We used a bass guitar as basis for this review. But even if you're only interested in lead guitar, read on. Impressions are the same irrespective of your instrument of choice.
The original Rocksmith took a decent stab at teaching aspiring musicians the intricacies of guitar. Where it came up short was in its presentation, with a mired user interface that was needlessly convoluted and failed to direct you towards what you needed to learn in order to progress. Added to this there was a series of smaller issues.
For the sequel, the team has worked hard to correct the problems and clean the UI so it's gleaming with the newness and accessibility of an iPhone 5. A helpful guide will breadcrumb the most useful sections from the start, and refine your next steps based on how you're performing. It now feels much more like a (smart) digital teacher.
Lessons are comprehensive, stretching from putting your guitar strap on and holding the instrument correctly, to changing strings and buying amps. In-between there's a long list of techniques to be taught, with a video playing first to show you the hand movements, then an in-game tutorial, followed by you practicing. It'll slow everything down if you're struggling. Similarly when learning a song, Rocksmith will listen to your performance and suggest a trio of lessons that are tailored to better the song you're playing. With nearly zero loading, jumping between sections is painless and lets you focus on what's important.
You'll be pointed towards Guitarcade, Rocksmith's expanded list of mini-games which aid in building up your muscle memory and ear. The games are based on 80s arcade titles, and the quality is mixed, but do a good job in turning the dryness of some lessons into fun gaming goals that require mastering techniques to achieve high scores on each game's leaderboard. Our favourite is Scale Warriors, a side-scrolling beat'em up that drops enemies onto a floor of different frets and strings, letting you combo attacks for higher scores if you hit the right chords in order.
The song list is good, the multiple ordering system great, but unless your taste is wildly eclectic, there may only be a small number of songs you want to replay. But it at least gets you trying different genres.
Rocksmith's not perfect. It does its best to stagger techniques, take it slowly. But soon enough the lessons will steer towards terminology that'll throw you (or have you reaching for Wiki). Equally some of the lesson videos don't linger long enough nor angle the camera better to show hand positioning. We took a look at the Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs video several times and we still couldn't work out where to place our fingers correctly - a virtual teacher can't grab your digits and reshape them the right way.
Some techniques are picked up as correctly done when we knowingly avoided them; palm muting has your hand resting on the strings as you play. When we tried, we failed the practice run. We played not using the technique and the game passed us. As the team have said themselves, there's a limit to how precisely they can measure and coach players.
This isn't a game per say. There is a multiplayer mode, but this isn't a party game. Yet its ability to teach you to hear when you're playing a sour note and to have you actually playing along on a real guitar is such a rewarding experience it leaves Guitar Hero and the like in the dust. It's definitely an improvement over the first. The team have done good.