Rocksmith is fundamentally different than every other rhythm game you’ve played. It doesn’t hinge on the same compulsion loops and high score pursuits of your average Guitar Hero, and it doesn’t facilitate the party atmosphere of Rock Band. Instead, Rocksmith intends to allay the frustration of picking up a real guitar for the first time by teaching you the basics in rhythm game form. If you’re familiar with the original 2011 Rocksmith, then you understand the core of what Rocksmith 2014 is going to deliver: It’s a competently designed instructional tool with some video game elements, and the sequel has made some very smart improvements to make it more appealing--both as a game and as a tutor--to guitarists of all skill levels. But ultimately, it’s still an instructional tool, so your level of enjoyment is going to correlate directly to your desire to learn.
And learn you will, as every aspect of Rocksmith 2014 is essentially a guitar lesson disguised as a game. Don’t be fooled by its colorful presentation and score ratings and completion percentages; even playing through songs is a clever way of teaching you guitar theory, and you’re only going to get traditional gameplay satisfaction out of it if you’re already an expert. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun or rewarding. Acquiring the skills of playing guitar is exciting in itself, and all of the rote repetition and muscle memory development is at least masked by the familiar gameplay progression elements.
"...every aspect of Rocksmith 2014 is essentially a guitar lesson disguised as a game."
But all of that was true with the original Rocksmith as well. What’s changed with 2014, apart from the new soundtrack, is that just about every aspect of the sequel has been streamlined to make for a more pleasant experience across the board. Whereas the original was a bit too structured, restrictive, and clunky, Rocksmith 2014 allows for much more freedom in getting straight to whatever the player wants to see. There are now main menu shortcuts for every major feature in the game, so whatever you want to do is never more than a few button presses away. Whether you want to dump some time into the new minigames, noodle around with the virtual amp modeling tools, or perfect a specific riff in one of the songs, you’ll be spending a lot less time wading through confusing menus.
That streamlining extends to the actual gameplay in some key ways as well. Rocksmith 2014 keeps the smart adaptive difficulty system of the first game, but removes the restrictions that it came with. It used to be that you couldn’t choose a difficulty setting for any of the songs. Instead, by default, you would start with a very simplified “easy” version of the song, and you’d have to prove that you could make it through that before tackling a more complicated version. This system works remarkably well for Rocksmith’s target audience of beginners or intermediate-level musicians, but experienced guitarists will be happy to learn that you can now easily and precisely adjust the difficulty level and tempo on the fly.
"...Rocksmith 2014 allows for much more freedom in getting straight to whatever the player wants to see."
The original Rocksmith worked well, and at the time, it was a pleasant surprise that such an unproven concept worked at all, so it was easy to look past some of its shortcomings. While a lot of those have been addressed in the sequel, one severe issue still holds it back: latency. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that any amount of detectable audio delay will hamper the experience in any rhythm game, and while it’s not a deal breaker, you will notice it with Rocksmith 2014, even when using the recommended audio setup.
That audio setup requirement bears discussion here as well, as it may prove to be an issue for some players. Rocksmith 2014 recommends that you split the audio and video signals, and connect the console directly to external speakers or headphones to get the least amount of audio latency possible. That means that if you’re using your television’s speakers for audio, and particularly if you’re using HDMI, the delay between what you’re playing on your guitar and the report from the speakers renders the game practically unplayable. So it’s more of a requirement than a recommendation. It’s unfortunate that this unadvertised aspect of the game is an issue when the game’s barrier to entry is already prohibitively high for many players. Laying down a bunch of money for a guitar and a copy of the game only to find out that you’re missing the proper cables or home theater equipment would be disheartening to be sure, so be aware of everything you need before making the investment.
"...one severe issue still holds it back: latency."
Rocksmith 2014 is a complicated thing to recommend in the context of video games. If you think that repeating the same 10-second phrase of a song dozens of times until you master it is fun and rewarding on its own, then Rocksmith 2014 is an excellent way to enhance that experience; and its suite of tutorials, minigames, and other distractions will go a long way towards keeping you interested. But, you must be fully invested--which potentially means spending a significant amount of money on the proper setup. If you are, there is literally no other game or piece of software available now that offers anything close to what Rocksmith does.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.