‘Rocksmith+’ review: bloated, but undeniably useful

Despite a messy tracklist, 'Rocksmith+' is a brilliant tool for learning guitar

Want to learn guitar? With Rocksmith+, developer Ubisoft says you can do just that. Of course, if you’re already a seasoned strummer, a catalogue of over 5000 tracks means you’re free to learn your favourite songs with a colourful Guitar Hero-style interactive tab.

Well, in theory. The reality is that while Rocksmith+ is a brilliant educational tool for guitarists, it’s sorely lacking in the fun department. Ubisoft has billed Rocksmith+‘s 5000-track library as a key attraction, but the game’s catalogue is far and away its weakest element.

Sure, there are 5000 songs on offer – but here’s the catch: not all of them are unique. Do you need to learn seven different versions of ‘California Dreamin”? If your answer’s yes, let’s hope you don’t mean the studio version…because it’s not on there. Oh, you’re a fan of The Cure? Brilliant – Rocksmith+ has their groundbreaking ‘Bestival Live 2011’ waiting for you.

Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.
Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.

Ultimately, Rocksmith+‘s catalogue feels bloated, far too large yet lacking in substance. That’s not to say fans won’t find at least one song to suit their taste – the game’s blues genre is a surprisingly fleshed-out offering – but there’s an auspicious dead zone of big-name artists (Stones, The Beatles, Hendrix to name a few) that may have been too pricey for Ubisoft to splash out on. Naively, it feels like the developer has tried to skimp on licensing fees – but looking at the original Rocksmith‘s heavy-handed approach to downloadable content (DLC), it’s hard not to view this as a ploy to drip-feed content and keep customers subscribing for longer.

Despite an inconsistent catalogue, it’s not all doom and gloom for Rocksmith+. Thanks to some particularly well-designed tutorials and systems, the service is still a brilliant tool for anyone looking to learn or master their instrument.

While playing songs on Rocksmith+, a dynamic difficulty slider tries to gradually ease you into playing the full song. Closer to 0 per cent, you’ll be thrown the odd note to play to the song’s rhythm, but at the end of each song Rocksmith+ will judge your performance and adjust the difficulty accordingly. If you can knock a beginner-friendly version of a track out of the park, the difficulty scale will gradually introduce more complexity (fleshed-out chords, more notes, and extra detail with things like slides and bends) until you’ve got the song’s full tab running through your hands.

Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.
Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.

You can tweak this difficulty whenever suits you, and if you get stuck on a certain part, an in-depth replay system means you can go over specific sections of a song until you’re happy with it. Players can also pause at any time to check a song’s chord patterns, go over specific techniques, or just rewind to try a certain part again – it’s a brilliantly thorough system, and guitarists will be able to get reams of practical use from the service.

For anyone who’d rather hone their chops without butchering their favourite song, Rocksmith+ also offers a library of brief lessons, which usually entail a video demonstration followed by a hands-on exercise. These are fantastic, and cover everything from your first open chords to mastering tremolo. These tutorials mostly cater toward newer guitarists, but there are some excellent exercises and finger warm-ups that take some tedium out of usual practice.

Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.
Rocksmith+. Credit: Ubisoft.

However, old and new guitarists alike may face issues with Rocksmith+‘s note detection. The game offers two official ways to input your guitar’s sound – the Rocksmith+ app or a Real Tone cable – with custom audio input in beta stage. We experienced significant technical errors with note detection on the app when playing with an amplified electric guitar, and although it was slightly better when playing acoustic, it still wasn’t perfect. This was resolved when we switched to the Real Tone cable, and anyone looking to take Rocksmith+ seriously should expect to fork out extra for the cable.

As a service, Rocksmith+ delivers on what it’s offering: anyone wanting to learn guitar or bass will be able to do so, while more familiar players will find joy in having reliable, accurate tabs at the tips of their calloused fingers. The £12.99 monthly subscription fee feels justified for anyone who’s interested in learning an instrument through Rocksmith+, but for anyone purely looking to play along to their favourite songs, it may be worth giving Ubisoft a few more months to freshen up the setlist.

Rocksmith+ launches on September 6 for PC. 

The Verdict

Rocksmith+ is a far from perfect offering from Ubisoft, but it’s an undeniably effective teaching tool. Learning to play a track through Rocksmith+ offers more fun than staring at the same tab for an hour, but whether or not it has the songs you’re after is another matter entirely.

Pros

  • Thorough feedback and practice options make the time you spend feel productive
  • The library covers a fairly wide expanse of genres

Cons

  • Despite having over 5000 songs, the catalogue for Rocksmith+ feels bloated and lacking
  • Poor note detection from the game’s input app
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