Unlike its plastic playtoy predecessors, Ubisoft’s Rocksmith is nothing short of the most satisfying music game on the market.
I’ve been playing bass guitar for about four years now. It’s pretty simple, I love the sound, and I’ve found that I’m more apt with an enormous four stringed instrument than with a standard six string guitar. Fat clumsy fingers, and all. Still I’ve always been tempted to give a six string guitar a more honest go and in recent months I’ve been tinkering with my old electric guitar to learn pieces like “Waiting For You (Live at Heaven’s Night)” from the Silent Hill 4 Soundtrack, an unusually complex arrangement for a beginner, but jumping into the deep end is just what I do when I’m determined to learn something. However, my ambitious “sink or swim” method of learning often proves fruitless.
As I struggle and plink and plunk and dick around with my guitar, several of my best friends pre-occupy themselves with ‘mastering’ the video game series “Guitar Hero”, of which I could never see a point. I whole-heartedly admit it’s a fun GAME, but I fail to understand the viable final accomplishment for the trials and tribulations of successfully pressing five buttons on a Fisherprice toy in the correct sequence. At the end of the day (or in some extreme cases, months and years) of mastering your color-coordination, what life-long skill have you honed? You’ve burned some time, had some laughs with some friends, and if that’s all you wanted out of it, then I won’t begrudge you one bit because that’s why I enjoy gaming in general. However, hearing my friends proclaiming to be a musician of any level after mastering a Dragonforce song on a plastic Guitar Hero controller is the equivalent of saying they’re a professional artist whose canvas is exclusive to Mario Paint.
But that’s a rant for another day…
While I have enjoyed games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band at parties and drunken get togethers, the experience is that of just another video game, so it was only the next step in music video game evolution to dispense with the Fisherprice toys of the mid-to-late 2000’s and begin to incorporate real instruments. The first major leap was really a short bound forward with the game “Power Gig: Rise of the Six String“, a game that made itself somewhat famous for its vicious attacks on Guitar Hero, boasting of using a ‘real guitar’, and consequentially made itself infamous for its horrendous game play and the overall inability to actually learn to play the afore boasted real guitar. I’m not in any way a professional musician, I’m more than humble about my inability to tell the difference between a G string on a guitar and a G string on a Brazilian super model, but I do know that there’s a difference between actually playing a guitar, and just substituting Guitar Hero buttons for a string. It’s too bad about Power Gig: Rise of the Six String’s fall because I had originally been excited to better my admittedly shitty guitar playing skills through a Guitar Hero-like game interface. It was, after all, Mario Teaches Typing’s game-like interface that… well, taught me to type.
And finally on Christmas of 2011 I got my wish. I’d been following a revolutionary new “real guitar” game called “Rocksmith” for a few months prior to its original release in November of 2011, and I had originally fought my temptation to scream in excitement as thoughts of the unfavorable verdict of “Power Gig: Rise of the Six String” played repeatedly in the back of my mind.
Rocksmith E3 Trailer
One of the factors that swayed me towards Rocksmith was the fact that to play Rocksmith you need to have a real guitar. Any guitar? ANY guitar; Gibson, Epiphone (Gibson spin off), Martin & Co, Yamaha, Ibanez, Fender, whatever you have in your attic or closet collecting dust. If it has six strings and a jack, you’re ready to rock. There’s no plastic controllers to buy, and you don’t need a prepackaged plastic ‘guitar’ like Power Gig. While you get the authentic experience, it also means that Rocksmith might not be a small investment compared to the other Tonka ‘Tars on the market. If you want Rocksmith but you don’t want to shell out $300-600 for a good guitar, there’s lots of inexpensive guitars geared towards newbs and made by the most trusted guitar manufacturers. There are currently Epiphone beginner guitars out there for about $169.00, which was essentially the same lower end Les Paul shipped with the Rocksmith Bundle, a bundle which is now nearly impossible to find. You could try hopping pawn shops for a practice guitar, but I suggest you go with someone who knows a thing or two about guitars so you don’t get ripped off by spending +$200 on a half-dead piece-of-shit. Hell, ask that same friend if he has an old guitar he’s willing to part with for some gas money.
Once you have your 100% real guitar plugged into your game console or PC, you’re ready to get started. Right off the back you’re taught how to tune your guitar, and you’re introduced to the fret board and your six strings, each color coordinated with red, yellow, blue, orange, green and purple. The teaching prowess of Rocksmith became more apparent the minute I began to awkwardly play my way through “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. Unlike Guitar Hero, where you select your difficulty after the song selection screen, Rocksmith begins everyone out slow and the difficulty increases depending on how well you’re progressing through the song. You start off with a simple string or two to create a modest rhythm, and continually add more strings depending on whether or not the CPU believes that you’re capable of advancing. If you stumble and trip up repeatedly on a segment, the CPU will revert back a step to a previous, more comfortable level; however, it feels as though it sometimes takes too long to get the opportunity to get another chance to advance again.
You progress through the game rehearsing a handful of songs on a predetermined play list, venturing to the next when you’ve achieved a high enough rank on each new track on the list. You’ll also be given the opportunity to take part in practice lessons that will teach you guitar techniques such as hammering, sliding, bending, hitting power chords and so on because the name of the game is to teach you how to actually PLAY a guitar, and not just pluck the correct strings. After meeting an adequate score on each of the songs on the play list your given a chance to play at a venue where you bring it all together. Like in Guitar Hero, you get play in front of a virtual audience. In Rocksmith’s case, it’s an audience of 2D cutout 16 year old prats who gauge your performance by taking snaps of you on their smart phones, and dancing to your playing as if they had two wooden pirate legs. After completing the venue (and a possible encore where you are thrown into the deep end with a brand new, ever previously rehearsed song), you continue to repeat the process, accumulating your score and learning new songs on your gradual rise to rock stardom.
If you find that your skills are less than adequate, such as my having a hard time familiarizing myself with the lower three strings (curse me for preferring bass guitar for that very reason), there’s a lot of practice games in the Guitarcade. Anybody who has ever played educational, skill-developing games like Mario Teaches Typing will be familiar with the sort of games you’ll find here. The various guitar skill-improving games, such as shooting ducks that appear on random frets, gives players adequate training guised as an entertaining challenge. There’s even world-wide leader boards so you can compare your scores against other Rocksmith gamers around the world.
One of my favorite features in Rocksmith is the ability to essentially turn you Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or PC into a virtual guitar amplifier. As you progress through the games you’re awarded with various virtual amplifiers and sound modifiers (pedals) which you can daisy-chain together to form a virtual studio that you can then strum, practice, and dick around with your sound to your heart’s content. For example, thanks to this fantastic feature, I can struggle with “Waiting For You (Live at Heaven’s Night)” just as badly as before, but I can more closely mimic the sound of the guitar in the song so I don’t sound QUITE AS BAD than if I were using a standard guitar amplifier.
Speaking of amplifiers, I need to point out that the load times are very long, but instead of watching a graphic spin or a load bar creep from one end of your screen to another, the load screen works as a standard amp and you’re allowed to screw around on your guitar until the song starts. It helps make the loading times pass more quickly, but loading songs (even after you finish a song and decide to retry it) is still very time consuming. The load times are likely due to the CPU needing time to load your personal progress on all of the individual segments of the selected song (see the blue and orange boxes at the top of the picture below), in which case it’s a necessary evil and easily forgivable.
The track list for Rocksmith is fairly decent with about 50 tracks available right out of the box. Some of my top headliners include The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie, The Cure, Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age; however of the majority of the more popular artists have only one song attributed to each of them, and the only artists to contribute multiple songs are The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Muse, Stone Temple Pilots, and The Black Keys. This does not include the currently available DLC packs, which include multiple tracks by Megadeth, more from The Black Keys, and an extra Lynyrd Skynyrd track, “Free Bird”. Even though people will no doubt be scratching their heads, asking where Ozzy and Metallica are at, DO NOT LET THEIR ABSENCES DISSUADE YOU because (with the inclusion of all of the DLC available) you’re given a bounty of classic guitar tunes to get you started, such as Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, The Rolling Stone’s “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”, and so on.
There are also a ton of songs I’ve never heard of, to be blatantly honest. But that’s not really saying much since I’ve tuned out of everything released post-2002, but there’s certainly some hidden gems by a lot of the more obscure artists brought into my consciousness thanks to Rocksmith. The Black Keys most notably, but also others like The Rapscallions and their song “California Brain”, Little Barrie with “Surf Hell”, Taddy Porter’s “Mean Bitch” and Interpol’s “Slow Hands”.
The RapScallions – “California Brain” is an excellent throwback to the style of the early Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Even if you don’t pick up Rocksmith, check them out!
Right about now you’re probably thinking “hell yeah, now my friends and I can party on REAL guitars!”
And you’d be wrong.
Rocksmith is, first and foremost, a teaching tool; it’s used to give you some of the fundamentals of playing a guitar, and help you develop a skill in a fun and interesting way. Now, you CAN play a multiplayer mode, where two people can jack in and play songs together, but only locally (on the same machine). But again it’s a teaching tool, and the automatic difficulty adjustments will likely hinder any attempts at an even head-to-head competitive match up between dueling banjos guitars. And most importantly, Rocksmith is not in any way a party game like the Rock Band and Guitar Hero phenomenon. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING BEFORE DROPPING YOUR DOLLARS ON THE GAME AND A GUITAR! Because if you’re like me and you know exactly what the purpose of Rocksmith’s function is, you’ll get nothing but hours of honest enjoyment out of it. Anyone who thinks Rocksmith will be good at a house party might be sorely disappointed.
I haven’t been playing video games as much as I’ve used to. I just haven’t had the drive to sit on my ass anymore and spend hours of my life doing something as unproductive as going on a magical quest in a Final Fantasy game. But Rocksmith is worth every hour of my time. I’m not saying that Rocksmith will make me the next starting act for an Eric Clapton concert, but with every hour I put into Rocksmith, I become more familiarized with playing a real guitar, and I’m making noticeable progressions in learning a real-life skill. Rocksmith might just be, oddly, the game to get me back ON my ass.