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Rocksmith: Less than a game, more than a tool

Hayden Dingman | Nov. 15, 2013
Rocksmith 2014 is the best approximation I've ever seen for playing with a real band, and you don't have to find a band and schedule time together when you just want to jam for fifteen or twenty minutes.

I was right.

Session Mode is like a band and a backing track rolled into one. When you enter Session Mode you select which instruments you want in your band—maybe a wailing organ, a funky guitar, and a vintage drum kit.

Start playing your guitar and the AI dynamically generates a bed of music for you to play over, reacting to how you're playing. Play loud and intense, your "band" plays loud and intense. Play soft, and they'll settle down. Stop playing and the band trails off expectantly, waiting for you to kick back in.

It's more complex than that, of course. The band will even lead you into chorus-type sections, or speed up to match your pace. You can also change a whole array of variables whenever you want—key, mode, groove, tempo. I've had a lot of fun playing solo blues guitar over an old-timey blues shuffle band with the group dutifully following a 12-bar setup, but you can get really wild. Wonder what it's like to play guitar in a progressive funk band in Mixolydian B-flat? Well, you can have that (insane) experience.

Session Mode shows you which notes are in-key, so you'll even sound halfway decent playing in a key and mode you've never touched before.

If you've ever wanted to play in a band but were too nervous, or if you live in a place (like San Francisco) that's not conducive to practicing as often as you'd like, Session Mode is maybe the coolest thing that's ever been in a music game. There's still some features I'd like to see—currently you can't change time signature—but it's an impressive piece of tech, and I've sunk hours into it. It's made me better at scales, better at reacting to key changes, and an all-around better improviser. You're not really making music you'd want to record, but it's a new way to practice skills that are typically hard to master.

Smaller updates
One big relief: you don't have to tune before every song anymore. The original Rocksmith, it felt like you had to tune your guitar every two or three minutes. Now you're prompted to tune on start-up, but the game won't ask you again unless you play a song with a non-standard tuning.

You can access the tuner whenever you want, however, as well as the Riff Repeater—a practice tool where you repeat the same section of a song with increased difficulty each time you get it right—by hitting the space bar during a track.

Tone Designer brings back the amp simulator built into the original Rocksmith, this time with licensed gear from Marshall and Orange. If you can't afford a $1,000 Orange head and cab combo, Rocksmith at least lets you pretend you can.


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