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Rocksmith Review

Straight up disclaimer on this review – I don’t know how to play guitar. I played ukelele 20 years ago, which morphed to a short couple month stint of using a guitar. Since then, the only musical expertise I have is pressing play on the iPod and a strange fondness for playing drums in Rock Band. I do however love to listen to music, and I love the idea of being able to play music. When Rocksmith was announced however, I was quite skeptical – could this be used to actually play a real song on a real instrument and not only teach complete amateurs like myself how to play but to keep the experienced players excited enough to want to try it out? Turns out, from my experience anyway, it is possible to teach someone new how to play and while I won’t get the technical aspect of playing down I can grab a guitar and play a song with my family watching – and feel like I’m doing more than pressing buttons the correspond to notes.

For the uninformed, Rocksmith uses your (or your friends) guitar and includes a cable which goes from your console of choice to the guitar, and plugs right into the 1/4″ jack and then allows you to play through a career mode or through individual songs. Each song comes with two or more options for style to play, some involving single notes, some chords, and some combinations thereof. Each method of play will allow you to play through recognizable versions of the song – and as your skill improves each version sounds more and more like the real thing. One main feature the game has for the complete beginner such as myself, is a dynamically changing difficulty level – as you improve, the game adapts and adds more notes. When I started songs, they almost always were in very simple and easy to hit note patterns – and as I started to get the fingering down, including slides and big fret transitions, more and more notes would surface.

Initially I really liked this feature, but soon when I started getting somewhat decent at a particular song it would get a little too intense – which when you’re playing a game can get frustrating and distracting. What I had to do was disconnect the thought that I was playing a game and that the score that was accumulating was nothing more than a progress meter, and that it didn’t matter if I missed too many notes because the song would play on and I would get my cramping, fingertip blistered back to where they were supposed to be and things would sound like they should. So the question is – did it teach me to play a song? The short answer is yes, but whether or not I’ll get to the point to where I can play a song by memory is another question, and one that checks my dedication the the learning that this interactive tool can instill.

The game/learning tool features a career mode which rocks you through the 50 songs on disc, including The Rolling Stones, The Black Keys and Nirvana – but again it’s not really the progression that’s going to turn heads here. New guitar players will be more interested in learning how to play while more experienced guitar players will scoff at a game trying to show them how to place their fingers when they can read sheet music and guitar tabs as easily as the rest of us read xkcd. Novice and intermediate players will likely quite appreciate the Guitarcade (minigame collections) that are also included here. Whether it be the single note training that Ducks or Super Ducks can offer to the chord muscle memory building that Dawn of the Chorded (a zombie shooting minigame) can offer, never before has learning the most basic hand movements and chord progression been so enjoyable.

The setlist is a little tilted towards modern music, but there are a few nods to the classic days including the first guitar song I ever learned to play, House of the Rising Sun. More enlightened musical tastes will recognize the entire current setlist is all tuned to the same range on the guitar, which is great for beginners because we won’t have to keep tweaking the strings to make things sound right. But, even so there is a tuning application within the game so you can rock out in perfect tune.
For those who take the plunge on a guitar when playing this but then realize that they also need an amp, fear not – the game has a built in mode which will operate as your amp. Sure, it’s probably not as high quality as some dedicated amps but it sounded good to me. Within this subsection of the title you get to unlock a large variety of different effects pedals, guitars and other nice goodies. You’ll soon realize that a lot of music out there relies on effects pedals to tweak the sounds of the guitars so this is a nice way to see what each can do without having to spend a ton of money on equipment.

As a game – Rocksmith doesn’t quite reach the fun level that I have experienced with other music games. But remember, I opted to remove that noun from my vocabulary when playing Rocksmith and opt for learning tool. In this rebranded state, Rocksmith to me succeeds on every level – from fun, educational quality and even the satisfaction of saying I was able to play a tune which sounded quite like the very same tune I was emulating. For a guy like me who had to borrow a friends guitar to actually try the game – the fact that I’m now contemplating visiting a pawn shop to cash in on someone else’s inability to make ends meet and buy my very own guitar should speak volumes to the titles power as a fun learning tool. Beginners, give this a shot – especially if you’ve already got a guitar collecting dust in the closet. Oh, and make sure to take some breaks – hours on end are sure to wreak havoc on the untrained fingertips. It takes ‘Nintendo Thumb’ to the next level. Ouch.


Platform reviewed: Xbox 360

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