Discussion as to whether or not a video game succeeds at what it attempts can be a difficult thing to ascertain at times. Rocksmith 2014 does not represent one of those times. Put this game’s title into Google and the first thing you’ll find is its tagline: “Learn to play guitar.” The most experience I had with a guitar was sneaking in the occasional wretched session with my brother’s axe ten years ago and a college course on using the instrument that I inexplicably passed despite my inability to hit a single note of “One Armed Scissor”, so I figured that I would be the perfect guinea pig. If it can teach me guitar, well, to paraphrase a band whose work is featured in this game, “anyone can learn guitar.”
Rocksmith 2014, by default, assumes you have no idea what to do with a guitar and guides you through the intricacies of the instrument via helpful video tutorials and the occasional bit of practice. Expect the first couple of minutes of play to consist of watching the game tell you how to slowly pick strings. Onlookers might very well think you’ve put on an instructional DVD at first.
The meat of the game, fortunately, is plenty strong enough to serve as an effective tool. The game asks you to play Guitar Hero with an actual guitar, though you’re not tied down with the limitations that come with a typical “career mode” and, by default, difficulty is tied close to how skilled the game thinks you are. At the start, it asks you to play a few key strings in “Blitzkreig Bop”; later, if you stick with it long enough, it will task you with playing every chord in “Paranoid Android”. This might sound fine on paper, if a bit pedestrian, but there are three elements at work that elevate the experience. First of all, the game is quite good at figuring out your skill level. You can toggle the settings to your heart’s content, but it does a pretty good job at figuring out what you’re good at and what you need to work on. If I messed up on a part of a song in an embarrassing fashion, the game would nudge me towards a lesson that would clarify how to nail it later. Second of all, Rocksmith 2014 is all about positive reinforcement. If I did a good job on a song, it told me I did a great job. If I did a poor job, it told me I did okay. You can wail on your guitar at any time, in any mode, and you’ll hear it translated through your television’s speakers. These are all nice touches that help abate the considerable frustration one could have trying to learn an entirely new skill. Third of all, the game’s Riff Repeater option is the sort of tool that needs to be in every game of this sort. Triggered with the single press of a button, it allows you to repeat troublesome parts of a song on the spot, with the option to slow down the notes so you can master the motions to get it. Taken altogether, this makes for an empowering experience that makes you feel as though you can conquer any of these songs in due time.
And what songs are these? Well, it’s a decent mix of classics and newer material, from Arctic Monkeys to The Who. Most of these songs contain some sort of transparent learning lesson, but all of them rock in their own sort of way, and I’d imagine that only rigid metalheads would find reason to complain about what’s on here. A note, though: there’s no way to play the occasional acoustic song on an electric without feeling like some kind of fool.
The game comes packed with more modes, but they aren’t as engaging as the game’s core. There’s an assortment of mini-games, but most of them aren’t engaging enough to steer away from the lessons and songs (save “Scale Warriors”, an endearing take on beat-em-ups). The game also contains a Session mode, which purports to simulate a band playing to compliment your noodling, but the results were neither spot-on enough to really make me feel as though my contributions meant much nor unintentionally hilarious enough to make me want to figure out how to make the most ridiculous sounds. Your mileage may vary with all of this, but there’s no denying that this is side dressing to the main course.
Did I learn how to play guitar? Well, yes, though I wouldn’t call myself a master of the instrument. Rocksmith 2014 is made for beginners who want to learn how to play at a moderate level, and it succeeds for the most part.
The visuals are inviting and encouraging, though you will spend most of the time with eyes on just one part of the screen
You play guitar. A lot. It does a good job of simulating the experience.
A great selection of songs, but what puts this over the top is the satisfying simulation of a guitar amp throughout.
This being a learning tool and all, how useful and effective it is will depend on how long it takes you to learn all of the material.
Learning guitar is not easy, but this might be the least frustrating way to learn.