Following the phenomenal success of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Ubisoft sensed an opportunity. If gamers went nuts for playing real rock songs on plastic guitars, why wouldn't they swoon for a game that let them score fake points with a real axe? After years of development, in 2011, Rocksmith was born.
Last fall, Ubisoft released a new version. But Rocksmith 2014 is considered a replacement rather than an update: The company is trying to rebrand the franchise not as a game but as a teaching tool. The box bears a fat label proclaiming "The fastest way to learn guitar," and Ubisoft launched an ad campaign promising that Rocksmith 2014 could teach prospective shredders to play guitar or bass in just 60 days.
Frankly, learning to play a song the Rocksmith way is exhilarating. If I (Carl) had looked up the chords online, I could have played the song just as easily. But I might have stopped to scroll down on the computer screen or to relearn the first half of the song until I got it down pat. After a few progressively more difficult play-throughs on Rocksmith, I'd memorized the song without even thinking too hard about it.It sounds like a fun way to learn a lot fast, but not a substitute for a good teacher. At least I hope so, one of my sons depends on guitar lessons for part of his income.
The same kind of automatic difficulty adjustment works in Rocksmith's Lessons feature, which is just what it sounds like: a set of tutorials to teach players everything from how to hold the guitar and basic picking techniques, to how to bend, slide, and hammer on notes. Get them right and you'll advance to ever more challenging material. Struggle, and the oh-so-polite instructor tells you he's just going to slow that riff down a little and give you another crack at it. Herein lies Rocksmith's greatest strength as a teaching tool—it gives you the ability to learn at your own pace without fear of judgment.
If straightforward lessons aren't what you're looking for, fear not: Rocksmith 2014 tries to refresh your picking skills through games that veer into the ridiculous. I tried out Return to Castle Chordead, which revels in delightfully bad NES-style graphics (the game challenges the player to zap the hungry undead by playing the correct chords). Scales Racer—which, you guessed it, teaches the major and minor scales—puts the player in a car fleeing the police. Pick the right notes and you zip between lanes, eluding the fuzz.
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If we've learned anything from this experience, it's that Rocksmith 2014 will do everything it can to try and teach you how to play the guitar, and it's got an amazing array of tools and lessons to do just that. But just like taking lessons from an actual instructor, you have to be willing to put in the time and practice, Practice, PRACTICE, even if it's boring—there are no shortcuts to properly learning your craft. And no matter how many zombies I kill in Rocksmith 2014's Return to Castle Chordead, I'm not really learning chords; instead, I've just learned how to play a video game with a real guitar as the controller.