Rocksmith +, we tried Ubisoft's software to learn how to play the guitar

Rocksmith +, we tried Ubisoft's software to learn how to play the guitar

Rocksmith +

"Rocksmith + is not a video game". During a press presentation of its software game, Ubisoft was keen to emphasize it insistently. When it debuted in 2011 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the first Rocksmith was, in fact, misunderstood by a part of the public and the press who, expecting a musical game in the style of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, instead found themselves for the first time. struggling with alternating picks, scales, bending and power chord. All while holding a real guitar (or a bass) in your hands and not a plastic toy.

Launching Rocksmith on console did not help and Ubisoft, it must be said, had put his own: the interface was that of the most classic rhythm games, with a series of colored keys that approached the player from the background, indicating the timing with which to play the notes. Score multipliers and sparkling graphic effects rewarded the sequences without errors and everything was enriched by small arcade video games to play with the guitar: there was even a variant of Typing of the Dead, in which to shoot hordes of zombies playing the right chords .

In Rocksmith +, leveling up unlocks new and strange customizations for the guitar At its core, Rocksmith wanted to be an instrument, not a game, with the aim of teaching guitar (or bass) playing. ) to those who found the lessons with the teacher too boring or expensive. Rocksmith 2014 (and its remastered edition released in 2016) was experiencing the same identity crisis, but Ubisoft seems to want to give the series a much more defined direction with Rocksmith +. Available starting today, Rocksmith + arrives (for now) only on PC, abandons many of the "playful" elements of the previous chapters and focuses on the features that should make it a good educational software, competing directly with other apps for learning. learning the guitar like Gibson and Yousician.

We tried Rocksmith + for a few hours before the actual opening to the public: too little to become a virtuoso shredder, but enough to get an idea of ​​the new vision that Ubisoft wants to give to Rocksmith +, among long-awaited news and gaps still to be filled.

Setup and mobile app

Before playing, it is essential to tune the guitar well (not only in Rocksmith +) One of the novelties of Rocksmith + concerns the way in which the software detects the notes played on your guitar or bass. The first Rocksmith allowed to connect the instrument to the PC (or console) through a jack / USB cable called Real Tone Cable, while Rocksmith 2014 Remastered added support for external microphones. To these two options, Rocksmith + supports a third interface that is based on the use of a mobile app called Rocksmith + Connect. In this way you can use the microphone of your smartphone or tablet to detect the notes played on your electric or acoustic guitar.

Unlike similar apps, however, to be able to play songs or practice lessons, a smartphone alone is not enough, but Rocksmith + must be started on your PC. Ubisoft has not yet officially confirmed whether it will be possible to use Rocksmith + only from the mobile app in the future, but this is a limitation that will hopefully be addressed in future updates.

During the hours spent with the 'app, the experience was however mixed. The smartphone microphone struggled to accurately detect the two lowest strings of the electric guitar (not amplified), with the low E often not being "heard" at all. For the record, the same guitar, with the same smartphone, in the same environment, did not give these problems with more established competing apps, and even fiddling with the software settings there was no way of having good feedback.

Let's be clear, the app was flawless when we tested it with the acoustic guitar and it is likely that any sensitivity problems will be solved already with the first updates, but to use Rocksmith + well with the electric guitar we had to dig up an old Real Tone Cable from a drawer. This is probably the most reliable setup, although it is also the least immediate of the three as it requires a separate purchase of the cable (while everyone has a smartphone and many have a microphone to connect to the PC).

Interface and Tab

In addition to the standard view, Rocksmith + also adds tabs Via arcade minigames, via the emphasis on accumulated score, the focus is all on learning songs through practice. The most interesting aspect of Rocksmith + remains the way in which the software allows you to learn more or less famous songs through two main tools. On the one hand, the dynamic difficulty level allows you to start playing a song by picking single and sporadic notes, but as you play correctly the game begins to introduce new notes, replace them with chords or insert hammer-ons in the middle. Conversely, if you start making mistakes during a song, Rocksmith + decreases the difficulty in real time, simplifying the most difficult riffs.

The other fundamental tool is the riff repeater, with which you can pause the song and practice on a single portion: you can slow down the song, repeat the same riff in a loop, highlight errors and customize the practice with other very useful options. These features were the basis of the first Rocksmith and remain fundamental in the didactics of Rocksmith +.

At the first start, Rocksmith + asks you to select a series of favorite songs and genres in order to suggest songs that meet your tastes Who is used to playing the guitar relying on online tablature will be pleased to know that Ubisoft has added the ability to view the song's tabs in Rocksmith +. If you activate the tabs, the interface looks much more like that of other educational apps and, even if it is much less captivating than the traditional view, we undoubtedly found it easier to read. It wouldn't be bad if a possible update of the mobile app allowed you to practice using this specific interface.

The song catalog

Rocksmith + has tons of songs at launch The other great revolution of Rocksmith + it concerns the business model adopted by Ubisoft, which also in this case aligns itself with other guitar learning apps such as the official ones of Fender and Gibson. Rather than including a few dozen songs and selling the rest in the form of DLC, Rocksmith + is now a subscription service that, for a periodic payment (monthly, quarterly or yearly) allows access to the entire available catalog.

At launch, Rocksmith + arrives accompanied by a catalog of over 5000 songs, an impressive number when compared with the amount of songs that have appeared in previous chapters. From the Clash to Alice Cooper, from Van Morrison to Muddy Waters, through B.B.King and Aretha Franklin, the amount and variety of songs to learn is remarkable. Unfortunately there continue to be those cumbersome shortcomings that, for licensing reasons, also weighed on the old Rocksmith: no AC-DC and ZZ Top, for example, while Metallica are present with just two songs (Master of Puppets, curiously, is indicated as part of the Stranger Things soundtrack).

An unknown track from the Stranger Things album Several artists from the old Rocksmiths are also missing (goodbye Ramones and Nirvana), but it's not unlikely that Ubisoft is keeping some big names warm for major updates in the coming months . The Rocksmith + catalog will in fact be constantly evolving, with new songs added every month, ensuring that over time there are incentives to discover new artists and learn new songs. Of course, when the licenses expire there will also be songs leaving the catalog, but how often this will happen remains to be seen.

Although the focus is much more on learning, Rocksmith + still has some typical elements. of video games. By practicing and completing the lessons, you earn experience points and unlock aesthetic elements. Special effects, guitar embellishments, as well as nameplates and other minor minutiae that give short-term goals even if not directly functional to learning. Some of these aesthetic elements are based on official licenses, and although there are only a few partners at the moment (like Gibson and Ibanez for guitars, or Orange for amps), Ubisoft's intention is to expand the number over time. from official producers.

Lessons, theory and Rocksmith Discovery

Rocksmith + lessons, divided by skill level As in the old Rocksmiths, also in Rocksmith + the practical learning of the guitar is accompanied by a whole series of theoretical lessons in the form of video courses. These are short films, each lasting a few minutes, which start from the most basic notions and arrive at more advanced concepts and techniques. Designed for those who have never picked up a guitar, these videos introduce the frets and strings on the neck, explain the chords, techniques such as hammer-on, bending and pull-off, passing through the pentatonic and the scale. blues.

Unlike other courses, however, many of these concepts are explained very quickly, so that you can immediately move on to practical execution. The fact that after each explanation the software asks you to perform what you have learned is certainly an extra element that other competing apps do not have, but digital courses like JustinGuitar and the like certainly do a better job at explaining the theory.

After a short video, each Rocksmith + lesson leads to a practical test In addition to the theory and technique videos there are also several guides and advice on the most diverse topics: from "how to change the strings of the guitar" to "stretching exercises before playing ", passing through" tips for equipment ", while in the Rocksmith Discovery area you can find interesting insights into everything related to the world of six or four strings, but also music in general.

It's not too different from what Gibson and Fender do through in-depth videos, interviews and podcasts, but in the case of Rocksmith + much of this content will be available exclusively within the game. Ubisoft has already promised that courses, tips and content on Discovery will be updated quite frequently, although even here it weighs on not being able to access all of this content directly from the mobile app.

Rocksmith Workshop A feature that almost none of the apps mentioned so far it has is the Rocksmith Workshop, a fairly versatile editor that allows you to create your own arrangements, share them and insert them into the game in order to be played. In the future Ubisoft should take advantage of this feature to highlight the most interesting arrangements from the community, proposing a series of "recommended" songs for beginners or those who are an experienced guitarist.

Still in beta phase is instead the Tone Designer mode, which in the old Rocksmiths allowed you to freely customize your sound by creating a sort of virtual pedalboard, and choosing which pedals, amplifiers and cabinets to use to play. The Tone Designer option will be added in its full version only later, while for the moment it is possible to choose between different presets that add reverbs, wah effects, or make the sound more or less aggressive. However, it should be specified that, as in Rocksmith 2014 Remastered, the custom tones can only be used if the guitar is connected to the PC via the cable, while those who use an external microphone or the app on their smartphone will have to be satisfied with a "clean" tone.

Despite a catalog of songs with already mammoth dimensions and a technology already tested, the first impressions of Rocksmith + are those of a service that is in its starting point and that will have to be enriched and refined in the coming months. Even as the price range of its subscription (from € 14.99 per month up to € 99.99 per year), the software aligns itself with other educational apps such as Gibson and Yousician, which improve rapidly in the lockdown period, when everyone has decided to spend the days at home learning to play the guitar. It's too premature to say whether Ubisoft has missed the train, but for sure if Rocksmith + wants to establish itself as one of the best tools for self-taught guitar learning, post-launch support will be key.


Extensive catalog with over 5000 songs The riff repeater and the dynamic difficulty are the best aspect The addition of the tabs is welcome DOUBTS Mobile app to improve Some shortcomings of the catalog are felt Improved the contents on the theory Have you noticed errors?

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