Okay, allow me to get the obvious out of the way – Rocksmith is not an alternative to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. True, we’re not getting new editions of those games this year, so Ubisoft’s music/rhythm title might have you thinking it’s the only choice out there, but this is hardly your typical “tap the buttons in timing with the music” game. Instead, it’s a learning process. By sticking with it and playing around through its numerous sessions and mini-games, you actually might learn how to play guitar.
That said, it’s a process that will take some time. If you’re expecting to go into this thing with the expectations of Rock Band (i.e. not moving your hand across the frets) or looking to be a guitar god overnight, you won’t get it. Rocksmith takes its time and teaches you the finer skills of being a guitar player, perhaps more effectively than that Esteban guy ever could. (No disrespect, though – we dig his hat.) The more you complete in Rocksmith, the more it opens up, and the more you begin to develop your style in playing.
Rocksmith is sold in one of two packages. You can either get the game itself, which comes with a cable that plugs into your console and an amp jack for the guitar of your choosing, or there’s a bundle with a moderately sweet Gibson model, so you can play right out of the box. Either way, you’ll need the real deal in order to get into the game – your pithy little toy guitars need not apply.
As you play through the sessions and within the game’s 50+ song set list, you’ll learn which frets to hold, which strings to pluck, how to adjust your guitar’s tones (using knobs located on the neck of the guitar), and so on. As you proceed, new lessons will unlock, including hammer-ons, pull-offs, chords, barre chords, and bends. It sounds like an elaborate process, and it is. This is an educator, not a rock star.
As difficult as this all sounds, Rocksmith manages to put together the learning package quite eloquently. The interface is incredibly easy to read, using a numbered chord system that you can follow by labeling your guitar of choice with stickers. As you proceed, you’ll get used to holds and eventually move into more strings and tricks. The difficulty adjusts automatically, so if you screw up, less notes will come your way, wherein you’ll see them pile on as you become better. Not being able to adjust your own difficulty may be frustrating, but again, this is a learning process, not a music/rhythm game. Prepare yourself and play on.
It’s not all serious business, though. Rocksmith contains an Amp Mode, so if you become quite privy with your guitar or know someone who is, you can automatically make modifications to your play style and treat your game system like a live amp. Recording options (and sharing) would’ve been a real plus, but we’ll take it over trying to plug in an amp and then hearing our neighbors complain about how loud everything is.
The real place to try out, though, is the Guitarcade. Here, you’ll be able to engage in a number of excellent mini-games, such as a Space Invaders-esque duck-shooting game, a zombie blasting exercise, and a superb color match-up game that deserves its own downloadable release. These are quite fun, and you can compare scores with others to see how they’re faring.
Aside from that, the playing is the main thing, and there is a co-op mode where you can compete with a friend for strumming rights. You’ll need another plug-in cable ($30) and guitar because Rocksmith doesn’t support online play. Also, the fact no other instruments are involved makes it far more focused than any other music/rhythm game out there.
Rocksmith’s visuals are nothing to fall in love with, but they’re quite acceptable. The interface, like we said, is easy to follow, and the visual style doesn’t go over the top. It simply tries to make you comfortable on a performing level, even if you’re in front of a packed arena. It’s cool how you can fool around with strumming during the loading screens as well.
The set list isn’t the greatest we’ve played through, but it’s moderately cool as far as rock selections go. “Panic Switch” is always a good song to turn to, and there’s some Rolling Stones and Cream in here for good measure. The real highlight, though, comes with the different sounds from your guitar. Through various settings and fooling around, you’ll hear all sorts of sweet noise from your instrument. Ubisoft has done its homework when it comes to replicating what your guitar can do in-game, and that amp cable is a brilliant addition. Now if only it worked for a bass guitar…
No, Rocksmith isn’t for everyone, as its trying difficulty settings and limited play list may have some of you feeling as if the party is over. It’s a rock beast of a different kind, one that actually educates while it entertains, especially with its Guitarcade. If you can afford it, it’s certainly rock worthy. Just don’t expect an overnight transformation into Joe Satch.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]