Monday, November 18, 2013

First Impressions of Rocksmith 2014 - It's Still Fun

My Rocksmith 2014 disk arrived a day earlier than expected (go Amazon!), but I didn't get around to trying it out until last night. To be honest, not only has my arm been pretty sore and stiff, I had read a few things about the new Rocksmith that scared me a little. I was really afraid I wouldn't like it.

Mostly I had read that the "game" aspect of Rocksmith was gone, and I was afraid without the game aspect to motivate me I would simply not enjoy playing RS. I am happy to report, however, that there's still plenty of "game" in the new Rocksmith 2014! Enough to keep me playing for a couple of hours last night ('til after midnight) trying to outscore my son.

True, the "journey" is gone. There's no more "Amateur"-to-"Rocksmith" progression based on points and no more rehearsing songs and set-lists for Events. I will definitely miss that aspect of Rocksmith. I really will. Especially the blonde chick who used to come and watch me at the Velvet Club. . . But, there's still plenty of numbers to keep my spreadsheet-loving geek side happy and plenty of room to challenge yourself or others.

There are still some incentives tucked into the software, too. I was surprised to see that you can still unlock bigger and bigger venues. Not sure how venues fit into the overall scheme of things now, but I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out. There are also 8 unlockable songs. And, you can unlock fret markers and amp skins by completing various missions or reaching certain progress milestones. So, that aspect of the game is still there, although it has changed a little. Possibly for the better.

When you play through a song (what used to be called "rehearsal mode" but is now just referred to as "learning"), you get a percentage instead of a raw score. I'm guessing this percentage represents either how close you are to mastering the song or how well you did compared to some absolute maximum. If so, this is a definite improvement over the hinky old scoring paradigm which nobody seemed to fully understand. And, you still get a Note Streak count and an Accuracy score, just like before.

Playing through songs works very much like it did before, too. The old studio has been replaced by a pair of speakers that emanate trippy-looking sound waves whenever you play. The NH (RS Note Highway) seems slightly improved: they've added finger numbers to some (not all) of the notes to help you with fingerings; bends look a little different but seem a bit more forgiving than they were before; and, it's just a little easier to see what's coming without all the ratty old studio furniture in the background. All in all, it feels sort of like somebody redecorated the house while I was on vacation - still the same house, but with a fresh look.

There's apparently a new online aspect to Rocksmith which I'll explore more later. You can set up an account on the Ubi website to track your playing time and progress. In fact, there's a whole 60-day learning challenge you can do. If you play on a console and plan to open a UPlay account to track your progress online I would highly recommend using a text-pad controller. Also, I couldn't seem to access my UPlay account or my Rocksmith progress page after I set up my UPlay account. Don't know if that website is down or what. But, that's optional and didn't affect how RS worked. I'll follow up on it in a future post.

Boot-up was pretty quick - possibly due to elimination of the old RS theme song and guitar montage intro. Another big improvement. Still, I think Ubi should add the old RS theme to the RS song list.

Once you've booted up the game, RS asks if you're new to Rocksmith or if you're an experienced player. You go through the usual set-up interview - right or left handed, what kind of headstock your guitar has (not sure why that matters. . . ), etc. Then a quick calibration. Within a couple of minutes, you're almost ready to go. Just one more new thing: Before you pick any songs, the new RS makes you pick a "path" or in other words decide whether you want to play lead, rhythm, or bass. (You can change instruments any time after you get started.) This probably goes in the "improvement" column. I never liked the old "single note," "chord," and "combo" arrangement terminology. There still seem to be "alternate arrangements" available, but I didn't get a chance to check those out last night or figure out what they are. I'm just happy to see Rocksmith start using the same labor categories that the rest of the world has always used for rock guitar players.

Now that Rocksmith doesn't build a set-list for you to prepare for Events, you're left with a much looser sense of direction when you start the game. This could be good or bad, depending on your personality. I sort of liked the old structured approach because it pushed me to play stuff that I really didn't like and it saved me having to choose from among songs that I did like. The new 2014 edition provides "recommendations" (which you can see by sorting the song list) and players are encouraged to try different things by accepting "missions." Overall, though, with no set-lists the new feel is very flexible and the door is wide open to play any song you like.

There's a bunch of totally cool new songs in the Rocksmith repertoire. (You can see the full list here: 2014 comes with 63 songs, including 8 unlockable ones. I was VERY pleased with what I found in the new song list. The collection covers a wide range of rock vintages from 1965 (The Who and Stones) to 2013 (Alice in Chains, Aching Head, Bedowyn. . . ). The only way you won't find something you like is if you don't like rock music.

For $9.99,  I also got all of my old RS songs imported to my 2014 version (to include all of my DLC). I guess I could complain about having to "repurchase" songs that I already bought once, but considering that I'm getting 102 songs for the price of 4 I'm just can't work up any real indignation over the issue. All of my old songs appeared on my 2014 song list immediately. No problems with the import - at least not on the MS-XBox system. (The scores on imported songs are all reset to 0, by the way.) I tried playing a couple of the imported songs and they worked perfectly with RS-2014.

One HUGE improvement Ubi made on RS-2014 is navigating the song list. This is especially nice if you import your songs from the old version; with DLC, I've got 165 songs to scroll through. Now you can sort the entire list on any of several criteria: Title, Artist, Year, Length, Mastery and some others including Favorites. THIS will be one of my favorite new features in 2014. You can also designate songs as "Favorites" and sort the entire song list so that your favorites are grouped together up front. No more scrolling through Islands, Gobbledigook, and Unnatural Selection to get to Slither! I believe you can also force sort by manually moving songs up or down the list. Thanks, developer team!

Speaking of navigation, there's a LOT going on with RS 2014 and a couple of hours was nowhere near enough to explore everything. Mainly I got things started, set up my UPlay account, imported all my old RS songs and DLC, and played a song. There's still a completely revised Riff Repeater, all new Session Mode, new technique guides, lessons, all-new arcade games, a store, and the online thing. But, playing songs is what it's really all about for me and you can do that very easily now. Will you learn to play guitar using Rocksmith? I've always believed that Rocksmith was a great learning tool, and I think they've retained all of the learning elements while improving the overall usability of the software.

The biggest down-side I see is possibly the elimination of The Journey concept from the original game. The Journey provided some structure to guide players along. Yes, it was similar to cheesy "rhythm games," but it was FUN. I think I'm going to miss that aspect.

My initial impression of Rocksmith 2014 is very positive. I'd give it a 94.3% so far. Stay tuned for more detailed info.

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