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Sunday, November 10, 2013

[Review] Rocksmith 2014 (PC)

For the purpose of this review, it's important to know the following:
I am using Rocksmith 2014 through Steam on a Windows 7 64-bit laptop in conjunction with an Epiphone SG electric guitar. I am using the original Rocksmith USB cable that came with my PS3 version of Rocksmith for Rocksmith 2014.

It's been a while, my friend. I'm speaking to both my guitar and Ubisoft's Rocksmith franchise, both, of which, I haven't touched in a few months.

I had higher hopes for the sequel than the original as Ubisoft should have learned from their mistakes and perfected them in the latest release. I expect to find areas that I still don't agree with whether that be new additions or removals from the game. The third release, if ever to be released, will be one of the best releases for the series, as is with most new series so don't expect this to be a review that completely agrees with the game and how it plays.

Steam finally finished downloading the game and installed it for my library. These games get weirder and weirder with each new release. Battlefield 3 opened through a web browser and now this game opens via Ubisoft's Uplay program. I assume this is done in an effort to cut down on the piracy. Nevertheless, the game eventually opened and I began to play.

It is important to note that Rocksmith is a game unlike many others in that it teaches you to play an actual guitar instead of a silly, expensive piece of plastic with buttons made to mimic the design of a Fender Stratocaster. There is no story-mode, the game lets you dive in once it finishes loading and you proceed through a brief introduction to the series.

Luckily for those of us who used the first game, there is no need for an introduction and the game will allow us to proceed through with little to no problems. My first problem was that the game automatically assumed that I would be playing a song in the traditional E tuning and made me tune my guitar accordingly. The game should have waited until I had chosen a song as I went the route of metal band Mastodon in choosing to learn their Blood and Thunder song which is in a Drop D tuning. It just seemed redundant to have to tune again when I was already in Drop C to begin with.

But the game takes a turn for the better after a few hours of playing. The game's song list is much better than I originally saw, although I wish there were more titles by more artists. Again, as I said in my previous review, that's probably not Ubisoft's fault that they weren't able to get the copyrights.

Here's a short list of what the some of the featured songs include.

For the duration of this review, I've chosen to use the Foo Fighters' Everlong song for much of the demonstrations of what the game can do.

As you can see, there is a yellow percentage sign beside the song. This percentage is what I have currently "unlocked" of the song.

As is the tradition since the first Rocksmith game, Rocksmith does not have a traditional difficulty meter that you can simply turn from "Easy" to "Professional". Instead, Rocksmith uses artificial intelligence to determine what level you are currently playing as. As you progress through songs and master what the game has given you, the game gives you a little more of the song each time. The bigger the percentage, the more difficult realistic the song will be. The song gets "more difficult" in that it requires more of you than before until it gets to a point where you play the full blown song.

When you select a song, the below screenshot appears.

From here, you can now determine how you'd like to play the song. Either you can jump into the song and begin mastering it on your own now or you can try some of the bottom options to help you prepare to master the song.

Rocksmith is that great in that it allows you to truly decide how you want to go about learning songs.

I think what's best is that people who are more comfortable with playing the guitar and/or the particular song should just jump into the song and begin playing it. Whereas beginners to the song and/or guitar should consider trying the bottom options.

Some of these options will help you master sections of the song or give you mini games to prepare for the songs. I'll dig a little deeper into the mini games in a minute.

Fans of the previous game should recognize the UI.

This is how the screen will look when you're actually playing. It's not very complex and not too difficult to understand to a beginner. If you know where the strings and frets are, you will have no problem picking this up quickly.

Red - 6th string, yellow - 5th string, blue - 4th string, and so on and so forth. Each fret is indicated by the numbers at the bottom of the neck as well as with the slightly transparent circles on the fret board which you can see.

The top of the UI is where you are currently in the song. What's orange is what you still have to play while what's been played will be a purple or blue color.

I have a bit of a problem with the game when it picks up my playing. It's unclear where you have to actually pluck and strum. Do you wait until it gets to the actual colored strings? I couldn't tell and the game doesn't seem to help.

I suppose that there's a bit of a delay because when I strum when I know I'm supposed to, the game says that I "missed" the note. So when I'm playing, I have to hit them early which doesn't sound very appealing to the ears most of the time.

Once you've finished playing the song, the bottom screen will show.

Notice that my percentage is shown again on here at 14.5%. Currently, I have am playing 14.5% of the full song. I am playing the song, just not every part.

This particular time, I got 79% of the song notes correct. This is what I actually hit that was correct. The remaining 31% is what I did not hit when I was supposed to.

Below is a picture of the main menu.

I am very impressed by the amount of options this game has included since its last release. The previous game did its job by teaching gamers how to play the guitar, but was not an adequate substitute for a human tutor. While I am hesitant to say anything like that, I will say that it can help you learn how to play the guitar and teach you techniques that the previous title was unable to do.

In the below screen, we can see many techniques that Rocksmith can help us perfect guitar playing.

Rocksmith now includes all sorts of interactive videos that can help you master techniques of guitar playing such as "shifting", chords, and even give you advice on how to restring your guitar! While it's all great, it's still best, and the game will even recommend, that you should ask a human for some things if you are unsure.

Not all of these videos, but most of them, are interactive. They will show you a technique, then explain how you can do it, and then have you do it for yourself. If you can't do it right the first time, it will keep going over it until you get it. The game will also slow down the tutorial if it seems that you still can't get the technique down.

Rocksmith can also show you a variety of chords and how to play them.

One of the problems that I had with the first game was that it didn't have a clear way of requesting a new tuning or had any other sort of tuning beside standard E and Drop D. Rocksmith 2014 includes many tunings and allows for you to tune using the main menu instead of having to enter a new song which is a plus.

A downside to this is that you will need to tune when changing from song to song. But it shouldn't be a problem for most people as you'll stick to one song rather than switching over and over.

While the game lacks some songs, there are DLCs being produced and released that include new songs to play with. Below is a screenshot of the currently available DLC songs for the game.

Please note that at least one other song is available but couldn't fit in this screenshot and that this screenshot was taken on November 6, 2013. Since then, more songs may be available for download. Also, prices may change later.

One of my problems from the first game was that the songs were just too much. With these, I do enjoy Iron Maiden, so that pack will be put to some use but buying individual songs for $2.99 seems a bit steep. Considering that most of these songs go for around $0.99 on iTunes, does it seem fair to charge an additional $2.00 just because they allow you to play and learn the song? For me, it doesn't seem like a fair price, but maybe you feel differently.

As of now, all DLC can be purchased for $94.76. I'm unsure whether that includes the game as well or if that is just for the DLC. Either way, it seems like a pretty steep price also considering that not all DLC has been released yet. Unless this price will be a season pass that will allow gamers to download new songs as they become available, then it seems a bit more reasonable.

Rocksmith 2014 has a fun way of helping you improve your skills as well. Rocksmith, itself, is designed to be fun but it's included mini games that give a retro feel and help you improve with some fun.

The picture above is of one of the many mini games included in Rocksmith. This one is called "Star Chords". It helps gamers improve their chords as quickly as they can.

The player is placed into a spaceship's cockpit and flies through space. Enemies pop up on screen and you are to shoot them down. To shoot them, you will need to complete the required chord that pops up on screen. If you don't do it quick enough, you will be shot and lose health. The more ships you shoot down, the bigger score you get.

In terms of the audio, I'm not sure if it's just because of my computer, but the sound isn't so great. Luckily, I have an HDMI-out port on my laptop so I hook it into my flat screen at home. Otherwise, it's difficult to hear the song and my guitar playing. The actually strumming on the guitar becomes louder and overbears the music playing. That's something to consider if you're thinking of getting this for PC.

I chose to buy this version for PC as it seemed the most convenient. If and when I upgrade my computer, it will still be in my Steam library, waiting for me to download. I also considered other things like upgrading video game systems. Not that this is a game I will play 40 years from now, but if I do so happen to choose this game then, if Steam is still available, I will have access to it even then without having to search for a 40 year old PlayStation 3 console.

Just keep in mind that if you do buy online, you will still need to purchase a Rocksmith cable if you do not already have one.

The original Rocksmith did a fine job at teaching people how to play some of the best songs around. Rocksmith 2014 did a fantastic job minus a few minor problems. The biggest problem for me getting used to the delay. I hope this is just an issue that I'm experiencing because it's frustrating.

What I said in the previous review goes for this one: this is a great game. If you are an avid gamer, I wouldn't recommend this game for you if you aren't serious enough about playing guitar; otherwise, it would just collect dust on your hard drive. If you are serious about playing the guitar and enjoy some games, this game is great for you. If you want to learn how to play the guitar and have the money for a monthly human tutor, go for that and don't go for this. If you want to better your guitar skills, this is a good choice for you. The biggest change between this one and the previous is that this one has a better chance of taking the place of a human tutor. At the same time, there will never be a game that can take the place, but I'd say that this comes very close.

There is much more to the game than what I could write here. There are more mini games, more tuning styles, more songs...and there will be new DLC coming soon as well as what's available right now.

For those of you who have played the game, what's your take on it? Have you played the first game? If so, what do you think between the two? Personally, I think this is a great improvement.

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