Review: Rocksmith

Forget guitar simulations, this is the real thing!

Rocksmith is a game that allows you to plug your guitar into your console and play along to a series of on screen prompts. All it takes is one lead going from your guitar to the controller port and you’re ready to play. A quite remarkable piece of tech if you think about it. Your controller then plugs into the other port and handles menu navigation. The only other piece of preparation is applying some helpful, numbered stickers to your guitar neck to help you pick out which fret you need to be playing.

As you start the game you get taught everything; from how to hold a pick to how to put your guitar strap on. All a beginner needs to know is displayed and there is even a handy lefty flip mode, to accommodate those left handed guitar playing peeps among us.

The on-screen interface is fairly simple too. Coloured lines representing guitar strings run horizontally across the screen, not dissimilar to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Towards this come notes on a vertical board (representing the fret board on the neck of the guitar) which you must press at the correct time to score points. It takes a little while to adjust to but then it seems perfectly natural. Another great tool is the built-in tuning mode which is very sensitive and also appears before each song performance to ensure you stay in perfect tune. I actually found myself using it instead of my normal tuner the last time I plugged into my amp!

Rocksmith screenshot 1

The bulk of the game is a sort of tour mode, where you rehearse songs until you score enough points to perform them at a venue (again mirroring how a real life band would operate). Since the difficulty is auto-adjusting, you never feel swamped by new techniques or complex note patterns. The game senses where you are at with your playing and throws in just enough new stuff to keep it challenging and aid your progression as a guitar player.

Being only semi-competent myself I must confess that occasionally I found some of the notes being flung my way a bit tough, but again the game took this into account and eased up the difficulty as the song progressed. There are single note versions of songs, chord based versions of songs and combinations of the two, all of which are available in the game’s song index.

As a practice tool the game also excels. You can take any one of the games songs and practice parts of it repeatedly at slower speeds and with a variety of ways to break down the notes into easily manageable chunks. Every time there is a new technique introduced (sliding, vibrato, etc) you are offered the chance to view an in depth explanation and breakdown of it which is immensely helpful.

In my opinion as a guitarist the coolest thing about the game is the amp mode. Giving you the chance to use amp combinations you’ve unlocked throughout the game, this genius mode lets you play whatever you want and experiment with new sound set-ups for your guitar. It is an invaluable resource as you can even change about the in-game pedal and amp combinations yourself and create a new tone all of your own.

Fleshing out an already impressive song roster (everything from Jarvis Cocker to The Animals) are the game’s arcade modes. These have you using your guitar to complete a number of challenges presented in the traditional bold and glaring arcade style. It’s typical of the care that has gone into this game that these modes are not just a fun throwaway feature. For example the Duck mode has you trying to shoot our feathered friends for points, but is actually a great way to introduce switching positions up and down the fret board of the guitar.

The only slight downside to the game is that the venues are not as graphically detailed as they might be (however they still do a good job of conveying the scuzzy nature of the dingy venues you play in early on). Also I can imagine that if you are a complete beginner to the guitar then you may find the difficulty intimidating at first. I would recommend practising at your own pace for a while before trying out the game (at the very least practicing a few chord changes and picking out a few simple riffs).

There is of course the fact that you actually have to own your own “proper” guitar to play (what did you expect the developers to do – bundle one with it?). But if you’re interested in playing, then with cheap electrics available for under £100 you really have no excuse for also investing in this splendid game. And think about it, plastic bundles have cost that in the past.

To sum up

It won’t turn you into a guitar legend overnight (nothing will…) but as an educational tool, with a solid multiplayer and strong song list, this will certainly help you on the road to being a better musician.

9/10

Author: Michael Youngman

Your friendly neighborhood gamer and film buff. Equally at home in the art-house or multiplex cinema. Loves all types of game but 1v1 fighting is a fave. I like a good natter every now and then so why not contact me on twitter.

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