'Rocksmith 2014' Review: The World's Best Music Game (Now With More Kazoo)

'Rocksmith 2014' is an all-new sequel to last year's fantastic guitar tutor and 'real life' music game. Out now for PC/Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Key Features

  • All-new menu system
  • More than 50 new songs
  • Improved in-game interface, clearly highlighting bends and chords
  • 80 new lessons
  • New Guitarcade games and tools
  • 'Session Mode' lets you play live with a responsive band

The Pitch:

"Your feedback has been instrumental to helping us better understand how you play Rocksmith and how we can make it reach its greatest potential. Rocksmith 2014 Edition is our answer... Rocksmith 2014 Edition is completely new and rebuilt from the ground up to give you the fastest, most fun, and most comprehensive guitar learning experience ever created."


Even a year after its original release, it's sort of unbelievable that 'Rocksmith' actually works.

The idea of plugging in a real guitar to a console or PC with an included USB-to-guitar-jack cable, and playing a perfect equivalent to Guitar Hero but with real music still seems like it should be a couple of years away. It's not. It worked last year, to the point where we actually got sort of emotional about it. And it's back this year, better than ever, with a host of improvements that make it a must-buy for anyone who owns both a guitar and a machine capable of playing it.

At the most fundamental levels, Rocksmith 2014 is a huge step forward. For one thing, there's no lag anymore. There's no need to mess around with cables and audio mixers - you plug in and play. Second, the menus are sorted. Where the game used to feel dark, dingy and slow to navigate, everything is now clear, bright and sensible. The developers seem to have shaken off the Guitar Hero trappings, and focused on what really matters - the songs, the game and the lessons.

Similarly, the new song list is an ever better mix of classic barnstorming rocksongs, obscure indie tracks and progressive oddities that will stretch your playing in new and inventive ways. If you buy the same format as the original, you can import all your old songs. The DLC selection is great and growing. And playing the game itself is easier than ever too. Visual cues for techniques like bends and slides are more clear, and you're less likely to mess up out of confusion (as long as you can remember what string is "green" and which is "orange").

All of these tweaks and upgrades are things you might expect from an annual release. But there are some seriously huge new additions too that really extend the game, and how much you're going to play it. The best is 'Session' mode, in which you can choose from dozens of additional musicians (drummers, bassists, a kazoo…), set the key and just start playing, only for the band to spring into organic life and play along. As you play more intense riffs, or sit back and noodle away quietly, the band will respond and adjust. It's hauntingly good, and a real technical achievement. It's not perfect - switching key mid-song isn't possible, and the adjustments your band makes can sometimes be quite abrupt. But the illusion that you're playing with someone is never broken.

Rocksmith 2014 also adds 80 new guitar lessons for beginners, which are fully video based and interactive, and a bunch of new 'Guitarcade' games which take you through some of the basic techniques and let you hone your skills outside of the songs themselves.

The downsides are minor, but some still remain. For this reviewer - admittedly a relatively experienced guitarist - learning songs can still feel a bit clunky. While setting the difficulty from the start of a track is finally possible - meaning less tedious 'levelling up' grinding - it's still not tremendously intuitive. It's also quite difficult to learn a lick without resorting to repetitive trial and error. You can't 'read ahead' and practice on your own - you have to play, fail, take your hands away from the guitar to rewind and do it all again.

That aside, it's hard to fault Rocksmith 2014. Mechanically it's rock solid (pun possibly intended). Visually it's clearer and cleaner. Its value as a learning tool is unquestionable. And emotionally, for me at least, it still packs a weird punch. This is the Guitar Hero - and the guitar tutor - I always wanted growing up. That it exists at all is still a bit overwhelming - that it now has a vastly improved sequel is just icing on the cake.

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