Reviewed: November 15, 2011
Released: October 18, 2011
It is official – the plastic instrument music game boon of the late 2000’s is officially over. Between Guitar Hero shuttering its doors and Harmonix winding down Rock Band production in lieu of Dance Central, the future was looking grim for folks (like me) who want to jam out on their home gaming consoles. That is precisely why it was so surprising for Ubisoft to announce their first foray into the musical genre so late in the game with Rocksmith. It was even more surprising when Ubi announced that Rocksmith would use a 100% real electric guitar as its controller.|
Rocksmith intends to simultaneously revive the musical game genre and address the complaints that “those games don’t teach anyone to play a guitar” by doing just that – teaching gamers how to play an actual six-string electric guitar. But does it work? I am pleased to say that it does.
Ubisoft offers Rocksmith in two bundles:
Rocksmith Guitar Bundle
Rocksmith starts with an interactive tutorial that walks the gamer through the proper console-to-television hookup (to minimize latency), and the processes of plugging their guitar into the console, tuning the strings, performing their first sound check, and understanding the basics of the in-game interface. It is a fairly seamless process overall, although I will suggest that you make sure to disconnect all other sound devices – including the PlayStation Eye Camera which I found to be causing feedback during play.
Rocksmith’s interface is similar to what we have all seen in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but with an ingenious new twist for incorporating all six strings over a half-dozen frets. As with the other games, notes travel down a track crossing the appropriate string at the appropriate time with the music. Gamers simply have to synchronize their physical notes with the onscreen notes, and it no time they are riffing with the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Black Keys.
This is not sheet music; this is what guitarists call “tablature” and Rocksmith is like having a dynamic tablature sheet rolling through the music. From single-finger riffs to multi-finger chords, Rocksmith has a robust system that will teach beginner guitarists to play the basics of rhythm and lead guitar. Naturally, the difficulty level is dependent completely upon the ability and skill of the gamer to match the onscreen notes. The game attempts to dynamically adjust the difficulty up and down to meet the level of the gamer, but it is not always as accurate as I would have liked.
Rocksmith offers up over 50 songs from artists ranging from Bowie to The Pixies, and from Petty to the White Stripes. There are even some surprises, like Sigur Ros and The XX to keep it fresh and exciting. The sound quality is absolutely fantastic, and the fact that it uses amplifier emulation to match your guitar’s effects to the original artists’ is killer. Speaking of effects, one of the best aspects of Rocksmith is the Amp mode, which allows gamers to set up a virtual amplifier and effects package using items won through gameplay. Gamers win signature amplifier sounds and effects that they can combine to create great sounds o use in free-play mode. As a self-professed fear whore, this was the perfect way to experiment with different effects without having to deal with the guitar shop jerks.
Rocksmith also offers a unique experience in the Guitarcade mode, which has gamers shooting ducks or batting in a home run derby by landing onscreen notes. It might not be the deepest gameplay, but it is a nice diversion from the standard gameplay and continues the learning process. And that’s where Rocksmith needs a disclaimer – it is less a "guitar game" as it is a "guitar teacher". It is made for beginner level guitarists, and requires a lot of dedication. Thankfully, Rocksmith aims to teach actual songs rather than hammering on musical theory, so there is a certain degree of instant gratification – but be warned that Rocksmith is decidedly more difficult and less visceral than either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, so impulsive gamers might want to think twice before investing.
Considering the pricing of the two packages, Rocksmith is actually a fairly good deal for what you are getting. The Epiphone Les Paul Jr. is a solid entry level guitar that alone sells for $129.99, bringing the cost of the game down to about $70.00. Even the game-only package is a solid deal at $79.99 when compared to a couple of hours of guitar lessons (typically around $30 an hour). And believe me folks, beginners will derive much more satisfaction and by learning actual song riffs rather than drilling scales or reading sheet music.
Will Rocksmith revive the dying music game market – probably not. But as an engaging and entertaining tool to help beginners learn to play guitar, it is fantastic. In fact, I would not be surprised if in five years from now we hear a famous rocker or two say “I first learned to play guitar using Rocksmith.” It is that good.