of the songs you’ll play in Rocksmith 2014 Edition are a mixed selection and how many of them you’ll actually enjoy listening to and learning, of course comes down to your own personal taste in music. The selection ranges from classic rock and metal, to blues, punk and indie. For the vast majority of players, particularly if you like rock music, there should be a good deal of songs you’ll like, and there can be some fun and challenge in trying out ones you might possibly not have heard. There are plenty of hours’ worth of playing time to get out of the selection included on the disc, particularly if you’re aiming to beat the 100 percent mark on every single one, however if that’s not enough for you, additional DLC songs are available to purchase for a small price.

    Elsewhere, some other notable modes include Lessons, in which you’re shown video tutorials for various techniques, and get to practice them yourself. Another fun little attraction within the game is Guitarcade, which serves as a decent little distraction from song playing or tutorials and lets you play shooting gallery-style mini-games that call on quick timing and fingering. You can shoot ducks, outlaws and spaceships by playing the right note at precisely the right time, and this is a great way of improving your hand-eye co-ordination and memorise the fret locations of your guitar’s neck without having to keep looking down. For those who enjoy playing as part of a group, you can have other players join in via the Multiplayer mode, and sync up other instruments to play alongside in the Session mode, too.

    There’s essentially little fault that can be picked with the visuals of interface of the game, which is effective and easy to understand for lesser experienced guitar players. The colour scheme and numbers work very well enough, and higher-tempo songs can have notes scrolling along so quickly that you could just find yourself getting a little overwhelmed, yet the option to adjust the difficulty or slow and repeatedly practice a more complex riff helps out with this. Likewise, little fault can be found with the audio as the music is taken directly from the licensed source material ¨C none of this karaoke or cover lark. For added effect, a virtual audience cheers along during lulls in a song to give the impression you’re playing to a concert audience.

    There are just a couple of minor issues here ¨C again, the audio feedback with the basic setup leaves something to be desired. I’m often struggling to hear the notes I’m playing on my bass, and am thus more often relying on the screen letting me know that I’m playing the correct note. Another problem is that in the Learn A Song mode, you’re not actually punished for playing incorrect notes; the game simply relies on you playing the exact note at the exact time to register it towards your score. You could simply be plucking every string while holding numerous frets down when it comes to a riff that would require some quick fingering. In real life this would sound like a mess but if you just so happen to be hitting the note required, that’s all the game requires as a means of improving your score. Also, I’m unsure what it’s like for lead or rhythm guitars, but sometimes for the D and G strings, the note may fail to register by the song player when I’m correctly playing it, so you really have to hammer the string to let the game pick it up.

    Rocksmith 2014 Edition makes a pretty great guitar learning tool that combines the fun of a rhythm game with spoken and visual tutorials and mini-games, with the reward of trophies as a decent incentive to stick to it and keep practising and improving. For more experienced guitar and bass players, you’re also sure to get a challenge and test of your skills to try out the more difficult and quick-tempo riffs. There’s the classic drawback in that you won’t have someone talking you through playing a riff or observing your performance, so you still may want to consider occasionally visiting other learning sources, such as YouTube, alongside this game.

    Otherwise, what you get in this game is a very well-put together collection of songs and various means of learning and perfecting the art of playing a guitar via your PS4. Provided you have the funds for the instruments and equipment, and sufficient time to come back to it at regular periods, this is a very good method of learning guitar that allows you to go along at your own pace and will usually have the ideal suggestions and challenges for you to practice on and keep improving. Not perfect, but a worthwhile pickup for the budding musician gamers.

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