I love playing the guitar. I’ve been playing since I was 13, so I’m now into my 15th year of rocking out to various tunes with my acoustic guitar or my 7-string electric guitar with the amp turned up to 11, Spinal Tap style!
But while so many people will say that after a certain amount of time with anything, you can master it. For me, it’s safe to say that after 15 years, I’m still learning and I’m learning a lot. Which is why when I got a hold of Rocksmith 2014 and started playing the game for the first time, I realized pretty damn quick that I’ve still got a lot more to learn.
If you’re old enough to remember the hilarity that was the Guitar Hero and Rock Band phase of video games in the PS2/PS3-Xbox/Xbox 360 era, you remember how for quite some time learning how to play guitar through a video game was confusing when you only had five buttons to press. I used to teach guitar through high school and college and the number of new students I’d get that you could tell only tried to play guitar because of Guitar Hero was far higher than I wanted it to be. Some managed to catch on to the instrument, but it was very obvious that these young kids thought playing guitar was going to be easy because Guitar Hero makes it look easy, which only five buttons. But then when you realize that there’s not just five buttons, there’s six strings with on average, 21 frets per string, do the math and you’ll get a lot more than five buttons.
Rocksmith is a far better teaching tool that Guitar Hero/Rock Band could ever hope to be. You play the game with an actual guitar, a USB attachment that the other half plugs into your guitar like you’re plugging it into an amplifier. The game plays as you’d expect on a guitar, prompts show up on the screen, coloured to the specific strings you have to pick or strum depending on if it’s a single note or a chord. For those curious, I play with the string setup flipped so the red string (aka the sixth string or “bottom” string) is on the bottom. I tried to play it in the default way the game sets it up, but my brain can’t comprehend why I’m reading the music where the top line is the bottom string.
As a teaching tool, I think Rocksmith is the best thing you can use to learn guitar without actually taking lessons. The game has a number of teaching tools to help you learn various chords and techniques and for the younger players there’s also a bunch of silly little mini-games to help them learn from scratch and make learning fun, since in my experience, learning folk song after folk song in the first year isn’t the easiest way to get interested in guitar. Rocksmith has the “learn in 30 days” sort of challenge where by that point, you’ll be able to casually play the guitar, at the very least being able to play a basic song with a few chords.
Now for someone such as myself who’d already been playing for over a decade, what could I possibly learn now? Actually, quite a lot. What I love about this game is its system where you can learn any song at whatever pace you want. If you’re a beginner, every song starts off adjusted to be super easy and the more sections you complete with high accuracy, the game automatically makes the sections of the song just a little harder until you get to the point where you can play the full song the way it was played by the actual musicians who wrote it. In my case, what I do is turn the difficulty all the way up and go from there. When I hit a part I struggle with, there’s another fantastic option where you can separate that part and play that section on repeat over and over. You can also adjust the speed so if it’s a particularly hard part that requires some speed, you can slow it down so you can hit the notes more and soon memorize the section so all you have left to do is get the pace of that section down. There’s plenty of ways to learn a song and allows the user to learn at whatever pace they prefer, you’re not shackled with Easy, Normal, Hard or Insane difficulties, unless you tell the game how hard you want the song to be, the game will constantly adjust the difficulty of the song to your skill level automatically.
My favourite part of Rocksmith 2014 though is its Session Mode. This is where I think the game shines as a musician’s game. The mode is simple, pick the tempo, pick the scale, pick the instruments that play in the background and then go. The game will show you the scale of notes that you can play from (though you’re not required to, you can free play all you want) and once you start playing, the backing instruments will start playing with you and will try to adjust to your speed as best as possible. I love this mode, it’s like having a jam session with other musicians without leaving the comfort of my own home. It’s a great mode to play when you’re not wanting to learn anything specifically, you just want to mess around and make stuff up as you go along. Once you have a grasp of playing guitar, this is a mode that you have to play, to allow yourself to play to the best of your abilities.
Now of course, for a music game to be so good, it also has to have a great song list to play and learn. Without counting DLC and the PC mods that people are creating an infinite number of songs for you to play, there’s a pretty good and diverse list of songs. Here’s just a few songs on the default list:
- Alice Cooper – No More Mr. Nice Guy
- Boston – Peace of Mind
- Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar On Me
- Foo Fighters – Everlong
- Iron Maiden – The Trooper
- The Kinks – You Really Got Me
- Kiss – Rock And Roll All Nite
- Muse – Knights of Cydonia
- Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box
- Queen – We Are The Champions
- The Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop
- The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black
- Rush – Spirit of the Radio
- Slayer – War Ensemble
- Weezer – Say It Ain’t So
- The Who – My Generation
There’s a fantastic mix of music ranging from rock, metal, punk, blues, even classical music exists in the game through DLC as well. Anything you’d like to learn (especially through PC mods), you can learn to play.
If you have any interest in learning how to play guitar, or maybe you’re just looking for more reasons to play your guitar, this is a fantastic way to do it. There is no game I’ve ever played that has gotten me to spend more time learning guitar ever. I cannot recommend this game enough!