Rocksmith 2014 Preview: Is This The Next Big Music Game Innovation?

Music games are dead!  Long live music games!  After the painful evisceration of the Guitar Hero brand, and with Rock Star recently putting an end to their extensive online support, there now exists a big hole in the music game genre.  When Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains kicked off the Ubidoft conference at E3, it was clear they had some plans to make waves in the music space.  When the original Rocksmith debuted in late 2011, it was an entertaining and impressive piece of technology, even if it left a lot to be desired in many areas (I couldn’t correctly play some songs on there that I know how to play in real life).  With Rocksmith 2014, Ubisoft may have cleared that hurdle, and we could be looking at the biggest thing to hit the music game scene since Rock Band brought the full band experience to our living rooms.

First and foremost is the new Session mode.  As you pick up your guitar and begin to play, the game can automatically sense what you’re doing, and will add an appropriate backing track.  For example, if you pick up your guitar, switch on some heavy distortion and start rocking, the game will sense your metal-ness and provide a similarly heavy backing bass and drum line.  Feel like seducing somebody’s earlobes with a mellow acoustic riff?  The game will be able to tell and will give you a light drum beat in the background.

The decision to use standard tablature is a smart one.  The jury is still out on the inclusion of Billy Idol.

The decision to use standard tablature is a smart one. The jury is still out on the inclusion of Billy Idol.

If this works as advertised, this could be huge.  Rocksmith was cool in a “I’m playing a real guitar, isn’t that awesome?!” kind of way, but this is the kind of thing that actual musicians would pay big money for, and to potentially get it in a $60 game format, complete with a number of included tracks to master, is quite impressive.  I was impressed by Rocksmith’s scaling difficulty and amp effects, but a complicated UI and a hist of user-unfriendly features left it without the credit it probably deserved.

Luckily, Rocksmith 2014 (are you really going with that naming system Ubisoft?) looks to clear up some of those issues.  I was particularly impressed with the note match feature, which tells you if the notes you are playing work with the scale you are playing in.  This strikes a perfect balance between letting you experiment, showing you what works and not being too restrictive or bossy with it.  I also shows a digital fretboard on-screen that highlights suggested notes that would work well in your solo.

Add all this together and you have an impressive teaching tool.  If Ubisoft can actually deliver on these promises, give us an adequate setlist and provide DLC support, this could end up being one of the most underrated games at E3.  Stay tuned for more details as they roll out.