First Play: We strap on our axe and unleash the riffage with Rocksmith 2014 edition

The real-guitar-teaching wonder is back in town, and the new edition has a brand new bag of hot licks
Rocksmith 2014

We love music teachers.

Even Mrs Butterford, who used to bite her nails before playing the the piano so when it was our turn to play the keys were all damp and spitty, was otherwise a very nice lady.

But times change and people are replaced by machines, and in a few years there will be no more guitar teachers because Rocksmith is considerably cheaper, endlessly patient, flexible about the songs you want to learn, and has a mercifully spittle-free approach to teaching.

"Ooh, give me a good guitar…"

Rocksmith is Guitar Hero but with a real guitar - any real guitar. You plug your axe (that’s musician-speak for ‘guitar’) into your Xbox with a special cable and play along to a selection of tunes. The strings are pictured along the screen and notes drift down them, just like other rhythm games. The difference is that Rocksmith is a superb teacher of a very real skill, and the 2014 Edition adds some new features that we find really impressive. 

There are 50 new songs, catering to a fairly wide variety of tastes (although obviously there’s not much in the way of electronica). There are some brilliant tracks, such as Iron Maiden’s The Trooper and the exemplary Wires by Red Fang, and some rubbish music, such as The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis. The songs are very well-chosen, in that they'll train you up in different guitar techniques. Beginners will get a kick from the easy power chords in Weezer’s Say it Ain’t So, the intro to the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black is a nice short lead part to learn, and Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box is a great introduction to alternative tunings. 

Hot For Teacher

Rocksmith 2014

There’s also a very large selection of video lessons that take you through all different aspects of play - hammer-ons, pull-offs, harmonics, string muting, and so on and so on. You’re asked to play what you’ve just seen demonstrated in the video, using the same scrolling display as when you’re playing songs, and if you find it difficult it’ll slow the approaching notes right down until you’ve got the hang of it, then speed back up. It’s just what a real music teacher would do, minus the stern letter to your parents when you miss a lesson even though you had a bad leg, actually.  

Perhaps the biggest new feature is Session Mode, in which you can pick the instruments for a virtual band that creates a backing track for your riffs. For guitarists who like to noodle along to a backing track, this is a revelation - not only does your virtual band keep plugging away in key while you go on your odyssey through the pentatonic scale, it changes tempo to fit what you’re playing. We only gave it about 10 minutes, at which point the demo guy began to look a bit queasy from our endless prog-blues squeedling, but this feature alone could fill a whole Sunday afternoon. Assuming you have very tolerant neighbours.

Rock And Roll All Nite

Rocksmith 2014
Rocksmith 2014

You can now loop a riff in any song, which is a nice addition that lets you get to grips with difficult parts before running all the way through a track. The arcade-style mini-games have been expanded, too, and again they’re brilliant teaching aids. You can shoot small digital ducks with fast fretting, explode glam zombies with power chords, and hop around platform games using slides and bends without really noticing that you’re putting your hands through intensive training. The sort of intensive training you would have forgotten to do in the old days, only to be upbraided in your exercise book in mouth-damp smudgepencil.

If you have a decent surround sound setup, Rocksmith 2014 will turn your TV into a powerful amp and a huge multi-effects unit. We’ve seen recording studios with fewer effects, and there’s a wide variety of amps, cabs and even microphone positions to choose from. 

Rock N' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

Rocksmith 2014
Rocksmith 2014

All in all, our first play on Rocksmith lasted a couple of hours and we just scratched the surface of the huge amount of detail that’s in this digital guitar teacher. It’s probably best value for patient beginners, but even for fairly advanced guitarists it has a great deal to teach.

Best of all it won’t make you sing ‘Get Cool, Boy’ from West Side Story in front of the whole class or give you a ‘D’ just because you gave its pet dachsund Terry a Mini Mars bar, and how were you to know that would make Terry throw up dog food and Mars bars all over the Rec room?